Adam Walters has high expectations for the Olentangy Orange High School boys cross country team in his first season as coach.
He would like to see the Pioneers qualify for the Division I regional meet Oct. 26 at Pickerington North as a team -- a feat they have yet to accomplish since their program was established in 2008.
Last season, Orange had two individual regional qualifiers in 2013 graduates Eric Aumiller and Sam Gerst. Aumiller placed 44th of 125 runners in 17 minutes, 8.3 seconds and Gerst finished 47th (17:09.62), as Watkins Memorial's Mikey McKean (16:16.27) secured the 16th and final state-qualifying berth.
"We lost our top guys from last year's team," Walters said, referring to Gerst and Aumiller. "Though individual guys have made it to the regional and state meet before, no boys team in Orange history has made it to regional as a team. Our goal is to change that this year."
Orange placed eighth (193 points) in the 12-team district 2 meet last year at Watkins Memorial behind champion Hilliard Davidson (39).
The Pioneers return four runners who competed at district in senior Tyler Young (30th, 17:54.1), junior Kyle Benecke (58th, 18:35.86), senior Cameron Flesch (66th, 18:50.32) and sophomore Carl Fischer (68th, 19:01.65).
Orange opened Aug. 24 in the 11-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Club Invitational at Foundation Park, finishing fourth (109) behind champion Dublin Jerome (27).
Junior Brandon Morrow paced the Pioneers, finishing 16th (17:17.1). Freshman Brandon Lane (18th, 17:22.1) was next, followed by freshman Hunter Moore (22nd, 17:29.7), Benecke (26th, 17:41.1), freshmen Tommy Heiden (27th, 17:43.6), Young (31st, 17:50.4) and freshman Matt Hartzell (18:28.7).
Orange, which finished third (91) in the OCC-Capital Division meet last year behind New Albany (32) and Olentangy (56), has 32 runners on its roster. Others expected to compete for a spot in the lineup include juniors Hayden Knapp and Bryce Meade and sophomore Sam Kot, Walters said.
"The strength of our team is the commitment and desire to improve as runners," said Walters, who competed in the sport at Otterbein University and served as an assistant coach at Westerville Central last year. "Most of the guys had great summers and we're excited to see the hours of summer training translate into racing success this fall.
"Another strength will be our pack time. We may lack the front-runners of other good teams in the region, but once our first guy finishes, I'll expect our next four or five guys to be close behind. We have pretty good depth for a young team."
Patriots return four state competitors
Liberty returns four runners who competed in the Division I state meet last year at National Trail Raceway in seniors Andrew Johnston (35th, 15:57.9), Chatham Anderson (98th, 16:38.05) and Brad Wiemels (127th, 16:56.33) and junior Cameron Lackey (131st, 17:00.96).
The Patriots finished 14th (264) in the 16-team state meet behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (71).
Also last season, Liberty finished second (39) in the OCC-Central meet behind Hilliard Davidson (28), third (108) at regional behind Westerville North (79) and Davidson (88) and third (55) in the 18-team district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial behind Dublin Jerome (51) and New Albany (53).
"We have strength in numbers," said coach Jared Mills, who has 93 boys in the program. "The team jelled well at camp this summer and the seniors have done a great job in leading. Also, our team totaled over 19,000 summer miles, which means the kids are fit and ready to compete at a high level."
Liberty opened Aug. 24, placing second (60) in the Mount Vernon Kiwanis Club Invitational.
Sophomore Mitchell Towne led the Patriots, finishing 10th (16:55.8). Johnston (11th, 16:56.1) was next, followed by Lackey (12th, 17:00.1), Anderson (13th, 17:04.0), senior Josh Wojciechowski (14th, 17:12.2), senior Daniel Parsons (28th, 17:44.9) and senior Ryan Heckman (29th, 17:46).
"We have a great group of young men who worked as hard this summer as any team I have coached," Mills said. "After qualifying for state a second consecutive year, the guys want to keep that streak alive."
Four regional runners return for Braves
Olentangy returns four runners who competed in the Division I regional meet last season in senior Chase Benson (29th, 16:46.78) and juniors Jacob Darche (90th, 17:44.23), Tyler Azbell (92nd, 17:45.8) and Charles Rodeheffer (96th, 17:47.9).
The Braves finished 10th (258) at regional.
Also last season, Olentangy finished second in the OCC-Capital meet and third (97) in the 13-team district 1 meet at Watkins Memorial behind Westerville North (45) and Pickerington North (48).
"We have a strong front-runner in Benson, a quality runner in Rodeheffer who runs a close second, four hard-working runners in Darche, Azbell, (junior Daylan) Sutton and (junior Sam) Watson as well as some promising freshmen. We are solid from (Nos.) 1 to 5.
"We have a large and talented freshman class that was very successful as eighth-graders. As soon as they learn how to run a 5K race, several will fit right into the mix."
Olentangy opened Aug. 24, finishing third (91) in the Mount Vernon Kiwanis Club Invitational.
Benson (sixth, 16:43.9) led the Braves, followed by Rodeheffer (eighth, 16:54.4), Darche (21st, 17:26.5), freshman Anthony Sasso (23rd, 17:31.6), Sutton (34th, 17:55.9), Azbell (43rd, 18:15) and freshman Alex Garner (54th, 18:29.4).
Olentangy has 34 boys in its program, including other returnees in juniors Kyle Deistler, Zach Profio, Mike Takach and Matt Tran and sophomore Drew Fleischer.
"While we have a solid corps of juniors, we will have to be patient with our freshman class and try not to force feed them conditioning early in the season," Moran said. "We're a relatively young team, with only one senior who will factor in our scoring. Like anything green, we will grow as the season progresses."