The Big Walnut High School boys and girls cross country teams were hindered by depth issues and injuries last season, but seventh-year coach Gary Brandon remains optimistic that his runners can turn it around this fall.

The Big Walnut High School boys and girls cross country teams were hindered by depth issues and injuries last season, but seventh-year coach Gary Brandon remains optimistic that his runners can turn it around this fall.

"After a season like last year, you definitely want to head back in the right direction," he said. "We've got the people back who can do that."

The program lost only three top-12 runners from a year ago -- 2012 graduates Sean McVay and Nathan Randall for the boys team and 2012 graduate Devra Hoover for the girls -- so Brandon has plenty of experience returning.

For the boys, seniors A.J. Barber and Cameron Ahmed, junior Logan Perry and sophomores Jon Kahrmann and Bobby Bogantz complete the top five.

"After our fifth runner, we have a big gap to our sixth," Brandon said. "But the top five are further along than the top five from last year."

Bogantz also plays soccer, and Perry is on the football team.

"When they're here, we're at least in the middle of the pack, maybe slightly above that," Brandon said.

Juniors Hayden Althauser and Jacob Oppenheimer, sophomore Noah Miller and freshman Nathan Bell make up the next tier of runners. Brandon hopes to see them drop their times and catch the top-five runners.

"We've got to get somebody to close that gap," he said. "You're awful lucky if you can go through a full season without losing one of your top kids."

Rounding out the boys team are seniors Jimmy Glaze and Colton Shidaker and sophomores Jared Boesker, Aaron Brown and Graham Weaver.

On the girls side, the top six return from last year in senior Bethany Bogantz, juniors Stephanie Keller and Catie Craig-Bowden and sophomores Mikaelea Smith, Makenna Henning and Hannah Seabrook.

Senior Leah Viertel, a move-in from Texas, follows closely behind the lead pack.

Like her brother, Bogantz is playing soccer. She also pulled double duty as a sophomore in 2010 but focused on running last year.

"We're going to have to keep an eye on her and make sure we're not wearing her down," Brandon said.

Sophomore Addison Shawver also returns. She worked her way up to the No. 2 spot on the team last year but was sidelined with an injury late in the season that forced her to sit out track in the spring and much of summer conditioning.

"She's out running and working her way back," Brandon said. "She should definitely be back up in there. I just don't want to move her too hard, too quick."

Rounding out the girls team are senior Elizabeth Finnegan, juniors Kelsey Kieffer-Jones and Mea Wank, sophomore Samantha Godby and freshmen Madison Bayer, Rachel Brown, Erin Lanning, Alison Hager, Mara Hartings, Maddie Jenkins, Mary Jenkins, Selena McVay and Cassidy Wilson.

Last season it the Division I, district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial, the boys team scored 348 points to finish 12th of 17 teams, behind champion Dublin Coffman (58) as the top six teams advanced to the regional at Pickerington North.

Barber led Big Walnut, finishing 59th in 18 minutes, 32 seconds, as the top 24 individuals advanced to regional. Also competing for the Golden Eagles were McVay (62nd, 18:39), Randall (71st, 18:56), Kahrmann (75th, 19:04), Ahmed (81st, 19:29), Miller (89th, 20:22.64) and Glaze (92nd, 21:07.51).

The girls team finished 11th (329) of 17 teams in the district 3 meet, behind champion Hilliard Davidson (43).

Keller led the Golden Eagles, finishing 45th (22:02). Also competing were Shawver (49th, 22:06), Craig-Bowden (68th, 22:49), Smith (72nd, 23:24) and Godby (101st, 29:14).

In the OCC-Capital Division meet last year, the boys team finished seventh (203), behind Hilliard Bradley (40), New Albany (53), Watkins Memorial (63), Olentangy Orange (71), Delaware Hayes (180) and Mount Vernon (186) and the girls team finished sixth (172), behind New Albany (34), Watkins Memorial (54), Orange (79), Bradley (84) and Delaware (103) and ahead of Mount Vernon (233).

Franklin Heights did not have enough runners for team scores.

As part of OCC realignment this summer, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy, which had been in the OCC-Cardinal.

"Watkins and New Albany are always the two to beat," Brandon said.

The Golden Eagles opened Aug. 18 in the OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway, site of the state meet. The boys were ninth (311) of 24 teams and the girls finished 17th (501) of 27.

Big Walnut played host to St. Charles and Columbus School for Girls on Aug. 21. The boys defeated St. Charles 21-37 and the girls lost to CSG 25-30.

Football team getting ready for Cavaliers

The football team, which opened Aug. 24 against Westerville Central, travels to Chillicothe on Friday, Aug. 31, marking the seventh consecutive season in which the teams have played.

The Golden Eagles won 38-22 last season at Chillicothe and are 5-1 against the Cavaliers since 2006. Chillicothe's lone victory during that span came in 2008, when it beat the Golden Eagles 24-20 at Big Walnut

Chillicothe finished 3-7 last year under coach Ron Hinton, who is in his third season with the Cavaliers and 36th as a head coach. Hinton guided Amanda-Clearcreek to the Division V state titles in 1999 and 2000. The Aces were state runners-up in 1997, 2003 and '04.

"They got coach Hinton down there," coach Joe Weaver said. "He's a seasoned, veteran coach and he's very successful. The combination of good athletes and a good coach should make for a great game."

The Cavaliers return 17 letterwinners, including junior quarterback Ryan Mathis (6-foot-1, 169 pounds) and junior running backs Tim Beard (6-0, 179) and Julius Lee (6-0, 186).

Mathis was honorable mention All-Southeastern Ohio Athletic League last season.