The St. Anthony's boys cross country team know it's good. That's quite a departure from this time last season when the Friars, who set out to qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals, were skeptical that they had enough leg speed to make the December distance running summit in Portland, Oregon.

But, a little success will do a lot for a team's psyche, and last year, success never stopped. Not only did the Friers win the New York State Federation title by a large margin, a whopping 162 points, but also they qualified for Nike Cross Nationals and placed eighth. It was the first time St. Anthony's had qualified for the prestigious meet, coach Tim Dearie said.

The Friars return four of the top seven from that historic run. No longer is it a question of "Can they do it?" Now, the question becomes "Can they do it again?"

"We're definitely motivated because we know we have a chance to go to Nationals," senior Ryan Kutch said. "We're a really dedicated group. I think that helps a lot."

Kutch ran the Nike Cross Nationals 5K Course in 16:38 last year. He finished the Bowdoin Park 5K at the New York State Federation Championships in 16:16.5. Frederick Buckholtz, also a senior, is the highest returning St. Anthony's finisher from the Federation meet, clocking a 16:15.4

St. Anthony's also returns Ryan Dearie, son of coach Tim Dearie, who ran a 16:29.5 at the Federation meet, and Christopher Langer, who missed a portion of last season with a stress fracture in his left shin. Langer said he is completely healthy again.

"I'm going to be up there with them," Langer said of his teammates.

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With the Friars' top four set, the rest of the regular season will be focused on finding that elusive fifth man to fill out the scoring lineup for the championship meets.

"Last year, all the pieces were pretty much in place and they just needed to run a few races," Tim Dearie said. "This year, we're going to need a good part of the season to make sure we have the supporting cast we need in order to be at the level we were at last year."

Dearie pinpointed three meets - last weekend's flrunners.com Invitational in Titusville, Florida, the Eastern States, and the Brown Invitational as the races that most likely will determine the final spot on the postseason scoring chart.

The first of those meets, the flrunners.com Invitational, went swimmingly for the Friars. Kutch finished fourth in 15:40.60. Ryan Dearie was 12th in 16:05.70. St Anthony's finished second with 100 points.

"I think those kids need the experience of those crowded, very fast races where the pace is relentless," Tim Dearie said. "It never lets up. It's a whole different world than running in the Jim Smith Meet or the NSCHSAA League meet, which is so small. These meets get them ready for the big stage."

That big stage is where St. Anthony's knows it belongs and believes can get to again.

"We expect to be back at Nike Cross Nationals this year," Ryan Dearie said. "We're really confident as a pack when we race. We're expecting all four of us to be up towards the front in every single race."