"Barring injuries."

That phrase seems to crop up every preseason for just about every team, and will not be any different when talking about the Seaside cross country teams.

"Barring injuries, we'll be a solid team," said Gulls coach Neil Branson. "The kids with experience are back, and there are a number of boys who I talked to in the spring that could help us.

"The key girls are back, and I'm already looking at two new kids who will be solid for us."

In short, the Gulls will be right there in the running with Astoria and Scappoose at the top of the Cowapa League.

The Seaside girls have plenty of returning talent, including senior Noelle Harer.

"She will do very well if she can avoid the injury bug," Branson said.

Senior Stephanie Hullender (12th place, league meet) returns, as does junior Katie Dougherty and senior Margaret Stewart (eighth place, league meet).

The newcomers to the cross country program include Laura Sibley and Emily Kiger.

"Watching Laura in track, she's a hard worker," Branson said. "She'll be a solid runner. And Emily Kiger could make us a much more solid team."

Sophomore Alice Stewart has made the switch from soccer to cross country.

The returners are few in numbers for the Seaside boys, as seniors Stefan Robinson (fifth place, league meet) and Josh Wittman (13th place, league meet) were the top two returners as of the first week of practice.

And running with the top group this year should be Joe Gardner, a sophomore transfer from Spokane.

"He has already shown that he's going to be a very solid runner," Branson said of Gardner. "He ran track and cross country, and he's knowledgeable about running.

"Stefan has a lot of experience, being a senior; and Josh Wittman is a tough kid," he said. "Those three are really solid runners."

Elsewhere, David Davidson and Jim Wright are juniors with two years' experience; and freshman David Dougherty will add depth to the lineup.

Davidson and Wright "will need to turn it up a notch and compete," Branson said. "How well they turn out as runners is not as important as finding out.

"We have kids who are willing to work, then there are the unknowns," he said. "We have some more freshmen kids out here, and it's common for us to pick up more the first and second week of school. We haven't had any more show up, but I haven't done any of my calling yet."

The Gulls will not go on their Hawaii road trip this year - instead, they'll be competing in the Elmira Invitational, followed by a team camp, where they will float the McKenzie River, do some hiking, then possibly take in a play in Portland on the way home.

As for his league outlook, Branson said "The boys' horsepower will be with Astoria and Scappoose. But with our three front-runners - Wittman, Joe Gardner and Stefan - we hope to be there and take advantage of any opportunities."

For the girls, "right from the get-go, it will be the Scappoose girls, because they didn't really lose anybody that I can recall. They should be real solid.

"Then Astoria - once they got those girls off the soccer team at the end of last year - they were tougher than nails."