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Expect the 2005 high school cross-country season to look a lot like the 2004 edition.

Both big-schools individual champs — Ramstein’s Danny Edwards and Wiesbaden’s Ashleigh Spencer — will be back for another run when the season begins Saturday with meets in England, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.

And the boys and girls Division I and II team champions, Ramstein and Patch, respectively, return strong nuclei from last year’s teams.

But don’t start engraving the 2005 trophies just yet.

“There are always surprises in cross country,” Ramstein coach Steve Meadows cautioned Tuesday. “You never know who’s going to come through.”

Edwards came through last season, beating Lakenheath’s Greg Billington by 13 seconds and third-place finisher Sam Dickinson of Frankfurt International School by 19 in the European championships. Fittingly in this instant-replay season, all of last season’s podium finishers are returning.

Potentially hard on their heels, moreover, are last season’s No. 5, Noah Sheppard of Ramstein; Nos. 8 and 11, Will Dawson and Jeremy Brady of Heidelberg; No. 12, Nicholas Rogers of Patch; and No. 14, Kevin Edwards of Ramstein.

Top-quality returnees grow even thicker among the girls. European No. 2 Erin Gray of Würzburg and No. 3 Joy Hruska of Kaiserslautern (along with her sister, Anna) are back to challenge Spencer.

Also returning are Nos. 6 and 7, Kylie Marchant and Maggie Redmond of Patch; No. 8 Lorraine Tucker of Ramstein, and No. 9 Zarah Younossi of Naples.

Gray’s return, along with the continued development of Diana Rosslerova and Whitney Howard, and the addition of freshman Adriaunnah Dewey, newcomer Susan Grunt and track stars Salina Boodoosingh and Porsche Leslie, have Würzburg’s Miles Johnson eager to get the season started.

Still, he remains a realist.

“Patch is always the team to beat,” he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. “Hopefully, we can run with the top teams.”

With the Edwards brothers and Sheppard back from last year’s team, which beat runner-up Heidelberg by 45 points, and the import of talented junior Kyle Sauthard from Illinois, Ramstein would seem to be in the driver’s seat for a sixth straight boys title.

Perhaps.

Meadows said four of the runners are showing promise, “but you’re only as good as your fifth runner,” and he is not sure who that will be.

Meadows’ girls team is also shaping up well in its quest for its fourth-straight D-1 crown.

In addition to Tucker, he expects Stephanie Polzer, 15th in Europe last year; returnees Susie Fluker and Luzviminda Hamlett; and Far East import Bridgett Dean to lead the way.

Other runners of note cited by coaches include Dexter Monroe and freshman John Markman of Naples, where Karen Porter takes the cross-country reins from Amy Fatora. Porter, who said her boys team would be “very strong,” also pointed to senior Allison McKechnie and sophomore Kerry Olinger to back Younossi.

Unlike their D-1 and D-2 counterparts, Europe’s small-schools elite only partially return.

Division III-IV boys champion Landon Kemp leads an all-returnee squad from Alconbury, but girls champ Nicole Brooks has departed Menwith Hill, as did all but one member of its D-4 champion boys team.

The Division III champion Sigonella girls return only one runner from the team that scored a perfect 15 points at Europeans. She’s sophomore fourth-place finisher Samantha Boos. But Sig coach Gene Rinaldi expects to be in the hunt again anyway.

“We have four highly competitive, outstanding runners,” he said Wednesday, citing Boos; freshman Lauren Vonverhaar, a transfer from Washington state; junior Erika Anderson; and freshman Rebecca Smith.

“We have the ability to be fighting for the D-3 title again,” he said.

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