Higher pay-to-participate fees have taken a toll on the Groveport Madison High School cross country teams this season in terms of the number of athletes, but that hasn't prevented the Cruisers from steadily improving.
"I'm excited about the direction (of the program)," coach Jason Brooks said. "The pay-to-play (fees) really hurt us, but this year is turning out pretty good. The fee is $150, doubled from last year. That's a struggle for every (school) district, but we've been fortunate in the past not to have a really high pay-to-play (fee).
"I was looking to have somewhere in the 20s numbers-wise this year, but once the pay-to-play came, it was tough. It affects any extracurricular activity. Generally, I'd have two or three runners who were also in the band and they can't afford (to pay the fees for two activities this season)."
Senior Ariel Pichardo has been leading the boys team. In his first full season of competing in the sport, he has finished in the top 10 in seven of the eight events in which Groveport has competed. The exception was the Springfield George Rogers Clark Invitational on Sept. 22, as he finished 11th in 17 minutes, 42.43 seconds.
"He's a special kid," Brooks said. "He's from the Dominican Republic and is fluent in Spanish. He has a 3.5 GPA and he didn't start training until the beginning of August last year, so this is really his first full season.
"He moved to Groveport in fifth or sixth grade. It was tough for him at first because his English skills weren't great. It wasn't until seventh or eighth grade when he had a good grasp on English. Now he speaks it better than some of my athletes who only speak English. He has the talent. It's just a matter of peaking at the right time."
Pichardo is looking to qualify for the Division I state meet Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway. The postseason begins Oct. 20 with the district meets at Watkins Memorial. Last season, he finished 55th of 107 runners in the district 3 meet in 18:28, as the top 24 individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to the regional meet at Pickerington North.
"I'm just worried about staying healthy," Pichardo said.
"My times are consistently dropping. It's good that every week I've pretty much (set a personal record). I just want to stay in the 16s somewhere and see where we go from there.
"My coach and I are pretty excited to see (my) times. We're comparing them to the times I had last year and they're 30 seconds different in the same week, so we're really excited and (we're) trying to get me to states."
Brooks would like to see Pichardo drop his time to about 16:15.
"If you go to ohiomile-split.com, you find that he's in the top 30 in our region and the top (16) make it to states," Brooks said. "He has a shot, but you never know who is going to peak. I don't know if he's peaking now or if there are kids who will in the next few weeks. You have to stay healthy and keep your diet good."
Pichardo placed sixth (16:59.6) in the Newark Invitational on Sept. 15, as the Cruisers finished 11th (254) of 13 teams behind champion Newark (39).
Groveport has not had enough runners to qualify for a team score in each meet this year. In certain meets, runners who are not figuring into a team score must compete in the open or junior varsity races.
"It's hard because we don't know which race to enter," Pichardo said.
"But with the few people we have, we still have a lot of fun."
The girls team has added a runner since the start of the season in freshman Leah Monroe, who finished 64th (25:11.1) in the Newark Invitational to lead the Cruisers.
"She's gotten into it, which is nice," Brooks said. "She has the running bug now after having a swimming background and has dropped four minutes off her time in two weeks."
The boys team finished 18th (457) in the 29-team Springfield George Rogers Clark Invitational behind champion Teays Valley (105).
In addition to Pichardo, scoring for the Cruisers were Eddie Wilson (39th, 18:39.86), Zander Wright (82nd, 19:38.76), Jamie Green (242nd, 24:24.91) and Michael Sweat (244th, 24:28.64).
Monroe finished 92nd (25:27.82) to lead the girls team, which didn't have enough runners for a team score. Also competing were Taylor Moore (110th, 26:35.24) and Priscilla Dodson (111th, 26:35.38).
Miller, Kopala leading way for boys golf team
The boys golf team entered the season with only two members who had previous experience playing competitively.
Those players, senior Clint Miller and junior Trent Kopala, entered the week averaging 83 and 84 strokes over 18 holes, respectively, to lead the Cruisers.
"Clint and Trent are continuing to work hard and have shown great leadership for the young players," coach Joe Rinkes said. "They are continually getting better and have posted solid scores throughout the season."
In the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio Division tournament Sept. 19 at Apple Valley, Miller shot an 80 and Kopala carded an 89. The Cruisers did not have a team score in the round, which Pickerington North won with a 300.
Groveport will compete in the Division I sectional tournament Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Granville Golf Course. The top four teams and top four individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the district tournament Oct. 9 at Apple Valley.
In addition to Miller and Kopala, Rinkes said he will have freshmen Connor Lindsay and Gavin Wise compete at sectional so that the Cruisers qualify for a team score.
Football team set to play Lancaster
The football team will travel to Lancaster on Friday, Sept. 28, for an OCC-Ohio contest.
Groveport dropped to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the OCC-Ohio with a 42-24 loss to visiting Grove City on Sept. 21.
The Cruisers led 3-0 after a 21-yard field goal by Cole Mathias in the first quarter, but the Dawgs scored the next 28 points to seize control. Groveport scored all three of its touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Mecca Swain scored on a 12-yard run to make it 28-10, but Grove City responded with another touchdown before Markel Davis scored on a 50-yard run and Jordan Garrettson scored on a 5-yard run.
Davis, a wide receiver, ran three times for 63 yards and caught five passes for 63 yards.
Grove City improved to 2-3 and 1-1.
Groveport lost to Lancaster 27-25 last season. The Golden Gales fell to 1-4 and 0-2 with a 45-14 loss to Pickerington North on Sept. 21.
Both of the Gales' touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, with Harrison Taylor scoring on a 7-yard run and Tanner England scoring on a 2-yard run. Fullback Isaiah Dexter, who also plays linebacker, rushed for 91 yards on 22 carries and 6-foot-7, 230-pound tight end Ryan Thomas caught two passes for 37 yards.