Having returned five of its top seven runners from a year ago when it won district and regional titles and had a top-five showing at state, the Hilliard Davidson High School girls cross country team has high goals again this season.
The Wildcats finished eighth in the Division I state meet in 2011 and improved on that performance last year by scoring 180 points to place fifth behind Mason (42), Centerville (142), Beavercreek (147) and Sylvania Northview (158) at National Trail Raceway.
"We lost our first and fourth runners in Lauren Hoover and Elsa Saelens (to graduation)," coach Nate King said. "We need to fill leadership and scoring positions and we hope to once again contend for OCC, district and regional titles and another top-10 finish at state."
The returnees who competed at state last year are seniors Jane Haines and Catherine Hildebrand, juniors Lindsey Ruff and Lilly Saniel-Banrey and sophomore Jane Onders.
Hoover led Wildcats at state, finishing 15th of 150 runners in 18 minutes, 21.08 seconds. Onders (31st, 18:48.55) was next, followed by Saniel-Banrey (39th, 18:55.87), Saelens (90th, 19:35.3), Hildebrand (115th, 19:59.1), Ruff (138th, 20:35.26) and Haines (149th, 21:29.31).
Sophomore Lauren Erdman and freshman India Johnson are expected to be key contributors this season.
"This team has a core of 10 to 15 very committed runners who love the sport and their team," King said. "Their commitment to training consistently and together is what allows us to compete against other teams twice our size. We also value training as a whole-athlete, meaning lifting and cross-training in addition to a thorough running program.
"Leadership and ambition are also keys to our team. Our leaders believe that potential is in each runner on the team and they challenge the team to up their commitment and break through barriers holding them back."
Last season, Davidson won its second consecutive regional title, scoring 50 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Upper Arlington (113) at Pickerington North. The Wildcats also won the 14-team district 1 meet at Watkins Memorial, scoring 35 points with New Albany (84) finishing a distant second.
In the OCC-Central Division meet last year, the Wildcats won a tiebreaker with UA to finish second (51) behind Dublin Coffman (43).
"We are most successful when we are selfless racers and big dreamers," said King, whose team opens Saturday, Aug. 31, at home in the Asics Hot Summer Bash. "Late in a race, there is always the temptation to settle and just finish. If each runner decides to press on and fight to the finish, the team succeeds. But if the easy route is taken when a runner is not willing to endure pain in the short-term, the team suffers. The idea of 'team above self' is not an easy concept and requires time and leadership to develop."
Jaguars raising their expectations
Bradley has returned three of its top four finishers in the Division I regional meet last season in senior Elaina Alpeter and juniors Tes Corea and Sarah Hevener.
Alex Winter, a 2013 graduate, led the Jaguars at regional, finishing 32nd (20:09.94). Hevener was next (41st, 20:21.61), followed by Corea (86th, 21:23.29) and Alpeter (88th, 21:24.68) as Bradley finished 15th (311) in the 16-team meet behind champion Davidson (50).
The Jaguars did not have any state qualifiers.
"This season's team brings back two of our three frontrunners," coach Ben Gadfield said. "They should finish toward the front of each of their races. We also have a nice pack of girls from our (No.) 3 (runner) to our (No.) 7 (runner). I believe these girls can finish races within a pack time of 40 seconds.
"The three (Alpeter, Corea and Hevener) are great training partners. They have increased their mileage over the last year and have really set themselves up for a great season. I'm anxious to see what they can do."
Bradley finished second (86) behind Coffman (31) in the 15-team district 2 meet last season at Watkins Memorial. Corea paced the Jaguars, placing eighth (20:14.62).
In the OCC-Cardinal meet last year, Bradley finished fourth (100) behind champion Dublin Scioto (40).
"Our goals are to continue to develop and improve each girl on the team, improve upon our best finish in the OCC championships (fourth), qualify for the regional and improve upon our best (regional) finish in school history (12th) and qualify our first girl in program history to the state," Gadfield said. "We also want to have a girl earn first-team all-OCC honors."
Rounding out the roster are juniors Alex Anton, Colleen Grainger and LeighAnn Hall, sophomore Eliza Alpeter and freshman Clarimar Segarra-Ibanez.
"We have four new faces to our lineup," Gadfield said. "A few have some varsity experience, but this season they will be expected to contribute weekly. These girls did a great job over the summer logging their miles and I believe they are more than ready to step in and contribute."
Bradley opened Aug. 24, finishing 10th (237) in the 21-team Saturday Night Lights behind host and champion Centerville (46).
Hevener (27th, 20:31.84) led the Jaguars, followed by Corea (28th, 20:33.8), Elaina Alpeter (69th, 21:46.54), Hall (72nd, 21:54.67), Anton (77th, 22:02.35) and Segarra-Ibanez (115th, 12:31.78).
Panthers return four regional competitors
Darby has returned four of its seven runners who competed in the Division I regional meet last season in seniors Emily Melnik and Sarah Vermillion, junior Denise Dye and sophomore Dani Deshuk.
Julissa Poullet, a 2013 graduate, led the Panthers at regional, finishing 52nd (20:38.61). Vermillion (64th, 20:53.48) was next, followed by Melnik (66th, 20:57.27), 2013 graduate Cassady Shultz (71st, 21:04.56), junior Morgan Brennan (103rd, 21:47.38), Deshuk (107th, 21:57.13) and Dye (110th, 22:04.28).
Cori Schulte is in her first season coaching the Panthers, who finished 16th (324) at regional.
"Emily and Sarah are the backbone of this team," Schulte said. "They are the only two runners who have been with the team all four years and they are the tradition and heart of this program."
Darby finished fifth (121) in the 10-team district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial behind champion UA (49) and placed fifth in the OCC-Cardinal meet.. Poullet led the Panthers at district, finishing 10th (19:54.51).
Also on the team are juniors Alyssa Cannon, Hanna Geddis and Hannah Kunze, sophomores Sabrina Jaeb and Bri Rampi and freshmen Megan Lilly, Logann Parker, Claire Schamp and Jillian Simpson.
"Claire Schamp is a freshman who has never run cross country," Schulte said. "She is pure and raw talent. I look forward to working with her.
"Danielle, Alyssa, Denise, Hannah and Sabrina are all very talented and really do a great job working together. They will blossom into some really strong leaders in the year to come."
Darby opened Aug. 19 in the five-team Mount Hamilton Invitational at Hamilton Township, finishing second (36) behind Bexley (25).
Schamp led the Panthers, winning the event in 21:48.6.
In the four-team Panthers Run to Fun at Cedar Point on Aug. 24, Darby placed third (75) behind champion Springboro (15).
Schamp led the team on the 3,200-meter course, finishing 11th (13:14.68). Also competing were Deshuk (12th, 13:23.25), Melnik (15th, 13:40.86), Vermillion (18th, 13:51.04), Dye (19th, 14:00.55), Cannon (20th, 14:10.63), Kunze (22nd, 15:02.72) and Jaeb (28th, 15:12.23).
"We are very young and very talented," Schulte said. "When they gain experience this will be a very successful group."