Last cross country season, there was one certainty on the boys side: If Scott Carpenter was there, he was going to win.
Carpenter, the Western Massachusetts and Division II state champion now running for Georgetown University, was Berkshire County's standout. Everyone else was running for second place.
In 2013, that's not the case. There isn't one good performer -- there are multiple good performers. And it seems like they're all coming from the junior class.
"Usually, there's one kid who's just the league MVP, or two kids vying for it," Mount Greylock coach Scott Burdick said. "This year, there's probably four or five kids who are thinking, ‘I could be league MVP,' and it could have helped their training."
The top juniors all know who's coming back, and they put in the miles getting ready for one another.
Hoosac Valley's Travis Ciempa, the second-fastest county runner in the Division II state meet last year, averaged between 35 and 40 miles a week in his estimation. Mount Greylock's Carter Stripp, the Mounties' best returning state runner, said he put in a couple of 50-mile weeks near summer's end. They'll likely be joined at or near the top by Lenox's Tucker McNinch, now the leading Millionaire runner, and Matt Rabasco of Taconic.
So who's the best? One of those four? A runner one year older, like Wahconah's Marcus Duncan or Monument's Mike Kotleski? Someone a year younger, like Jared Haley of Hoosac?
Until they hit the trails with the clock running, it's all unknown.
"It could be totally random every race," Stripp said. "It comes down to who's done the work over the summer. I know Tucker has been running. I'm pretty sure Travis has been running."
So has McNinch. He said he learned well from Carpenter, and he's ready to lead Lenox.
"You've got to be determined," McNinch said. "[Carpenter] would do whatever he needed to. He'd do 80, 90 [miles] a week, and if no one wanted to run, he'd run on his own for 10 miles. He had the motivation, and that's the biggest thing I learned from him."
Lenox coach Jeanne Teasdale sees that hard work paying off for McNinch.
"I think he's really ready to take on that role of being the leader, not only on the team, but ... being tops in the county as well as Western Mass.," she said. "I think that's his goal."
McNinch has already shown that he's comfortable leading the way, having won the scrimmage race at Mount Greylock on Aug. 31. Stripp was second, and Travis Ciempa was fourth.
As they've covered the miles in and out of season, the Berkshire County juniors have also gained confidence. It comes from both experience and success -- with Hoosac coach Ron Namislo giving more credit to the former.
"The more you can do it, the more you feel you can do it," he said. "You have to go out and prove it every time, though."
That doesn't just mean against opposition, either. Greylock, for one, is loaded with juniors. Burdick has a dozen on his roster, and Teasdale has almost as many on hers at Lenox.
Stripp has had visions of many state-qualifying performances in his head for quite some time.
"We can train together over the summer," Stripp said. "We can work hard together. We set goals with each other, asking each other what the goal for the next race is.
"We know we're going to be a really good class. I don't know what we can do, but I'd like to see a state championship."
And if that doesn't happen? Hey, there's always 2014, when they'll all be seniors.
"It's amazing," McNinch said, "knowing we could all be some of the best runners in the state. I'm thinking that me, Carter and Travis can all get top 10 [times] if we have great races."