The Olentangy High School girls cross country team is ready to show how much it has grown as it returns its top six runners after finishing 11th at the Division I regional last season.

"I don't think very many people expected us to get out of the district but we performed very well at the district," coach Dwight Dewese said. "We return a bulk of those girls and they've all continued to improve."

The Braves opened last Saturday with a fourth-place finish (132) behind championUpper Arlington (41) in the Mount Vernon Invitational. They will run Saturday in the Westerville Classic at Westerville North and Wednesday in the Delaware County meet.

Last year, Olentangy was second (57) in the OCC-Cardinal Division behind Worthington Kilbourne (46) and sixth (154) behind champion Thomas Worthington (62) at district. At the regional, it scored 298 points as Mason (111) won.

Of the five graduates the Braves lost, the top runner was Stefani Craze, who was 111th (22 minutes, 20 seconds) at the regional.

Senior Olivia Karner, junior Heather Moore and sophomores Tara Walker, Mckenzie Dove, Candice Dove and Emily Raiff lead the returnees. At the regional last year, Walker was 33rd (20:09), followed by Karner (70th, 20:55), McKenzie Dove (71st, 20:55), Moore (78th, 21:10), Candice Dove (81st, 21:13) and Raiff (109th, 22:17). Sophomore Christine Steinhaus returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury, and sophomore Emily Ash, who lettered for Liberty last year, now runs for Olentangy.

Other top runners are seniors Rae Kotarba, Alyssa Newman and Katie Shetler and sophomores Morgan Johnson and Maddie Lowery. There are six freshmen, led by Elizabeth Potter.

Olentangy is in the OCC-Cardinal this year with Liberty, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Marysville, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.

"We're hoping we can be near the top of the conference," Dewese said. "It's going to come down how well we come together as a team. I'm counting on the leadership of the upperclassmen to help every one get better."

•Mike Moran has taken over as coach of the boys team for Sam Lehman, who now is at Orange. Moran was an assistant under Lehman for five years and coached cross country at Michigan Technological University for 12 years. He also has coached boys basketball at Groveport and Olentangy.

"I've always had a passion for running," Moran said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

The Braves opened last Saturday by taking seventh (160) behind champion Gahanna (47) in the Mount Vernon Invitational.

Olentangy finished sixth in the OCC-Cardinal with 136 points last year behind champion Jerome (42) and 12th (310) behind champion Reynoldsburg (67) at district. The Braves lost seven graduates, led by Peter Elliott, who was 45th (17:24.75) at district.

The top returnees are seniors Brenton Johnson, Alex Hunn, Joey Worman, Josh Midkiff and Ethan Good and juniors Jacob Crist and Will Simpson. Those who competed at district were Simpson (56th, 17:39.25), Johnson (79th, 18:15.48) and Hunn (99th, 18:51.03).

Other top runners are senior Austin Rapp and sophomores Jack Schlabig and Cody Ostrander.

"We want to improve on our team finishes from a year ago," Moran said. "We'd like to be a contender for the OCC and get out of the district.

"We don't have that one outstanding front-runner, so to be successful, we have to have all seven runners score for us."

At a glance

•Coach: Boys -- Mike Moran, first season; Girls -- Dwight Dewese, sixth season

•Next meet: Saturday at Westerville Classic at Westerville North

•Key runners: Boys -- Jacob Crist, Alex Hunn, Brenton Johnson and Will Simpson; Girls -- Candice Dove, Mckenzie Dove, Olivia Karner, Heather Moore, Emily Raiff and Tara Walker