They're not a lock to repeat as district champions, but the Astoria boys' cross country team is about as close as you can get to a "sure thing."

While the Astoria girls have rebuilt their numbers, the Fishermen boys are loaded with talent and ready to defend their district title as they enter the 2005 season.

The League"The Scappoose boys look really strong," said Astoria coach Spence Barker. "They've all been training very hard. So it's not a given that we're going to be district champion, but that's our goal."

Scappoose and Banks both appear strong on the girls' side, with Astoria and Seaside right there waiting to challenge.

The OutlookThe Astoria boys have plenty of returning talent to keep the district title in their hands for years to come, while the Astoria girls have regained numbers and will make a serious run at Scappoose and Banks.

"These guys have worked real hard," Barker said of the boys. "They've been running over the summer, they're stronger, more mature and more focused than they were last year.

"Our first meet (Tillamook Invitational, Sept. 8) will be a good indication of whether all the off-season work paid off," Barker said. "Last year at Tillamook, it looked like it was going to be a rebuilding year for us. We didn't think we'd rebuild all in one season like we did, but we took fourth at state."

Girls"On paper, we can say the Scappoose girls are up there," said Astoria assistant coach Kemboi Chesimet. "But that's just on paper. What they're going to bring to the table as the season goes depends on many issues. Are they healthy? Are they hungry? What it really comes down to is, what do they want going in? And I think our girls - watching and listening to them - they want it."

The RunnersAll seven Astoria boys who competed in last year's Cowapa League meet finished in the top 20, out of a field of 42 runners. And all return for 2005.

Seniors Ian MacDougall (4th), Jonnie Dunne (5th), Johnny Wilson (6th) and Drew Gustafson (10th) placed in the top 10 as juniors, while other returners include sophomore Shaun Barrick (13th) and senior Ben Lilley (16th).

Add to that Ross MacDougall, Mike Pounders and Victor Rose, all new or incoming students at Astoria.

Rose "is a baseball guy, but he'll be running," Barker said. And running well, as Barker found out in Rose's first day of practice last week.

The Astoria girls had an incomplete team at the 2004 district meet, but they're covered this year with a higher turnout.

The top returner is junior Maia Donachy (8th at league meet); while track and swimming standout Bridget Nurding will run cross country for the first time.

"The top four we are looking at are Katie Choate, Abbey (Chesimet), Bridget and Maia," coach Chesimet said. "Those are the cream of the crop. Eva Miehe is getting stronger, too.

"We really have the material to bring them to state," he said. "That is my observation. I think the girls have the potential if they stay healthy."

Choate is a senior who has endured injuries over the last two years, but "she's back, hungrier than ever," Chesimet said.

Astoria's Andrea Kurns participated in the district meet as a freshman last year, while Diane Contreras will help add depth to the program.

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