Watkins Memorial High School cross country coach Marty Dahlman likes what he sees while watching senior Mike Taylor run, and it has less to do with times and more to do with physique and potential.

Watkins Memorial High School cross country coach Marty Dahlman likes what he sees while watching senior Mike Taylor run, and it has less to do with times and more to do with physique and potential.

"He looks pretty good out there," said Dahlman, whose team will play host to the McGowan Invitational on Saturday. "He's grown and matured. And with guys like him and (senior Ryan Mounts) and some others, I think we'll surprise some people this year. We've been kind of spread out, but now all of a sudden we've got a solid five that's much tighter.

"And even though we've always been competitive in our league, I really think the new alignment helps us and really puts it back in reach for our girls (team)."

The Warriors won the OCC-Capital Division two years ago.

Taylor and Mounts are striving to replace graduate Brock Finelli, a Division I state qualifier two years ago and ThisWeek's Athlete of the Year that season, as the front-runner. Senior Kevin Nikolas had a productive summer, junior Austin Prosek and sophomore Gage Marek are coming on, and Dahlman believes he picked up more potential with senior first-year runner Josh Thomas.

"He's excelled in our workouts, this from a kid nicknamed 'Turtle,'" said Dahlman, whose boys team was fourth (77 points) at last year's league meet won by Dublin Scioto (36) and ninth at the district 2 meet won by Hilliard Davidson (45), with Finelli returning to the regional. "He really adds something to our team."

Also look for senior Rob Baisden, a state track and field qualifier in the 400 meters in 2007, and sophomore Michael Robbins.

The girls team also features a state qualifier from 2006 in senior Audrey Springer, last year's OCC-Capital runner-up (19 minutes, 59 seconds) and a regional qualifier after placing 20th (20:13) at the district 2 meet. She struggled with allergies during the opening Newark Catholic Invitational on Aug. 23, with sophomore Morgan Reichert finishing first (21:49) for the Warriors and freshman Mara White second. Dahlman has made a project of junior Michelle McKean, a 400 specialist in track. Also look for junior Brittany Heflin and sophomore Jessica Lyons, among others.

"(Springer is) feeling better now that the air's cleared out," Dahlman said before last Saturday's Westerville Classic. "That makes the team better so it's exciting. She's going to have good days and bad days, though, and we can't buckle behind her.

"We've always had a good top-three with our girls, but this year I think we can go a little deeper."

The girls team was fifth (102) at last year's OCC-Capital meet won by Olentangy Liberty (37) and 11th (300) at the district 2 meet won by Thomas Worthington (62).

Scioto and Liberty no longer are in the league, replaced by Delaware and Mount Vernon. The other newcomer is Olentangy Orange, with Franklin Heights, Big Walnut and New Albany remaining. Hilliard Bradley will join when it opens next year.

Watkins Memorial's Morgan Reichert dives to make a catch during a game of ultimate frisbee at cross country practice last Thursday. The Warriors will be host to the McGowan Invitational on Saturday.