The Bexley High School boys and girls cross country teams believe they have an improved mental approach this season.

The Bexley High School boys and girls cross country teams believe they have an improved mental approach this season.

"We still have a lot of fun at practice, but when it's time to get serious we've done a good job of staying focused," junior Cameron Hathaway of the boys team said. "We're working harder than we've ever worked and we've already got eight or nine guys who can finish races in 18 minutes or under. That's a big improvement, because we had only half that many who could do that at this same point last season."

The Lions opened last Saturday by finishing third (52 points) in the Whitehall Ram Invitational behind champion Liberty Union (44) and St. Charles (47). They competed last Wednesday in the Canal Winchester Invitational and will compete Saturday in the Circleville Invitational.

Several runners are back to lead the boys team, including seniors Tim Beck, Anthony Digiannantoni, Tyler Kennedy, Gus Martin, Caleb Muller and Eric Wittig and juniors Hathaway and Aaron Hoffman.

"We've got 42 boys, which gives us as big of a team as we've ever had," coach Eric Acton said. "Our core group ran a little bit more during the summer than they ever have in the past, and we've got a lot of depth."

Last year, the Lions were first (35) the MSL-Ohio Division meet ahead of Granville (57), Licking Valley (81), Newark Catholic (83), Columbus Academy (125), Whitehall (162) and Heath (208) for their second title in three years.

Bexley was second (47) of 10 teams in the Division II, district 2 meet behind Canal Winchester (23). Muller (third, 16 minutes, 39.5 seconds), graduate Matt Cavallaro (fourth, 16:41.89), Hathaway (sixth, 17:04.54), Wittig (17th, 17:48.39) and graduate Howie Zisser (19th, 18:10.34) scored.

The Lions were sixth (139) behind champion Uhrichsville Claymont (85) at the regional. Cavallaro was 13th (16:57) and Muller was 14th (17:00). Hathaway took 17th (17:06) as the top four teams and top 16 individuals qualified for state.

Cavallaro finished 57th (16:58.84) and Muller finished 53rd (16:52.13) at state.

Bexley hasn't qualified as a team to state since 2004.

"What's motivating us to work so hard is that we all want to go to state," Hathaway said. "That's our biggest goal."

Leading the girls team are seniors Ellen Gruesen and Katherine Spillman, juniors Sarah Cavallaro, Erin Lusignolo and Katie Wren and sophomores Jade Brannan and Elisa Mathews.

The Lions were third (66) in the MSL-Ohio meet a year ago behind Newark Catholic (31) and Granville (44) and ahead of Heath (90), Licking Valley (163), Lakewood (170) and Whitehall (183).

"Just like in the boys race, Granville and Newark Catholic typically do quite well for themselves in our league meet," Acton said.

"They will probably be our (top) competition once again."

Bexley was sixth (135) in the Division II district 2 race as New Albany (48) won. Graduate Jordan Brannan was 24th (21:35). He was followed by Spillman (30th, 21:50), Wren (34th, 22:10), Cavallaro (38th, 22:21), Gruesen (42nd, 22:31) and Lusignolo (58th, 23:53).

The top four teams and top 16 individuals qualified to regional.

Bexley hasn't qualified as a team to state since 1992.

"It's always a goal and a big deal to make it to regional and state because it's difficult to get there," Acton said.

At a glance

Coach: Eric Acton, 16th season

Next meet: Saturday at Circleville Invitational

Key athletes: Boys -- Cameron Hathaway and Caleb Muller; Girls -- Jade Brannan, Katherine Spillman and Katie Wrena