Returning every runner from a team that finished 12th in the Division II state meet last year, the Canal Winchester High School girls cross country team has high expectations.

Returning every runner from a team that finished 12th in the Division II state meet last year, the Canal Winchester High School girls cross country team has high expectations.

En route to state, the Indians won the MSL-Buckeye Division with 34 points, ahead of Circleville (43), Logan Elm (64), Teays Valley (72) and Bloom-Carroll (139), then won district and regional championships.

Leading the team will be senior Hannah Spicer, juniors Kaitlin Smith, Emily Pifer, Penny Boswell, Alyssa Burns and Leigh Hinkle and sophomore Christy Wildermuth. At state, Pifer was 29th (19 minutes, 29 seconds), followed by Smith (32nd, 19:33), Boswell (90th, 20:38), Wildermuth (103rd, 20:59), Spicer (138th, 21:59), Burns (141st, 22:29) and Hinkle (148th, 24:58).

Other top runners to watch are senior Kristin Bingmer, junior Whitney McDonald, sophomore Jamie Thorn and freshmen Amanda Brown, Kayla Scott, Ali Stauffer and Jessica Stauffer as well as German-exchange student Inka Hortsmann. McDonald also plays for the girls soccer team.

"They had good success last year winning the regional and finishing 12th in the state," said coach John Bender, whose Indians were the host team last Wednesday in the Canal Winchester Invitational before competing Saturday at the Circleville Invitational. "They know they can do better and they want to do better. As they keep doing well in practice, you can't help but think they're going to be a good team."

A trip to state for the Indians would be their third, with the first coming in 2003. Not only does the team have considerable depth, but the Indians have the athletes. Boswell holds the program record in the 1,600 meters in track and field, Spicer and Pifer both set records in the 3,200 and Smith advanced to the Division I state track and field meet in the 3,200 last spring.

"We have some great talent," Bender said. "This is the best girls team we've ever had. "They're talented, they're excellent workers and they're dedicated. They know they're one of the best teams in the state."

On Aug. 20 in the season-opening New Albany Classic, the Indians finished first (29) of 16 teams ahead of New Albany (70) and Columbus School for Girls (118). Smith was first (19:14), Pifer was second (19:37), Boswell was third (20:43), Spicer was sixth (21:01) and Wildermuth was 17th (22:09).

•The boys team will endure somewhat of a rebuilding season as the Indians lost six graduates from a team that placed third at state last year.

Before state, Canal Winchester finished second in its region, first in its district and first (27) in the MSL-Buckeye ahead of Circleville (38), Logan Elm (87), Teays Valley (90), Bloom-Carroll (121) and Fairfield Union (166).

The only runner back who participated at state is senior Mike Williard. At state, Williard was 127th (18:18). The rest of the team is rounded out by Aaron Barber, Tyler Jenkins, Jarrod Genther, Jimmy Fraley, Aaron Robertson and Connor Barber.

"They're inexperienced but I think they'll do well," Bender said. "They finished ninth at the New Albany Invitational (Aug. 20). My expectations are they work hard in practice so that by the end of the season, a realistic goal for us is to participate in the regional as a team."

Aaron Barber, a senior, is in his fourth year with the team and is looking forward to competing after a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee suffered in a basketball practice last November prevented him from playing basketball or baseball.

"I've had to have a lot of patience and keep trying to push through the pain," Barber said. "It was a long and hard five-to-six months of rehab to get back to where I was."

All the runners participated in the cross country program in middle school so Bender does not believe there will be a big transition as long as the runners continue to keep a good work ethic.

"They're all working hard, and if that continues I think by the end of the year we should have a nice team," Bender said.

In the 15-team New Albany Classic, the Indians were sixth (169) behind champion Fredericktown (34). Mike Williard was fourth (17:39), Dan Williard was ninth (18:11), Jenkins was 46th (20:08), Genther was 58th (20:32) and Robertson was 84th (21:36).

At a glance

•Coach: John Bender, 14th season

•Next meeting: Saturday at Circleville Invitational

•Key runners: Boys -- Aaron Barber and Mike Williard; Girls -- Penny Boswell, Emily Pifer, Kaitlin Smith and Hannah Spicer