Centennial High School cross country coach Rhonda Reese was thrilled when more than 40 athletes came out to run for her boys and girls teams.
Reese said the program-record number of athletes should make both squads stronger this season.
"These are the biggest teams we've ever had, which has really improved our depth," said Reese, who is in her 13th season. "It looks like we are going to have a roster that totals about 40 runners this year, which is so exciting. Whenever you have that many, it makes for a lot of competition within the team for those top seven varsity spots. Last year, we had 30, so we have increased our numbers by a lot. It's not too often that you see a Columbus public school field a cross country team with this many."
Returning to lead the girls team are senior Kate Ryan and sophomores Shannon Branch, Jaleah Fair-Harris, Aiyanna Howard, Shelby Tour and Alexis Vance-Townsend. All competed at district last year.
The Stars scored 33 points to win the City League meet last year ahead of runner-up Whetstone (41), capturing their sixth consecutive league title.
Ryan (20 minutes, 3 seconds) finished first in the City meet for the third consecutive year while Vance-Townsend (third, 21:25) and Fair-Harris (fourth, 21:25) also earned first-team all-league honors.
The Stars then finished 12th (341) in the 17-team Division I, district 3 meet behind champion Upper Arlington (64), as Ryan finished 25th (20:27.47) to miss qualifying for regional by one spot.
Centennial opened Aug. 23 by placing 14th (337) in the 18-team Newark Catholic Invitational behind champion Watterson (64). Ryan (16th, 21:49.8), Vance-Townsend (48th, 23:39.8), freshman Lauren Reesman (67th, 25:01.6), Branch (118th, 28:02) and Howard (131st, 29:42.4) scored.
"We looked horrible in our first meet because we were missing key people for various reasons," Reese said. "We're going to be a different team by the time we compete in the City League meet, where our goal will be to defend our title.
"Kate barely missed making it to regional last year and her goal will be to make it through this year."
Junior Callan Reese is the only member of the boys team who competed in the postseason last fall.
With several new varsity runners, Centennial finished 14th (337) in the 20-team Newark Catholic Invitational behind champion Fairfield Christian (70). Reese (33rd, 19:24.7), freshman Will Zimmerman (34th, 19:26.5), sophomore Devin Huber (47th, 19:47.2), freshman Ben Klinger (138th, 23:16.2) and junior Matt Turner (142nd, 23:34.2) scored.
Freshmen Sam Ferrell and Luke Zimmerman also are expected to contribute.
"Devin Huber has put in a lot of miles this summer and is looking incredibly strong," coach Reese said. "I sure would like to see him become the new City League champion. ... Luke and Will Zimmerman, both soccer players who love to run, will also be two more of the top runners in the City."
The Stars finished second (74) behind Whetstone (33) in the City meet last year as 2014 graduate Kevin Adams (first, 16:54) won for the second consecutive year.
Senior Noah Davis (13th, 19:18), who was second-team all-league, didn't return to the team.
"It's going to be a building year with so many new people on the team, but I definitely think we have a good chance to win the City meet," Callan Reese said. "We have some freshmen who are really fast and we'll need them to step up for us to win it."
The Stars finished 11th (316) in last year's 14-team district 1 meet behind champion Hilliard Davidson (29). Adams (22nd, 17:20.27) missed out on advancing to regional by two spots after being the team's first Division I state competitor the previous season.
"Of course, we would like to see our top runners move on to the regional and state levels individually," coach Reese said. "We are still Division I this year, so it is hard to compete with programs that have a middle school program."
Football team to meet Falcons
The football team plays Friday, Sept. 5, at Franklin Heights in a rematch of a game the Stars won 48-47 last season en route to a 4-6 finish.
Centennial opened Aug. 29 at Grandview. Franklin Heights, which finished 1-9 last season, opened Aug. 29 at Columbus West.
Senior quarterback Jeremy Johnson, in his third season as the starter and one of nine returning starters in Centennial's spread offense, completed 26 of 40 passes for 247 yards and five touchdowns against Franklin Heights a year ago.
The Stars rallied from a 35-21 fourth-quarter deficit, as Tyler Patterson rushed 10 yards for a score to tie the game at 41 with just over six minutes left and Johnson threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Patterson with 28.2 seconds remaining.
Patterson and fellow seniors Tyler Hill and Anthony Slappy headline Centennial's wide receiver corps.
The Falcons' 4-2-5 defense features seven returning starters, including senior linebacker Alonzo Longshore, who was special mention all-OCC-Capital last season.
The Stars' 4-3 defense features 10 returning starters, including junior Cole Murray (FS), Slappy (SS), Hill (CB) and Patterson (CB) in the secondary.
The Falcons' multiple-spread offense returns seven starters in junior receiver Seth Dawkins, senior receiver Day Summerall, senior quarterback Ray Spangler, senior running backs Armane Cotton and Mitch Kittinger, senior tackle Justin Harris and senior guard David Haynes.
Dawkins was honorable mention all-district in Division II and second-team all-league a year ago, while Harris was first-team all-league and Haynes was honorable mention all-league.
Boys soccer team set to face Lions
The boys soccer team plays its City-North opener Thursday, Sept. 4, at Columbus International.
Last year, Centennial tied International at 2 and defeated the Lions 2-1 en route to finishing second (7-0-5) in the City behind International (10-1-1).
The Stars were 1-3 overall after beating Briggs 1-0 on Aug. 28 and before playing London on Sept. 2.
Centennial opened with a 3-0 loss to Chillicothe Zane Trace on Aug. 19. The Stars then lost to Hamilton Township 8-2 on Aug. 21 and Fisher Catholic 1-0 on Aug. 26.
Emmanuel Kankam and Gus Ricksecker scored and Mason Pennington had eight saves against Hamilton Township.
Aug. 23 -- Newark Catholic Invitational
Sept. 6 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 13 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park
Sept. 17 -- Arrowhead Invitational at Whetstone
Oct. 8 -- City League meet at Walnut Ridge