Colin Prescott, a Division I state qualifier for the Newark High School boys cross country team in 2006, graduated last spring.

Colin Prescott, a Division I state qualifier for the Newark High School boys cross country team in 2006, graduated last spring.

Still, junior Dylan Lewis has his sights set on running down Prescott, who a year ago was front-runner as the Wildcats finished third (84 points) in the OCC-Ohio Division meet won by Hilliard Darby (37) and 13th (341) at the district 1 meet won by Reynoldsburg.

Lewis set the sophomore record (16:37) and now is taking aim at Prescott's program record (16:03.9). Hefinished in 17:37 to pace the Wildcats at the opening Newark Catholic Invitational on Aug. 23, but that was an improvement of 1:40 over his time in the same event a year ago.

"He runs 10 months out of the year and takes June and July off so he's typically a slow starter. I like his attitude that running that much is just natural and not a chore," said coach Randy Noftz, whose teams ran last Saturday in theWesterville Classic and next compete in the McGowan Invitational on Saturday at Watkins Memorial. "He had a good first race, and we're expecting big things from him if he shows the same kind of time drops.

"We're hoping he'll be our first kid under 16 minutes, and he has two years to do it. Our goal, though, is to make it happen this year."

As a team, the Wildcats are in a rebuilding phase after four other runners from last year did not return. Moreover, sophomore J.J. Newman is on the mend from a broken neck, although he's been running behind Lewis early. Junior Tanner Temnick also is back, and the newcomers include sophomore twins Jamaal and Jerel Johnson and classmate Chase Prior.

"Without Colin, we're obviously facing some new challenges," Noftz said. "And the new (OCC-Ohio) we're in is brutal. Reynoldsburg and Gahanna (last year's league runner-up) are very strong programs."

The OCC-Ohio also features newcomers Pickerington North and Central and Grove City. Groveport and Lancaster remain, too.

Senior Stephanie Smith returns as the girls team's top runner although both she and her sister, sophomore Samantha, also are known to take some time setting the right kind of pace. Stephanie holds the junior record (19:58) and now is aiming for Vanessa Miller's program record (19:26) set in 1999 and becoming the program's first state qualifier. A concussion prematurely ended her track and field season last spring, however.

"If Stephanie stays healthy, she's capable of reaching her goals," Noftz said.

The Wildcats finished fourth (105) at last year's OCC-Ohio meet dominated by Hilliard Darby (19) and 13th (304) at the district 2 meet won by eventual state-qualifier Thomas Worthington (62).

Junior Rebecca Oswalt and sophomore Jamie Robinson also are back. The newcomers are sophomore Sarah Gartner and freshmen Anna Zelmer, Katelyn Burge and Haley Newman, who is J.J.'s twin sister. Gartner, who also is playing soccer, was first for the Wildcats at the Newark Catholic Invitational. Oswalt will leave Sept. 19 to study in Spain, leaving Noftz with seven girls to go along with six boys.

"We're hoping we'll be competitive," Noftz said. "The important thing is that the kids get something out of being on our teams."