The Laguna Beach High girls' cross-country team is a day away from opening its 2010 season.
When the Breakers compete Saturday at the Laguna Hills Invitational, they'll do so with a squad that will show a youthful appearance, yet looks can be deceiving.
The program, once again, has the talent to go very far.
"It's going to be a great year," Coach Steve Lalim said. "We are really young, but I expect it to be our greatest season ever."
Last fall, the Breakers made it to Fresno for the CIF State Cross-Country Championships and finished fifth in Division IV.
Lalim said he expects junior Natasha Strickland, freshman Marlee Grosher, freshman Audrey Rodriguez, junior Marisa Merchant, sophomore Grace Clark, senior Carly Savage, senior Taylor Capobinaco, senior Beverly Ronses, freshman Kayla Baskevitvh and freshman Anya Miller to compete at the varsity level throughout the season.
He also said freshman Lola Cant, who moved to Laguna from Australia, could crack the top seven.
Strickland was Laguna's top individual finisher (19th) at last year's CIF State Championships.
"Natasha should have a great season," Lalim said. "If she stays healthy and continues to work hard, I think she has the talent to be an All-State runner (Top 10). She has incredible passion, she is diligent in her workouts and she does all the little things outside of practice that takes her to the next level.
"I expect Natasha to have one of greatest seasons in the history of Laguna Beach girls' cross-country."
Laguna appears to be the favorite to win the Orange Coast League championship and if it accomplishes that goal, then it'll be the fourth-straight league crown for the program. Lalim said that Godinez, which is "always improving," and league newcomer Saddleback, are teams that could pose a threat to a title run.
The Breakers are healthy as they head into the Laguna Hills Invitational. The following week is the Mt. Carmel Invitational in San Diego.
"We will train through the invitationals through September and October," Lalim said. "Our training plan is set up for us to run our best at CIF finals and state. So, I like to consider the invitationals as our preseason for what really counts in November. I'd rather see our team on the podium at State, than get a plaque from an invite. The invites are great, but our focus is CIF."
Lalim said his goal is to get five of his runners under 20 minutes at the November CIF meet at the Mt. San Antonio College course in Walnut.
"If we can accomplish that," he said, "we should be in the top three. Harvard-Westlake is the (state) favorite but after that, it is wide open. We have a very young team, but it appears to be a very talented team.'
Saturday: Laguna Hills Invitational
Sept. 18: Mt. Carmel Invitational, San Diego
Sept. 25: Stanford Invite, Palo Alto (varsity top-seven only)
Sept. 25: Dana Hills Invitational
Sept. 30: Orange Coast League Cluster (at Godinez High)
Oct. 9: Clovis Invitational, Fresno (varsity top seven only)
Oct. 16: OC Championships (at Irvine Park)
Oct. 22: Mt. SAC Invitational
Nov. 4: Orange Coast League Finals (at Godinez High)
Nov. 13: CIF Prelims (at Mt. SAC)
Nov. 20: CIF Finals (at Mt. SAC)
Nov. 27: CIF State Championships (at Woodward Park, Fresno)