Williamsport's goal in 2012 is really no different than in year's past. The Millionaires want to be team district champions and qualify for the PIAA Championships in late fall.
What is different is the route the Millionaires will have to navigate to get there.
Due to the PIAA change to three classifications for the 2012 season, Williamsport will be the lone Class AAA program in District 4 and will be forced to qualify for the state meet through District 2 like so many other Williamsport programs including tennis, basketball, softball and baseball.
"I think for us it's more of a challenge because we will not see any of our district competition until districts," said Williamsport fourth-year head coach Jeremy Steppe. "We will be going into the meet blinded whereas in recent years we had a comfort level of knowing whom we were running up against."
That usually included teams like Selinsgrove, Shikellamy and Jersey Shore. The Millionaires would typically see those teams at least twice a season (regular season and league meet) before the District 4 Championships, but now all three of those programs will run in District 4 Class AA.
Williamsport athletic director Sean McCann attempted to find invitationals in the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton area for the Millionaires, but was unsuccessful, leaving more uncertainty for the team when they travel to the District 2 Championships on Oct. 24.
Though Steppe's runners won't likely see many District 2 runners throughout the season, the Millionaires will travel to Elk Lake, the site of the D-2 Championships, prior to the district meet to scout the course.
The Millionaires, which begin their season this Saturday at the Bear Mountain River Run in Lock Haven, will run at the PIAA Foundation Invitational on Sept. 22 in Hershey. The event, which is competed on the PIAA Cross Country Championship course, will be divided into three classifications like the end of the year championships and give Steppe and his talented Millionaires, with returning state qualifiers Herb Stelly, Gregory Johnson and Sarah Wirth, a barometer near the midseason.
The new classification numbers leave District 4 with 19 boys teams and 16 girls teams in Class AA and 10 boys teams and 13 girls teams in Class A.
Area teams in boys and girls Class A include Loyalsock, Canton, Mansfield, Sullivan County, Wellsboro and Williamson.
The biggest change for the District 4 Class AA and Class A teams will be the number of qualifiers they receive to the PIAA Championships. Class AA boys teams will still send the top two teams and top 10 individuals not on those teams to the state championship meet, but in girls Class AA only the team champion and top five individuals not on that team advance.
"It really reduces the number of kids that could perform well down at states," said Lewisburg coach Mark Sundberg, who coached his boys team to a 17-0 record last year and his girls team to 17-1 record and the District 4 Class AA championship. "District 4 has always done really well down there and it (the new format) does hurt in my opinion."
Teams in Class A boys and girls will also send just their team champion and top five individuals not on that team.
"It's going to make it more difficult I think (to qualify) because so many of the good teams that were Class AA are still Class A and only one team and five individuals advance, which makes it tougher," said Sullivan County coach Glenn Vaughn.
Vaughn returns two-time state medalist Kelby Mullen this season. Mullen, a senior, placed 12th in the Class AA state championships as a sophomore and 20th last year. He will have less wiggle room at the district championships, however, though he finished fourth at last year's championships.
"I don't know what it was that caused the change to happen," said Vaughn. "There was thinking that it would be beneficial in our situation, but it's certainly not so. There will be some quality runners this year not at the big dance."
The new format will help balance the field statewide. There will be 177 boys teams in Class AAA, 193 in AA and 191 in Class A. The girls breakdown is 180 Class AAA teams, 193 Class AA and 188 Class A.
There is still a large disparity in the Class AAA field. District 1's North Penn has a male enrollment of 1,542 students (in grades 9 through 11) and the classification is for schools with 416 or more male students. Williamsport enters the 2012-13 school year with 685 boys.
"When you break it down it doesn't look correct number-wise, but when you look at it by total schools in each division it's comparable," said Steppe, who was originally on the fence about the move to three classifications. "As far as our classification, it is pretty diverse."
There is less of a disparity in Class A and Class AA with enrollment figures for boys in Class A between 1-215 and for Class AA 216-415. The numbers are similar for girls with Class AAA at 406 and bigger, Class AA between 204-405 and Class A between 1-203.
While all the numbers can be mind-boggling, come Nov. 3 the bottom line will be the PIAA will crown six individual and team champions for the first time in history.