As coach Mike Moran entered his fifth season leading the Olentangy High School boys cross country program, he believed a sophomore-laden squad would improve as the season progressed.

As coach Mike Moran entered his fifth season leading the Olentangy High School boys cross country program, he believed a sophomore-laden squad would improve as the season progressed.

But the Braves have started strong, finishing first (32 points) in the Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational on Aug. 25. Upper Arlington (92) was second and Gahanna (96) placed third.

"We are a sophomore-dominated team that will get better as the season progresses," Moran said. "This team has a very good work ethic, which is always a plus."

Sophomore Tyler Grover won the Mount Vernon race in 16 minutes, 15.1 seconds and junior teammate Chase Benson was runner-up in 16:53.4. Senior Ryan Thede (seventh, 17:46.1) was next for the Braves, followed by senior Andrew Torti (10th, 17:51), sophomore Charles Rodeheffer (14th, 17:58.8), senior Corey Standerwick (16th, 18:08.9) and junior Jacob Darche (17th, 18:15.2).

Other returning letterwinners include seniors Trey Augustine and Bryce Bishop and sophomores Kyle Deistler and David Mann. Others who might join the varsity lineup include sophomores Tyler Azbell, Daylan Sutton and Sam Watson.

"We have 35 runners in uniform, which is about average for us," Moran said. "Our only real concern is that our freshman class is very small in numbers. Our eighth-grade class will be large in numbers, but we're not exactly sure why."

Last season in the Division I, district 2 meet at Watkins Memorial, the Braves were seventh (183) of 14 teams behind regional-qualifiers New Albany (64), Hilliard Bradley (72), Pickerington North (74), Westerville Central (80) and St. Charles (136). They did not have an individual advance.

Olentangy finished fifth (137) in the OCC-Cardinal Division meet at Westerville North behind Liberty (42), Westerville Central (63), Westerville North (68) and Dublin Jerome (70) and ahead of Dublin Scioto (167), Marysville (215) and Westerville South (237).

This year, Olentangy has moved to the OCC-Capital to compete against Big Walnut, Delaware, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany, Orange and Watkins Memorial.

Liberty moves to OCC-Central

A year after winning the OCC-Cardinal, Liberty has moved to the OCC-Central, home to perennial district favorites Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Davidson.

Other OCC-Central opponents include Central Crossing, Marysville, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington and Westland.

"For us to reach our goals this year we need to stay healthy and focus on the process," said coach Jared Mills, who is in his sixth season leading the program. "That means that we need to just take one day at a time, or, simply, be patient. If we take care of today then tomorrow will take care of itself."

The Patriots opened by placing third (123) in the 13-team New Albany Classic on Aug. 22 behind New Albany (24) and UA (101).

Junior Connor Knight (24th, 18:25) led Liberty followed by freshman Mitchell Towne (25th, 18:27), sophomore Joe Bradish (26th, 18:27), sophomore Luke Borling (28th, 18:31), freshman Nick Mockler (31st, 18:41), sophomore Christian Myklebust (37th, 18:54) and freshman Will Sengos (43rd, 19:04).

Three runners who participated in last year's Division I state meet did not run at New Albany to give younger runners some varsity experience. Junior Andrew Johnston (sixth, 15:31.94) and senior Jim Pappas (14th, 15:43.93) were all-state performers last fall by finishing in the top 25 at National Trail Raceway.

Senior Zach Van Gundy (134th, 17:20.93) also competed at state as the Patriots finished seventh (190) of 16 teams behind champion Coffman (101).

Other returning letterwinners looking for varsity time are seniors Joe McConaghy and Jack Schoettmer, juniors Chatham Anderson, Ryan Heckman Daniel Parsons, Brad Wiemels and Josh Wojciechowski and sophomore Cameron Lackey.

"As a team, the athletes have truly jelled and are looking to have a fun and competitive season," Mills said. "We focus on the concept that each individual plays an equally important role in the success of our cross country program. When this focus becomes a reality it is amazing what we can accomplish.

"We also have a very solid freshman and sophomore class that, I believe, will be contending at the regional and state level, if they continue to work hard, in a couple of years."

Last season in the regional at Pickerington North, Liberty scored 91 points to win the title ahead of fellow state-qualifiers Coffman (100), Davidson (115) and Westerville North (153).

At Watkins Memorial in the district 3 race, the Patriots finished second (61) behind Coffman (58). Westerville North (118), Watkins Memorial (136) and Lancaster (141) also qualified for regional.

Young Orange team to gain experience

Orange finished 10th (219) of 12 teams in the Panther race of the Pickerington Classic on Aug. 25 at Pickerington North, behind champion Kings Mills Kings (74).

Senior Sam Gerst (12th, 17:15.7) led the Pioneers followed by senior Eric Aumiller (14th, 17:22.8), junior Tyler Young (56th, 18:32.9), sophomore Tyler Benecke (96th, 19:20.4), senior Dustin Dieker (101st, 19:23.3), junior Cameron Flesch (146th, 20:22.3) and freshman Carl Fischer (149th, 20:24.2).

Aumiller and Gerst are the top returning runners from last season. Other letterwinners include senior Brian Carrell, junior Charlie Barger and sophomore Bryce Meade.

"The strength of our team is all of our hard work and dedication to the sport and to each other," said coach Stephanie Toler, who is in her third season leading the program. "We really worked hard at developing great team morale this year with lots of togetherness this summer from doing a team camp, having weekly team activities and other things. Building that trust in each other is important."

Last season, the Pioneers finished sixth (154) in the Division I, district 2 race at Watkins Memorial, with the top five moving on to regional. Danny Meyung, a 2012 graduate, advanced as an individual to regional at Pickerington North and later finished 12th (15:43.53) at state.

Orange finished fourth (71) in the OCC-Capital meet, behind host Bradley (40), New Albany (53) and Watkins Memorial (63) and ahead of Delaware (152), Mount Vernon (158) and Big Walnut (203).

"We don't have a lot of experience, losing five of our top seven runners to graduation," Toler said.