Having as inexperienced of a group as he has worked with in several years hasn't made this season any less enjoyable for Pickerington High School North girls cross country coach Jim Langenderfer.

Having as inexperienced of a group as he has worked with in several years hasn't made this season any less enjoyable for Pickerington High School North girls cross country coach Jim Langenderfer.

The Panthers have developed a pack which Langenderfer believes will become an increasingly competitive unit by the postseason.

"The cycles of graduation are part of the fun and challenges of coaching," Langenderfer said. "I can't say that it's a solid pack yet because we've got two or three people who have been switching out, but we're trying to get it together for the end of the season."

After finishing 11th of 14 teams in the home Pickerington Classic on Aug. 23, North placed in the top five of three of its next four meets.

In the Tiger Invitational at Pickerington Central last Saturday, freshman Gabbi Thacker led the way with a ninth-place finish (21 minutes, 28.2 seconds), followed by Emily Fetterman (13th, 21:48.26), Kim Black (16th, 22:04.42), Morgan Grodesky (25th, 22:35.46), Gabbi Bobadilla (28th, 22:55.42) and Caitlin Hughes (43rd, 24:19.81). Hughes is a junior and Fetterman a senior, but the rest are underclassmen.

Freshman Meg Moledor also has been among the team's top three runners most of the season but could not run last Saturday because of muscle spasms.

Juniors Kayla Byler and Katie Klopp also have contributed.

Fetterman and fellow senior Amy Williamson are the team's most experienced runners and have stepped into a leadership role.

"I told them that either they're too young to be afraid, or they're just not like that," Langenderfer said. "They're a pretty fearless group."

•Because of the additions of three newcomers, the Central boys team also is putting together a tight pack.

In the Tiger Invitational, Joe Taranto (10th, 17:30.77), Keshav Swaminathan (11th, 17:32.02) and Jeff Williams (22nd, 18:08.38) led the way.

Freshmen Michael Gase (24th, 18:12.55) and Jimmy Jarrell (31st, 18:23.12) and junior Usama Awan (44th, 19:04.37), a first-year runner, followed.

"Michael and Jimmy were training pretty well throughout the summer, so we've known those guys for a while," coach Andy Fischer said. "They're both real competitive and really into running. Usama joined us a couple days into practice and has done well. He was a soccer player the last couple years but expressed an interest in running."

Fischer has been pleased with his team's improvement, particularly from Swaminathan the past two weeks.

"I want Joe to get out of the allergy season, and I'd like Jeff, Michael and Jimmy to all be on the heels of Keshav," Fischer said. "We want to have a real tight bunch so we can solidify our (Nos.) six, seven and eight guys."

•Protecting her team from injury and illness has been among the major focuses for Central girls coach Melissa Balko, and her team did not race Sept. 6 as part of that strategy.

The Tigers have 10 runners -- all of whom are underclassmen -- which Balko can choose from as she determines who will compete in the postseason.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Meyer, who has been the team's frontrunner all season, has been battling a cold the last two weeks.

"I told the girls after the meet (last Saturday) that the biggest thing will be keeping healthy," Balko said. "I think (taking a week off during the season) was good. They're all running good times. Even when Kaitlyn has a cold, she's still pushing herself, but she and I know she's capable of running faster times."

Meyer led Central with a sixth-place finish (21:03.35) last Saturday, followed by freshmen Santele Smith (14th, 21:58.69) and Emily Sharrett (17th, 22:05.29). Junior Megan Sharrett, sophomores Jessica Bussom, Annie Curie, Courtney Harry and Jordan Robinson and freshmen Autumn Cooper and Rachel Kramer are other contributors.

"We've talked about it, and this year we know we're capable of winning the OCC," Balko said. "We've seen most of the teams in the OCC and at this point it's within our reach. We just have to keep motivated and stay healthy."

•The North boys team is on track for a strong second half of the season.

All the Panthers must do now, according to coach Tim Starkey, is get refocused after decent showings in their first four meets.

"I'm not unhappy with where we're at, but we do have a lot of work to do," Starkey said. "Just with where we're sitting along with (Hilliard) Davidson and Reynoldsburg, we've just got to sit down and race. We need to come together as a team."

One thing North shouldn't have to worry about over the next five weeks is who will comprise its top seven.

Daniel Garleb has been the team's No. 1 runner and earned a meet title Aug. 30 in the Running Warrior Invitational at Lebanon (16:24.76) and a runner-up finish Sept. 6 in the McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial (15:58).

Rounding out the top seven are Greg Black, Jeremy Lascola, Nick Hissrich, Mitchell Phillips, John Parsons and Justin Simmons.

"We're kind of just refocusing for the second part of our season," Starkey said. "We had a team meeting to put us back to where we were at for preseason camp. When you're at the level we're at, it's about who wants it more. Our top seven is pretty much locked in, but it's neat the amount of depth that we have. We have a lot of guys who are going to (run faster than 18:00)."

At a glance

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

CENTRAL

Aug. 30 -- Boys: Finished seventh (190) in 20-team Running Warrior Invitational at Lebanon behind champion Reynoldsburg (41); Girls: Finished sixth (156) in 15-team Running Warrior Invitational behind champion Mason (45)

Sept. 6 -- Boys: Finished 19th (469) in 29-team McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial behind champion Reynoldsburg (82)

Sept. 13 -- Boys: Finished 14th (442) in 35-team Galion Invitational behind champion Toledo St. John's (73); Girls: Finished sixth (245) in 24-team Galion Invitational behind champion Olentangy (124)

Last Saturday -- Boys: Finished fourth (98) in seven-team Tiger Race of home Tiger Invitational behind champion Hilliard Davidson (24). Joe Taranto was 10th (17:30.77); Girls: Finished third (79) in seven-team Tiger Race of Tiger Invitational behind Kings Mills Kings (25) and Beavercreek (77)

Saturday -- Boys, girls: At Erin Nance Fall Classic at London

Oct. 4 -- Boys, girls: At Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington

NORTH

Aug. 30 -- Boys: Finished second (77) in Running Warrior Invitational; Girls: Finished fifth (150) in Running Warrior Invitational

Sept. 6 -- Boys: Finished fourth (105) in McGowan Invitational; Girls: Finished third (104) in 13-team Wooster Invitational behind champion Hudson (42) and Wooster (95)

Sept. 13 -- Boys: Finished fifth (180) in Galion Invitational. Garleb was second (16:06.74); Girls: Finished 14th (346) in 21-team Alliance Running Invitational behind champion Mason (105)

Last Saturday -- Girls: Finished fourth (91) in Tiger Race of Tiger Invitational

Saturday -- Boys, girls: Home in Panther Invitational

Oct. 4 -- Boys, girls: At Eisenhart Invitational