Sue Bessin, in her fourth season as head coach, has high hopes once again and for good reason.
"The current group brings a lot of the same enthusiasm and energy," Bessin said. "We have a large number of girls on the team. We may have lost three who were key but we have a deep team. The sophomores and juniors will have the opportunity to run."
Collette Richter, a junior, and Jenny Picot and Nicole Allison, both seniors, are Mountain Lakes' strongest and most seasoned returnees.
Mountain Lakes has a large task ahead of it as it tries to repeat as Morris County champion and threepeat as section and group titlist. The Lakers turned in a stellar performance at the Meet of Champions, finishing eighth.
Bessin realizes 2010 was a dream season but still has much confidence in this year's squad.
"We thought the county title was a possibility last season," Bessin said. "Distance running in this county is always competitive. There's a long tradition of good teams. We geared the girls to it and they came through. It was a very exciting season."
Picot, a four-year starter and captain whose best time last year was 19:23, feels the Lakers will exceed expectations.
"Right now, we're ranked third in the group but we've been Group I champs the last two years," Picot said. "Our competition in the county is any school bigger than ours - Randolph, Mendham, Morris Knolls. I think we have more depth than a lot of teams think."
Allison, also a captain and four-year starter with a best time of 19:30, is impressed by what she's seen in the 2011 version of the Lakers.
"The team looks good so far," Allison said. "All of the girls are great and we're really working as a team. I want us to do well or better than last year because I definitely think we can. I love this team!"
According to Bessin, her assistant coach, Vicki Allison, has played a large role in the Lakers' success.
"Vicki is a big reason why the program has developed," she said. "We read each other's minds as far as what we want. We come at it with a bit of a different angle and it works."
OTHER TOP TEAMS, RUNNERS
Mendham will be out to defend its Group III crown and has the athletes to pull it off.
Mackenzie Barry was Morris County champion and took second in Group III as a freshman last fall. Barry will be joined by juniors Abby Seel and Reagan Kolakowski and senior Natalie St. John. Seel and Kolakowski were fifth and 11th, respectively, at the Morris County meet.
Morris Knolls has its top five back - junior Julia Strother, sophomore Shannon Dolan, junior Priscilla Ortiz, sophomore Sandra Ortiz and junior Brianna Reggiani - and looks to contend.
Sam Jones of Randolph was second in the county, first at the sectional meet and took seventh at the MOC. Now a senior, Jones will keep the Rams among Morris County's elite.
Morris Hills was hit hard by graduation but returns a standout in junior Ailis Clyne. Senior Tara Hanley, third in Morris and second in Group II, powers Chatham.