The Pickerington High School Central girls cross country team began to have a new look two years ago when Megan Sharrett led a group of freshmen who earned spots among the top seven.

The Pickerington High School Central girls cross country team began to have a new look two years ago when Megan Sharrett led a group of freshmen who earned spots among the top seven.

The influx of younger runners continued last year, when Kaitlyn Meyer became a Division I regional qualifier as a freshman and led a solid class.

Now with anotherĘclass of impact freshmen, the Tigers could be one of the area's most improved teams.

At the Pickerington Classic last Saturday at Pickerington North, Central competed in the Panther Division for the first time since Melissa Balko took over as coach in 2003 and ended up seventh (207) in a 14-team field. The Tigers pushed Dublin Coffman (191) and New Albany (198) for spots in the top five.

"There are so many more girls that are pushing themselves this year," Balko said. "I've been really happy with (my freshmen)."

Meyer led the way last Saturday with a fifth-place finish (20:18.28), freshman Santele Smith was 43rd (21:54.3), classmate Emily Sharrett was 53rd (22:17.12) -- one place behind her sister, junior Megan (52nd, 22:16.26) -- and freshman Autumn Cooper was the No. 7 finisher (86th, 23:29.53). Freshmen Sydney Stevens (109th, 24:16.42), Jennifer Whetstone (117th, 24:26.18) and Rachel Kramer (119th, 24:28.14) are others who could end up as regular varsity runners.

Also finishing among Central's top seven last Saturday were sophomores Jessica Bussom (65th, 22:46.47) and Jordan Robinson (69th, 23:04.13).

"Megan Sharrett has been a great leader already," Balko said. "The returning sophomores who were on varsity last year and my juniors are also running faster than they were at this point last year."

•The North boys will look to win their second consecutive title when they compete Saturday in the Running Warrior Invitational at Lebanon.

Coach Tim Starkey believes his team should be in for better performances over the coming weeks even though it defended its Pickerington Classic championship last Saturday.

North's top four runners last Saturday -- Greg Black (fourth, 16:50.97), Daniel Garleb (10th, 17:15.28), Nick Hissrich (11th, 17:21.93) and Mitchell Phillips (17th, 17:31.53) -- were not surprises, but sophomore John Parsons was. He was the No. 5 runner with a personal-best 17:46.49.

Starkey believes Parsons and junior Paul Timmel (46th, 18:18.81), sophomore Justin Simmons (56th, 18:36.03) and freshman Jay Huffman (61st, 18:39.23) should see time among the varsity runners.

"I don't think any of them should be happy with their times," Starkey said. "We're happy we won but not with our times. I think our five, six and seven spots are going to be interchangeable every week. The one guy that really stepped up was John Parsons. He started coming on in track season."

•The Central boys also have a group of freshmen that appear likely to make an impact.

After seniors Joe Taranto (eighth, 17:05.33), Keshav Swaminathan (36th, 18:05.34) and Jeff Williams (43rd, 18:14.7) led the way last Saturday, freshmen Jimmy Jarrell (77th, 19:12.52), Michael Gase (89th, 19:25.97) and Mason Prater (9th, 19:40.02) were next. The three freshmen ran at Ridgeview Junior High.

"You always want to get your guys closer to (Taranto), but I think Keshav and Jeff are ahead of where they were last year at this point," coach Andy Fischer said. "We have three freshmen in our top seven, so that's good. Some of them ran a little faster than I was expecting. It's a little bit of a surprise to see three freshmen in the top seven."

•Junior Caitlin Hughes and senior Emily Fetterman were expected to be among the top seven for the North girls, but not muchĘelse was certain.

Freshmen Gabbi Thacker (41st, 21:50.65) and Meg Moledor (45th, 21:56.3) did their part to help fill the holes left by the losses to graduation of two runners now competing collegiately -- Lauren Kachel and Karissa Magnuson -- at the Pickerington Classic.Classmates Gabbi Bobadilla and Alexa Strejeck are others who are adding to North's depth.

"Honestly I thought it was a solid performance," coach Jim Langenderfer said. "This was the fastest field that we've ever had here and I've been to every one of them. We have a young team and I think our two freshmen, Gabbi Thacker and Meg Moledor, did a great job. We graduated a lot of seniors, so for us this is a learning experience."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Central and North boys and girls cross country teams:

CENTRAL

Last Saturday -- Boys: Finished 10th (221) in 12-team Panther Division of Pickerington Classic at North behind champion North (69); Girls: Finished seventh (207) in 14-team Panther Division of Pickerington Classic behind champion Cincinnati Colerain (58)

Saturday -- At Running Warrior Invitational at Lebanon. Last season, the boys team was sixth (174) in a 21-team field behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (58) and the girls team was 12th (280) in an 18-team field behind champion Mason (60).

NORTH

Last Saturday -- Boys: Finished first (69) in Panther Division of home Pickerington Classic; Girls: Finished 11th (231) in Panther Division

Saturday -- At Running Warrior Invitational at Lebanon