Despite losing two of the state's top cross country runners, Bob Ford Jr. has the same aim for his 2012 Fairfield Prep cross country team.

"Win the state championship," Ford said. "That's the goal every year."

Ford intends to reload his defending state championship team. But Connor Rog and Patrick Corona are off to Division 1 running programs and

Michael Whelan's graduated too.

"It's very hard to replace those guys," Ford said. "We're replacing a lot of people."

Junior Christian Alvarado is Prep's top retuner. Alvarado burst on the scene in 2011, finishing eighth at the State Open meet.

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"I think Alvarado is one of the top-five returners in the state," Ford said. "He's running really well."

Scott Ball will be Prep's captain, and likely its No. 5

runner. Juniors James Mulliken and Alec Hilton and sophomore Andy Thane likely will

fill out Prep's placing spots.

Raphael Kinney and Alex Flosberg are also in contention for spots. Having those two in the mix is essential for depth according to Ford.

"It's hard to keep everybody healthy at all times," he said.

Ford also knows his club did not win the state championship in September in 2011, and is hopeful that Prep can get hot at the right time this year.

"We knew we were pretty strong, but the kids came on at the end," Ford said. "We're

going to train this year to come on strong at the end."

Three of the top four State Open qualifiers in 2011 came from the

Southern Connecticut Conference, and Ford is aware that No. 2 Xavier and No. 4 Amity are

striving to unseat the Jesuits.

"No team is sitting around to see how it is going to finish second," Ford said. "If you

talk to coaches who know the sport, they know that nobody knows this year's champion. They only know what last year's champion lost."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens