Runners to Watch: Eric van der Els, Brien McMahon

The high school cross-country season officially begins next week for Connecticut athletes.

During the last few days, MileSplit CT featured the top schools from each class in the Nutmeg State. In the coming weeks, we'll highlight the individuals to keep an eye on for the upcoming 2015 campaign. Can Staples' Hannah DeBlasi finish off her outstanding career with an unprecedented fourth straight state crown? Can Tolland win its third consecutive class title and fifth straight state crown. You be the judge by some of its talented harriers who will be returning to the trails?

Eric van der Els

Brien McMahon, senior

He's not the top returner, finishing ninth at last year's state meet. But the Brien McMahon senior is one of our top picks to win it all this fall at the State Open meet. With the graduation of Darien's Alex Ostberg, the field is wide open for individual honors. Van der Els goes into the season with the most momentum. He was the state and New England champion for 3,200 meters during the outdoor track season and capped off his year by finishing third in the 5K at the New Balance Nationals where he clocked an impressive time of 14:41.05. Van der Els was also second to Ostberg at the New England indoor meet where he ran an all-time best of 9:08.67 for two miles and was sixth in the mile at the Glenn B Loucks Games this past May where he ran 4:15.82. The Brien McMahon standout will have his work cut out for him with Glastonbury's Randy Neish, Darien's Armstrong Noonan and Ridgefield's Gabriel Altoop all returning after successful campaigns on the trails in 2014. Based on his improvement from last year where he had a 5K best of 15:40 on the dirt trails, van der Els may be the runner to beat.