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In its long and storied cross country history, Mountain View has won three national championships and 14 state titles. This weekend, it could reach still another milestone.

Coach David Houle and his top 10 female runners left Salt Lake City this morning for Birmingham, Ala., where they will compete Saturday morning in the prestigious Vulcan Classic. More than 3,000 runners from throughout the nation will go head-to-head in a series of varsity and junior varsity races that will go a long way in determining the season's final rankings in publications such as Runner's World, Running Times, Harrier Magazine and USA Today.Though they were also both invited to the meet, neither the Mountain View or Bingham High boys' teams - two of the best in the nation - will run on Saturday. But that has taken nothing away from the competition the Lady Bruins will face.

"Race director John Parkes tells me that all of the top 10 girls' teams in the nation and possibly the next best five teams have committed to run," Houle said Wednesday night before leaving town. "This is probably the strongest prep girls' cross country field ever assembled."

Among those entered with the second-ranked Bruins are defending champ Shenendoah of New York, 1993 national champion Saratoga Springs of New Jersey plus Irvine (California) , and Duluth (Minnesota). In all, at least 10 teams favored to win their state championships later this fall are in the field.

Mountain View's contingent includes Adi Sorensen, Wendy Allen, Jandee Hood, Katherine Henrie, Leslie Vannoy, Liz Benson, Shelby Steele, Lisa Whiting, Cherie Stevens and Kelly Fugal. Only Sorensen is a senior, and Whiting is actually a freshman, so Houle is not only building on Mountain View's reputation for this year but for next year as well.

"I think we'll do very well on Saturday, but I also think that however we perform will help set the stage for next year and beyond," Houle said.

The Bruins were invited by the meet organizers because of Mountain View's national reputation, and those same organizers are picking up all the airfare and hotel expenses. Mountain View is scheduled to run at about 9:30 a.m. MDT Saturday; the Bruins will return to Salt Lake City at about noon Sunday.