After chasing Big Walnut's Micah Armbrust most of the season, Caleb Muller of the Bexley High School boys cross country team is starting to gain ground.

After chasing Big Walnut's Micah Armbrust most of the season, Caleb Muller of the Bexley High School boys cross country team is starting to gain ground.

Muller beat Armbrust in the Central Ohio Invitational on Sept. 13, finishing first in 17 minutes, 4.3 seconds, ahead of Armbrust (17:09.74).

Muller finished second (16:51) behind Armbrust (16:47) in the Indian Invitational at Canal Winchester on Aug. 27 and finished third (16:44.3) in the Watkins Memorial Invitational on Sept. 6 when Armbrust was runner-up (16:42.8).

"It was nice to see (Muller) finally catch (Armbrust)," coach Eric Acton said.

"I sat behind him for most the race," Muller said. "In the last 800 meters, we both started to make our moves and I thought, 'I've got a shot at this. I've got to do it. I've got to do it.' I passed him in the last 200 meters."

Away from the sport, Armbrust and Muller are friendly. When Muller finally slipped ahead of Armbrust for his first high school win, Armbrust was the first one to pat him on the back and say congratulations.

Running was an easy way for Muller to make friends after he moved five years ago to Bexley from Adelaide, Australia.

"It was a big surprise when I found out we were moving to the United States," said Muller, whose father, Timothy, moved to complete his master's degree at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. "With every big move you meet people, but coming here was a whole new culture. We speak the same language, but it really isn't the same. We used different words for a lot of things.

"Running was really helpful in making the adjustment. I found out they had a cross country program and I joined the team. It gave me a base of friends to help me out with different things away from running."

Muller has played a key role for the Lions, who won the Central Ohio Invitational and Watkins Memorial Invitational and were second in the Indian Invitational.

Muller, Zach Arace (16:58.9), Cameron Hathaway (17:54.8) and Tyler Kennedy (17:57.5) have broken 18 minutes.

The girls team, which finished first in the Central Ohio Invitational and second in the Indian Invitational, has been led by Katherine Spillman (20:52), Abby Arace (21:35.46) and Jade Branan (21:40.1)

Muller said the teams began training on their own earlier in the summer, and already he could see a difference. He beat his best time from a year ago by 20 seconds -- in his first race.

"Caleb has been quite a captain," Acton said. "He's got a good knowledge of the sport and has been a good leader for our team."

Acton said Muller had a natural stride when he joined the program.

But after a solid freshman year, he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in the middle of his sophomore year and was sidelined the rest of the season and all of the track season.

When Muller returned as a junior, Acton noticed a difference.

"He was very tentative because he didn't want to reinjure his foot," Acton said. "I remember we were at the Panther Invitational at Pickerington North and I told him, 'I want you to get your spikes out today and run like you're going to break your foot.'

"He did that and popped a very good race (10th, 17:24.13). He never looked back after that."

Muller went on to place third at district (16:39.50), 14th at regional (17:00) and 53rd at state (16:52.13).

Muller is looking forward to revisiting the Pickerington North course when the Lions compete in the Panther Invitational on Saturday.

"I dropped my time by, like, a minute (at the Panther Invitational) last year," Muller said. "In the back of my mind, I was thinking (Acton's advice) is not a great idea. (Acton) is a great guy and I trust him. Plus, if it breaks again, it's going to be his fault. Now I'm glad he told me to do that."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for Bexley boys and girls cross country teams:

Sept. 17 -- Arrowhead Invitational at Park of Roses postponed. It has not been rescheduled.

Last Tuesday -- Competed against Hartley

Saturday -- At Pickerington North Panther Invitational