The Granville High School boys cross country team needs a front-runner to replace graduate Michael Brown, who a year ago joined classmate Patrick Merrilees in leading the Blue Aces to their first Division II regional since 2004.

The Granville High School boys cross country team needs a front-runner to replace graduate Michael Brown, who a year ago joined classmate Patrick Merrilees in leading the Blue Aces to their first Division II regional since 2004.

Hence, coach Bob Hollen was as anxious as anyone to get the season under way last Saturday at the Circleville Invitational.

Brown was 12th (17 minutes, 30.54 seconds) and Merrilees was 13th (17:30.92) to lead the pack at last year's district 1 race as the Blue Aces (86 points) finished third behind DeSales (49) and Big Walnut (59).

Senior Nathan Mauer, (15th, 17:32) was right on their heels. He also competed at the regional, where the Blue Aces were 12th (267) as Tipp City Tippecanoe (71) captured the team title. The same goes for classmate Kurt VanNess and sophomores Nick Burger and Cody Washka.

Colin Pleasants, another senior, is out for the first time and has joined the mix. He was the alternate on last spring's 1,600- and 3,200-meter relays which advanced to the state track and field meet, with the 3,200 placing eighth.

Other newcomers include freshmen Eric Sneckenburg and Jacob Fondriest, and junior Tommy Brown is another top returner.

"We have several kids who could run in the scoring pack at most schools but with us might not make varsity," said Hollen, whose team was the MSL-Ohio Division runner-up (57) to Bexley (35) a year ago and will get its first look at the Lions during the McGowan Invitational on Saturday at Watkins Memorial. "It's a good problem to have."

Hollen has a record number of boys (33) and girls (23) out. He divides the runners into thirds during practice, with assistants David and Stephanie Agosta and Ashley Edes each taking a group.

"It was easy picking varsity when we only had a handful of kids," Hollen said. "My assistants, though, they've made this a real pleasant situation."

Pleasantries might be in short supply when Hollen's girls team goes head-to-head against defending MSL-Ohio champion Newark Catholic, which outscored the runner-up Blue Aces 31-44 a year ago, in the league meet Oct. 11 at the Bryn Du Mansion in Granville. Much of the lineup returns intact after the girls totaled 85 points to place third at last year's district 1 meet won by Hartley (56) to qualify for the regional, where the Blue Aces were 11th (250) as eventual state-champion Kettering Alter (57) prevailed.

Sophomore Anna Lamb, a state track qualifier in the 3,200 and ThisWeek's Athlete of the Year, was last year's league runner-up (20:00.25) and set the program's freshman record in the process. Classmate Megan Gaysunas (third, 20:24) and junior Sara Fondriest (fourth, 20:39) followed, and Gaysunas (eighth, 20:37) was the team's top finisher at the district meet.

Alex Nichols is the only senior, however. Other returnees include junior Katie Black and sophomores Kate VanNess, Elizabeth Dilbone, Rachel Cox, Victoria Paumier and Madison Sessor, the alternate on last spring's state-qualifying 3,200 relay who also is running cross country for the first time.

Six of the sophomores spent time in last year's top seven, and one of the freshmen to watch is Kelsey Haller.

"We have a ton of potential," Hollen said. "We're still pretty young, but we'll try not to get in the way (of that potential) too much."