The Hilliard Davidson High School girls cross country team lost its top runner from last season to graduation, but first-year coach Nathan King knows the Wildcats are a talented bunch.

The Hilliard Davidson High School girls cross country team lost its top runner from last season to graduation, but first-year coach Nathan King knows the Wildcats are a talented bunch.

Davidson finished eighth (203) in last year's Division I state meet at National Trail Raceway behind champion Brunswick (113).

"We are in a position right now where the runners could seize an opportunity to be a legitimate top-four team in the state, or we could settle for being a good local team," said King, an assistant the past three seasons who competed for the Davidson boys from 2001-04 and was a member of the state championship team in 2002. "It's up to them to decide the kind of mentality they bring to their training and racing. All summer we have talked about the question, 'How high is up?' meaning how high will we dream and how hard will we work for those dreams."

Caroline Hildebrand was the lone 2012 graduate who scored for Davidson at state. She was 48th in 19 minutes, 14.56 seconds.

Returning are senior Lauren Hoover (60th, 19:27.89), sophomore Lilly Saniel-Banrey (66th, 19:36.82), junior Catherine Hildebrand (77th, 19:44.54), Caroline's sister, and senior Elsa Saelens (120th, 20:28.44). Joining them are juniors Izzy Dawes and Jane Haines and freshmen Emily Berg and Jane Onders.

"Davidson is developing a strong pack mentality, which means training with runners faster than you despite the discomfort and learning that consistent hard work over time produces improvement and success," King said. "We have strong leadership and a desire to push the envelope in all that we do. We have seen the big stages of state and national-level competition and are calm and confident in those settings, which is a big help."

Last season, Davidson won (43) the district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial ahead of second-place Upper Arlington (56) and finished first (74) in the regional at Pickerington North ahead of runner-up Dublin Coffman (82).

In the OCC-Central Division meet, the Wildcats were second (48) behind Coffman (38) and ahead of UA (60), Thomas Worthington (101), Darby (121), Worthington Kilbourne (179) and Central Crossing (218).

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

"Our varsity runners ... trained together every day over the summer," King said. "They have a great time being together and doing the sport they love. Their passion and dedication is contagious and has benefited the entire team."

In the OHSAA Preseason Invitational on Aug. 18 at National Trail Raceway, Davidson finished second (115) in the 25-team Section A race behind Mason (64). Scoring were Hoover (10th, 19:24.56), Saniel-Banrey (14th, 19:36.2), Onders (24th, 20:02.29), Saelens (25th, 20:03.22) and Catherine Hildebrand (42nd, 20:40.54).

Darby coach remains optimistic

Three girls have returned from Darby's regional-qualifying team last season.

Still, 12th-year coach Don Seymour is optimistic.

"The strength of our team will be the upper-class leadership and our toughness, in addition to the summer miles the girls put in," he said.

One of the returnees is senior Julissa Poullet, who advanced to the Division I state meet last season.

Poullet finished 105th (20:09.03) at state after placing fifth (19:56.3) in the regional, where the Panthers (288) finished eighth behind champion Davidson (74).

Also back are juniors Emily Melnik, who was 70th (21:44.77) at regional and Aika Zelley, who was 46th (23:11.15) in the district 1 race at Watkins Memorial, where the Panthers finished fourth (102) behind champion Coffman (41).

Expected to compete for the remaining varsity spots are seniors Cassady Shultz and Maria Flemming, junior Sarah Vermillion and sophomore Morgan Brennan.

"I think we can compete for the league championship, qualify for the regional meet and have a realistic chance of advancing to the state meet," Seymour said. "Individually, I think any of our top seven or top 10 have a chance to advance to state."

The Panthers will compete in the OCC-Cardinal this season with Bradley, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Kilbourne, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.

Last season, Darby was fifth (121) in the OCC-Central meet behind champion Coffman (38).

The Panthers opened Aug. 21 by finishing first (30) in the six-team Hamilton Township Invitational ahead of runner-up Bexley (53) and competed Aug. 25 in the Panther Run to Fun at Mills Creek Golf Course in Sandusky. The host team was Sandusky Central Catholic.

Scoring for Darby at Hamilton Township were Poullet (second, 20:41.88), Shultz (third, 21:26.15), Zelley (fifth, 21:45.3), Melnik (ninth, 21:58.74) and Vermillion (11th, 22:12.02).

Bradley features 'solid group'

Bradley won its first invitational last season and hopes to continue strengthening its program as it moves from the OCC-Capital to the OCC-Cardinal.

The Jaguars finished fourth (84) in the home OCC-Capital meet last year behind New Albany (34), Watkins Memorial (54) and Olentangy Orange (79) and ahead of Delaware (103), Big Walnut (172) and Mount Vernon (191).

Four of the top seven runners have returned for coach Ben Gadfield's third season after the Jaguars finished eighth (209) in last year's district 3 meet behind champion Davidson (43).

However, frontrunner Lauren McCabe was lost to graduation after finishing 56th (21:21.84) at regional.

The returnees are senior Kayce Pharazyn, junior Elaina Alpeter and sophomores Tes Corea and Sarah Havener. Corea was second-team all-league.

In the district meet, McCabe was 20th in 21:05, followed by Corea (36th, 21:44.39), Pharazyn (40th, 21:53.16), Havener (59th, 22:30.93) and Alpeter (60th, 22:31.71).

Gadfield expects Corea and Pharazyn to be joined by senior Alex Winter in the team's top three.

"Our top three girls had an outstanding summer," said Gadfield, whose team opens Saturday, Sept. 1, in the Greenville Treaty City Invitational. "There were significant fitness gains when compared to a year ago. Their work ethic has really influenced the team to raise the bar during practices.

"We have a solid group of girls who have been very committed to training this past summer. We should be a good pack team this fall."

Also expected to contribute are sophomore Colleen Grainger and freshman Abby Martin.

"The team goals are to continue to progress, finish the OCC meet with the best finish in school history and qualify the team to the regional," Gadfield said. "The obvious concern for any coach is to keep their athletes healthy throughout the entire season. That is always on the back of my mind."