With six of its top eight runners returning from last season when it finished fourth in the state in Division I, the Hilliard Davidson High School boys cross country team is ready for the next step.

With six of its top eight runners returning from last season when it finished fourth in the state in Division I, the Hilliard Davidson High School boys cross country team is ready for the next step.

"We would like to challenge for a state championship and possibly a spot to nationals," 16th-year coach Pat Schlecht said. "We would like to compete well against the nationally ranked teams we will be facing on our out-of-state trips."

Returnees include seniors Anthony Caviolo and Lou Takahashi, juniors Garrett Knapik and Spencer Schlecht, the coach's son, and sophomores Colin Burdette and Johnny McKeown.

In the state meet last season at National Trail Raceway, Burdette finished 54th in 16 minutes, 23.62 seconds. That was second on the team behind 2012 graduate Ryan Caulley (28th, 16:02.9).

Caviolo (69th, 16:29.52), Knapik (74th, 16:31.75), Spencer Schlecht (88th, 16:40.71), 2012 graduate John Vo (108th, 16:55.74) and McKeown (107th, 17:41.53) also competed as the Wildcats (149) finished behind champion Dublin Coffman (101), Cleveland St. Ignatius (120) and Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (128).

Burdette and Knapik were first-team all-OCC-Central Division and all-district. Caviolo and McKeown were second-team all-league, and Spencer Schlecht was honorable mention all-league.

Coach Schlecht expects Burdette to be the frontrunner, with Knapik close behind.

Spencer Schlecht, who is co-captain with junior Andrew Stroh, is expected to miss about half the season while recovering from surgery.

Sophomores Luke Hoover and Ryan Whitney also should be strong contributors, according to coach Schlecht.

"Those nine guys are our workhorses," he said. "We've got depth and focus. We need to keep the boys healthy during their big-mile weeks and figure out when to bring back Spencer Schlecht, who should have a big impact in our team scores as we prepare for the state championships."

In the opening OHSAA Preseason Invitational on Aug. 18 at National Trail Raceway, the Wildcats won (59) the 25-team Section A race as Burdette (second, 16:03.73), Knapik (fourth, 16:11.34), Caviolo (10th, 16:27.47), Takahashi (20th, 16:40.75) and McKeown (23rd, 16:43.78) scored and Hoover (35th, 16:57.13) and Whitney (48th, 17:14.18) also competed.

Last season, the Wildcats (42) won the district 1 meet at Watkins Memorial ahead of second-place Dublin Jerome (58) and were third (115) in the regional at Pickerington North behind champion Olentangy Liberty (91).

Davidson was second (38) in the league meet at Westerville North behind Coffman (31) and ahead of Central Crossing (70), Darby (115), Thomas Worthington (135), Upper Arlington (166) and Worthington Kilbourne (173).

Darby and Kilbourne will compete this season in the OCC-Cardinal, and Liberty and Marysville have moved to the OCC-Central.

"Our varsity group of 10 to 12 young men has been working harder than any group I have coached before," coach Schlecht said. "The whole varsity has a vision and they can see where they are going. Davidson has always been about the group and this team is determined."

Bradley looking to Christensen to lead

With four of its top five runners from a year ago lost to graduation, Bradley is hoping the return of senior Nick Christensen will help as it begins competition in a new league.

"Nick Christensen is our strongest runner," fourth-year coach Jon Agrieste said. "He processes what it takes to be an accomplished runner. Last year, his season was cut short with a double stress fracture in his foot. He is looking to redeem himself and be a strong runner in central Ohio and make the state meet."

Also returning are senior Jon Wagner and juniors Ryan Gross and Eric McCabe.

McCabe was 45th (17:22.35) in the Division I regional last season when the Jaguars finished eighth (188) behind champion Liberty (91). He was third on the team behind 2012 graduates Troy Kelleher and Austin Alpeter. Kelleher advanced to state, where he was 46th (16:20.8).

"We graduated several key athletes and our biggest concern is a young, inexperienced team," Agrieste said. "They will have to mature and progress as the season goes on."

Wagner (89th, 18:16.58) and Gross (101st, 18:32.71) also competed at regional after the Jaguars finished second (72) behind New Albany (68) in the district 2 race at Watkins Memorial.

"Our team strength will be in our front two runners with Nick and Eric," said Agrieste, whose team opens Saturday, Sept. 1, in the Greenville Treaty City Invitational. "They will give us two low sticks that will make up for a lack of depth. Eric McCabe had a strong track season and is working hard to help Nick lead our team. He is a well-disciplined and intelligent racer that loves to fly on the last mile; a true competitor.

"Jon Wagner is a much improved senior who has put in a lot of work to be in his position. He is our strongest leader and keeps things real at practice. He has big shoes to fill and he is up for the job."

Also competing for spots are juniors Luke Rehbeck and Darian Sorenson and sophomore Brady Hall.

The Jaguars (40) won the home OCC-Capital meet last season ahead of New Albany (53), Watkins Memorial (63), Olentangy Orange (71), Delaware (152), Mount Vernon (158) and Big Walnut (203).

This season, Bradley is competing in the OCC-Cardinal with Darby, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Kilbourne, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.

"We want to progress our young team into a strong championship contender," Agrieste said. "We want to win our new Cardinal Division meet, advance to regional and have our best regional finish ever to advance our team and individuals to the state meet."

Depth, experience concerns for Darby

Second-year Darby coach Mark Tremayne welcomes back three runners from a team that finished eighth (188) in last season's 16-team district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial behind champion Coffman (58).

Darby was fourth (115) in the OCC-Central meet behind champion Coffman (31).

Drew Lowery, a 2012 graduate, just missed qualifying for state by finishing 17th (16:38.7) at regional.

Seniors Lane Hagar (64th, 18:43) and Alan Li (74th, 19:03.58) and sophomore Chase Hampton (46th, 18:04.39) were district competitors last season.

Hampton was second-team all-league.

"Although depth and experience may be a concern, I think we'll have a good pack attack, excellent senior leadership, and we have quality young runners," Tremayne said.

Hoping to contribute are seniors Christian Cunningham and Adam Ruiz, juniors Ryan Baldridge and Dylan Stephens, sophomore Andy Li and freshmen Gage Akers, Danny Reynolds and Spencer Strohm.

Tremayne expects Hampton, Reynolds and Stephens to lead the way.

"They are all underclassmen and lack experience, but they possess tremendous work ethic and have huge goals," he said. "They are relatively unknown, but will certainly surprise some people."

In the opening Hamilton Township Invitational on Aug. 21, Hampton (second, 16:46.77), Reynolds (third, 16:51.38), Stephens (fifth, 17:17.73) and Hagar (sixth, 17:20.57) finished in the top six and Ruiz was 15th (17:58.99) as the Panthers were first (29) in a seven-team field ahead of runner-up Bexley (41).

The Panthers competed Aug. 25 in the Panther Run to Fun at Mills Creek Golf Course in Sandusky. The host team was Sandusky Central Catholic.

Tremayne said his team's goals are to finish in the top two in the league and district meets and to compete at regional for a state berth.

"The team should certainly advance to the regional meet with individuals that have the ability to get to the state meet," he said.