With the proverbial "sophomore jinx" now in her rearview mirror, Watkins Memorial High School girls cross country junior Mara White is looking forward to bigger and better things.

With the proverbial "sophomore jinx" now in her rearview mirror, Watkins Memorial High School girls cross country junior Mara White is looking forward to bigger and better things.

Of course, much of her disappointment last year merely stemmed from the fact that she advanced to the Division I state meet as a freshman in 2008.

She didn't reach state last year, but finished runner-up (19 minutes, 55 seconds) last year when the Warriors repeated as OCC-Capital Division champions. And despite battling a nasty case of bronchitis throughout the fall, she also helped the team earn a regional berth with a second-place finish (65 points) behind Canal Winchester (59) at the section 3 district meet.

"I couldn't recover once my lungs went," White said. "I went from (placing) eighth in the region (in 19:17 in 2008) to 48th (a year ago in 21:47). I was very disappointed, but now I'm back and healthy again."

That's good news for the Warriors, who return a stable of other key contributors in junior Kara Sparks, sophomore Veda Durbin and seniors Morgan Reichert, Jessica Lyons and Jessica Rankin. That trio of seniors ran with White on the OCC-Capital winning team two years ago, too. With Sparks finishing third (19:55) at last year's championship, the Warriors edged Mount Vernon 48-56. Big Walnut (81), Olentangy Orange (90), New Albany (113), Hilliard Bradley (125) and Delaware (174) followed.

"We have the luxury of having three No.1 (runners) with Mara, Morgan and Kara," said second-year coach John Jarvis, whose team finished ninth (246) at the regional meet won by Sylvania Northview (61) a week after Sparks had keyed the drive at the district meet with a team-best fourth-place effort (20:03). "If someone has an off day, someone else picks it up. It's a nice problem to have."

The team's newcomers include freshman Natalie Watson and sophomore Tina Tinch.

"Our girls have seen the importance of running year-round," Jarvis said. "They did a great job meeting up in the summer. Hopefully, it'll pay off again as the season moves along."

•After finishing second at the OCC-Capital meet in 2008, the boys team slipped to fourth (48) a year ago, behind champion New Albany (38), Bradley (66) and Mount Vernon (82). Big Walnut (104) finished fifth and was followed by Orange (148) and Delaware (158). Franklin Heights rejoins the mix this fall.

"Fourth in the conference, that's not where we want to be," said Jarvis, whose Warriors then regrouped to finish fifth (162) at the 13-team Section 1 district meet won by Pickerington North (38), missing a regional berth by one spot. "But with the work our guys did in track (and field) in the spring and through the whole off-season, we should be stronger."

Senior Gage Marek returns and has accepted the leadership role now that Mike Taylor graduated. A deep junior class features Regan Coyle, Taylor Williams, Erich Vlaar and Taylor Fuss. Danny Ohler and Mike Robbins are two other seniors, and seven of the team's 17 runners are freshmen.

"It's going to be different without Mike," Jarvis said. "He was a four-year kid, and it seems like he'd been around the program forever with some older brothers who ran here, too."

Schedule

WATKINS MEMORIAL

Aug. 28 - Newark Catholic Invitational Sept. 4 - Westerville North Cross Country Classic Sept. 11 - McGowan Invitational at home Sept. 18 - Galion Cross Country Festival at Amann's Park Sept. 25 - Lancaster Invitational Oct. 2 - Woodridge Invitational at Stow Oct. 9 - Johnstown Invitational Oct. 16 - OCC-Capital Division meet at TBA Oct. 23 - Division I district meet at home