Last weekend’s cross-country jamborees were designed to allow Europe’s high school runners a chance to test the waters without the pressure of a regular-season meet.

A couple of things about the upcoming season became clear:

Patch sophomore Bona Jones looks like a strong favorite to win her second straight European title, and;Don’t get in the way of the Ramstein boys: They’ll run you down.Jones burst onto the scene last year, winning the European championships as a freshman.

She opened this season’s campaign with a course-record 19:17 on Mannheim’s 5,000-meter layout, leading a Patch sweep of the first five places.

“She’s working hard, staying healthy,” said Patch coach Larry Bahn of his ace, adding that health is a common obstacle for runners as dedicated as Jones.

“The biggest problem is that runners tend to overtrain,” Bahn said. “They try to get better too quickly. They all want to improve right now, to be all the faster.”

If they want to catch Patch, the rest of the D-II girls will have to be all the faster, and soon. Jones led Rachel Hamilton, Jessica Russell, Robyn Moore and Sabrina Silver in the sweep at Mannheim to throw down the D-2 gauntlet.

In Division I, the story appears to be Ramstein, where Steve Meadows will count on three juniors: Jamie Lindsey, third in last year’s Europeans; basketball star Krissy Grosselin and Beth Nielsen, who won in 21:03 last Saturday, and senior Emily Kash.

Würzburg will challenge with the gritty Erin Gray, a budding triathlete and defending European 3,000-meter champ.

In Division III, sophomore Charity Williams of Naples, the surprise 1,500-meter champion last May, won her opening race of the season, and leads a strong Wildcat contingent, which also includes Stephanie Epton, Liz Stanley and Melissa Kassel.

Aviano’s counting on middle-school record holder Bianca Boney, victorious Saturday in her first high-school race, and Laura Corder, while Alconbury is enthusiastic about freshman Megan Stotler and hurdles star Karen Thrasher.

Any team wanting to catch the Ramstein boys will have to be as fast and deep as the Royals.

“We might have to create a new league for Ramstein to run in,” Würzburg coach Miles Johnson predicted. “[Kenny] Grosselin and [Parker] Cowles have proven in cross-country and on the track that they are champions, and they have a strong supporting cast.”

Johnson was proved right Saturday at Ramstein, where Grosselin, a senior who’s the European 3,000-meter champion, led a 1-4 sweep by the Royals by clocking 17:15 on a new course.

Cowles, a junior who finished third in the last two European cross-country championships, was second, followed by Danny Edwards and Noah Sheppard.

Johnson said his Wolves will draw their strength from Robert Fleck and Jonathan Painter. Others in the mix include Kaiserslautern’s Steven Burnett and Jamal Anene, Lakenheath’s Greg Billington; Heidelberg’s Will Dawson and Jeff Smrekar, and Wiesbaden’s John Slappy.

The biggest challenge to the Ramstein runners at the European level expects to be defending Division II champ, SHAPE’s David Forte.

Forte is “fast, tough, experienced and a great competitor,” according to Johnson, who added, “I like Forte’s chances.”

Forte, who runs just ahead of Oyeetein Skotheim for Mike Edwards’s Spartans, also puts SHAPE into the D-II title picture. The Spartans biggest challenge is likely to come from Patch’s Jeff Jones and Nicholas Rogers, who posted top 10 finishes last Saturday at Mannheim.

D-III boys’ champion Menwith Hill lost its top runner, but returns Cole McClain, Greg Best and Chris Adams. Naples has experience in Keegan Porter and Francois Morin and Scott Gainey, while Alconbury finds its speed in sophomore Robbie Stotler and its experience in seniors Deighton Jones and Erik Moore.

“It should be a fun and exciting season,” said Johnson. “The quality of running has gone up in the last few years. Making cross country and track the most competitive sports we have.”

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