CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the best-kept secrets in prep running lies in plain sight in the visage of youth at Charleston Catholic.
The Irish girls cross country team hides its talent in a cloak of inexperience, but the skill displayed to Coach Scott Welch has given him plenty of reason for high expectations this season.
"We're under the radar," Welch said. "We have three very good freshmen that are coming up. It's probably the most talented team I've had in four or five years."
Catholic begins the season unranked in girls Class A-AA, according to the preseason poll published by www.runwv.com. Those rankings, however, do not incorporate newcomers or incoming freshmen.
"Right now, nobody knows about them, nobody knows they're running," Welch said of his youthful bunch.
Hannah Gacek, Lia Preston and Mary Katherine Kay represent the Irish freshman class that hopes to carry Catholic to the podium this November.
The other three runners among Catholic's top six will split time with the Irish soccer program. Sophomores Payton Mullen, Peyton Keener and senior Annie Crockett shine on the pitch, as well as the course. Mullen and Keener each ran as part of Catholic's state champion 4x800-meter relay in June.
The soccer schedule will prevent Catholic's multi-sport athletes from contributing in every meet, though Welch said he expects the team to be at full strength for the Forest Festival Invitational, hosted by Elkins Sept. 14.
Until then, Catholic's potential remains a mystery, known by few beyond Welch and the Irish.
"I'm real curious to see what these girls are going to do," he said.
Also in Class A-AA Region IV, Ravenswood and Scott enter the season ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. Ravenswood returns two of the state's top 10 runners in juniors Hailey Miller and Taylor Treadway.
Scott will look to follow last year's third-place finish behind the trio of Sheena Chambers, Samantha Graffius and Courtney Goodwin, among others.
Individually, Wayne senior Kylie Rutherford ranks among the region's and state's top runners.
Other teams competing in the region include Buffalo, Calhoun County, Gilmer County, Herbert Hoover, Poca, Nicholas County, Roane County, St. Joe Central, Sissonville and Wirt County.
Across the state, defending champ Philip Barbour, defending runner-up Frankfort and preseason No. 1 Williamstown look to be the favorites.
Class AAA Region IV
Putnam County rivals Hurricane and Winfield are expected to battle for the regional title, but neither will be overlook Cabell Midland.
For the Redskins and Generals, depth plays pivotal in the programs' success.
"We run pretty deep," first-year Winfield Coach Kelsey Spang said, "so I'm pretty excited to see whenever we get into the thick of the season who is going to step up and who's actually going to be able to do it."
Winfield enters the season rated sixth, led by sophomore Brittney McMillion, who placed 15th as a freshman at the state championship.