Junior Dylan Wheeler and sophomore Tyler Harriman are setting the pace for the Utica High School boys cross country team.

Junior Dylan Wheeler and sophomore Tyler Harriman are setting the pace for the Utica High School boys cross country team.

If all goes according to plan, the next group will be tightly packed as well.

"You can treat cross country as an individual sport, but it's the team aspect we're really pushing," said first-year coach Elizabeth Edinger, who is replacing Eric Indiciani after he took a job in the Westerville district. "That'll help us and I think that's the big key, running in a group and developing team cohesiveness."

Matt Snelling, last year's top runner and a Division II regional qualifier as an individual, graduated, but both Wheeler and senior Steven Gilbraith competed with him on the team two years ago which qualified for the regional. Snelling finished 11th at last year's district 2 meet in 17 minutes, 25 seconds to pace the Redskins, who were eighth (189 points) as eventual state-qualifier Canal Winchester (23) was first.

Senior Seth Ware and junior Tyler Van Sickle also ran at district a week after the team finished third (81) behind Loudonville (28) and Fredericktown (47) at the MBC meet. Junior Storm Van Wey also returns. Like Harriman, junior Matt Wilson is out for the first time.

"We have potential," said Edinger, whose team posted eighth-place finishes at both the 18-team New Albany Invitational on Aug. 22 and the 16-team Newark Catholic Invitational on Aug. 23. "We just have to stick together."

Edinger has seven girls out, too. They include junior Jessie Leaman, a two-time regional qualifier who in the district 2 race a year ago placed eighth (20:37) to earn second-team all-district honors as the Redskins were eighth (186) behind champion New Albany (48). Leaman didn't compete in the Newark Catholic Invitational because of blisters on her heels, but she returned to practice last Wednesday as the teams prepares for Wednesday's Northridge Invitational and Saturday's McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial.

Sophomore Emily Revercomb is capable of running with Leaman, at least early, and freshman Hannah Tomcisin is showing potential. The other newcomers are freshmen Katie Bangert and Ceaira Robey. Juniors Brooke Perkins and Arita Geerdink also return from the team which placed fourth (79) at the MBC meet won by Johnstown (36), the favorite again after advancing to the regional a year ago with a lineup comprised entirely of underclassmen.

"We have a solid top three. After that, we're just trying to add depth," Edinger said. "Improvement is our goal."

Edinger, who coached middle-school basketball last winter at Horizon Science, played basketball at Ohio Wesleyan and is a 2002 graduate after a solid prep career at Toledo Whitmer. She has been an assistant basketball coach at three colleges, including Ohio Wesleyan with the men's team, and she will assist Utica coach Michelle Snow later this year. A physical education teacher at Utica, she began road racing just three years ago but already has competed in marathons.