The Hilliard Davidson High School boys cross country team finished fifth in the Division I state meet last season after placing fourth in 2011.
The Wildcats' goals are even higher this season with five of their top seven runners return.
"There's no secret that our goals are to contend for the state championship and to compete in the national meet in Terre Haute, Ind.," coach Pat Schlecht said. "We want to start slow and not push our training until near the end of the season. We want to be peaking and focused for the regional and thereafter."
Junior Colin Burdette is back to lead the Wildcats after finishing 20th (15 minutes, 47.42 seconds) at state last season at National Trail Raceway to earn all-state honors.
Also competing in the 148-runner field were senior Garrett Knapik (37th, 15:59.84), 2013 graduate Anthony Caviolo (68th, 16:18.55), senior Spencer Schlecht (75th, 16:24.28), 2013 graduate Lou Takahasi (101st, 16:38.63), junior Johnny McKeown (112th, 16:44.24) and junior Luke Hoover (117th, 16:46.3).
The Wildcats totaled 189 points to finish behind Cincinnati St. Xavier (71), Mason (123), Cleveland St. Ignatius (139) and Westerville North (151).
"Garrett Knapik is running well," said coach Schlecht, whose team opens Saturday, Aug. 31, at home in Asics Hot Summer Bash. "He's strong, fit and has big goals. Spencer is healthy, but we're going to ease him in and not overdo things to try to prevent injury. Colin is strong and motivated to be among the very best in Ohio and Luke is vastly improved. Johnny McKeown also is looking good after struggling with injuries in the past."
Others vying to secure a spot in the top seven are juniors Ryan Whitney and Alex Steitz, sophomores Paul Mendola, Adam Hoover and Ryan O'Rorke.
"This team has the potential to be the best we've ever had," coach Schlecht said. "My 2001 team was ranked 15th nationally and they had a split between 10 and 15 seconds. My 2002 team was ranked third nationally. They had better frontrunners, but a larger split.
"This group could have the best of both worlds. Our top five guys have to believe they can be frontrunners. Right now, there's probably a 30-second split. But the training hasn't truly begun and I think we'll have a much better connect between Nos. 1 and 7."
Last season, Davidson won the OCC-Central Division meet at Darby, scoring 28 points to edge runner-up Olentangy Liberty (39), and won the 12-team district 2 at Watkins Memorial, scoring 39 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Lancaster (64).
The Wildcats then finished second (88) in the 16-team regional meet at Pickerington North behind Westerville North (79) to advance to state.
McCabe returns to lead way for Jaguars
Senior Eric McCabe is back to lead Bradley, which finished 11th (282) in the Division I regional meet last season.
McCabe finished 18th (16:23.34) at regional, falling two spots shy of qualifying for the state meet. Securing the 16th and final state berth was Watkins Memorial's Mikey McKean (16:16.27).
Also back after competing at regional last year are senior Ryan Gross (91st, 17:44.97) and junior Brady Hall (121st, 18:29.59).
"We've got five guys with experience returning overall and we have a strong frontrunner in Eric McCabe," coach Jon Agriesti said. "We do lack depth and we need to be able to produce a solid pack at Nos. 2-7 to have success."
Also in the top seven for the Jaguars to start the season are seniors Conor Jenkins and Darian Sorensen and freshmen Daniel Butchko and Alex Lewis.
Bradley opened Aug. 24 in Centerville's 15-team Saturday Night Lights, scoring 237 points to finish behind champion Centerville (85).
McCabe placed third (15:59.49), followed by Hall (52nd, 17:35.68), Gross (60th, 17:42.42), Butchko (66th, 17:49.26) and Lewis (17:49.3).
Among the Jaguars' primary goals this season is to improve on their league finish last season, when they placed third (95) behind Westerville North (34) and Dublin Jerome (51). They then placed fourth (104) in the district 2 meet to qualify for regional.
"We'd like to finish in the top two in the conference and return to the regional as a team," Agriesti said. "We want to be in the top eight at regional and get some individuals through to state. This group seems willing to do the work it takes to be competitive."
Panthers return three regional runners
Darby returns three runners who competed in the Division I regional meet last season, when the Panthers finished 13th (298).
Junior Chase Hampton is expected to lead the Jaguars this season after finishing 22nd (16:35.74) at regional a year ago. Also back after competing at regional are senior Ryan Baldridge (76th, 17:33.96) and sophomore Gage Akers (82nd, 17:38.31).
Sophomore Danny Reynolds, who missed last season because of an injury, is expected to be one of the team's top runners after finishing fifth in the 1,600 meters (4:22) in the Division I regional track and field meet last spring.
Senior Dylan Stephens and sophomore Spencer Strohm also are expected to be key contributors.
Others vying for a spot in the top seven are senior Tim Lines, junior Jameson Ehret, sophomore Grant Akers and freshmen Ellis Farson, Eric Ingram and Carter Williams.
"Chase Hampton and Danny Reynolds have put in a tremendous summer," coach Mark Tremayne said. "They have been consistently logging quality miles and will be ready to compete with the best in the state.
"Ryan Baldridge, Dylan Stephens and Spencer Strohm have also done what they needed to do over the summer and will be essential to our team success."
Darby placed fifth (136) in the district 2 meet last season and finished fourth (113) in the OCC-Cardinal meet.
"The work ethic of this team is phenomenal," Tremayne said. "They have grown tremendously over the summer. We should have a strong 1-2 punch with Chase Hampton and Danny Reynolds and a nice pack at (Nos.) 3-6."
Darby opened the season Aug. 19 by winning the five-team Mount Hamilton Invitational at Hamilton Township, scoring 21 points as Bexley placed second (44).
Reynolds won the event in 16:23.5 and Hampton placed third (17:28.8).
Hampton then won the Panther Run to Fun at Cedar Point on Aug. 24, finishing the 3,200-meter course in 10:16.14. Strohm placed 12th (10:50.21) as Darby, which competed without Reynolds, came in fourth (90) in the six-team field behind champion Cleveland St. Ignatius (30).