With several experienced athletes back, the Pickerington High School North boys track and field team would seem to have the tools to build on the best finish in program history.
The Panthers return five of the six competitors who helped them tie for second in last year's Division I state meet.
"Our numbers are up and we've got a lot of guys back," said Dave Spring, who is in his sixth season as coach. "We had some success last year, so we're hoping to build off that."
Back to lead the Panthers is senior Desmond Palmer, who signed with the University of Pittsburgh in February. He was second at state in the 300-meter hurdles (37.78 seconds), sixth in the 110 hurdles (14.75) and ran on the runner-up 800 relay (1:27.64) and the 1,600 relay that placed fifth (3:18.01).
Also back after earning a state runner-up finish in the high jump (6 feet, 7 inches) is junior John Harris.
Returning after joining Palmer on the 800 and 1,600 relays are senior Godwin Igwebuike and sophomores Nick Gray and Jaye Williams.
Their performances helped North score 36 points to tie Lancaster for second behind Lakewood St. Edward (48).
The other athlete back with state experience is senior Marlon Pugh, who helped the 3,200 relay place 10th (7:58.85) last year with 2012 graduates Spencer Bentley, Austin Kilgore and James Whitehead.
Other sprinters in the program include seniors Cortez Goodwin and Roland Ladipo, while senior Kody Kasey should be another key hurdler.
Junior Trae Browder and sophomore Luke Miller are expected to run the 400, with senior Sean Saffle and sophomores Ryan Kronk and Kris Perez joining Pugh in middle distance.
Senior Adam Honaker and sophomore Zach Zimmerman will head the distance corps.
Also competing in the high jump will be junior George Dial, while senior Jamie Hence and sophomore Roland Bonner are long jumpers.
Seniors John Huff and Kenan Roberts are in the pole vault and juniors Andrew Jeffers and Geno Rollo will compete in the shot put and discus.
Last season, North won the OCC-Ohio Division meet with 174 points, finishing ahead of Gahanna (121.25), Lancaster (108), Pickerington Central (87.5), Reynoldsburg (84.25), Groveport (46), Newark (23.75) and Grove City (14.25).
Winning league titles were Palmer in the 110 hurdles (14.8) and 300 hurdles (37.96), Harris in the high jump (6-4), 2012 graduate Kyle Mushill in the discus (164-8), 2012 graduate Alston Robertson in the long jump (21-10 1/2), the 800 relay (1:29.07) and the 1,600 relay (3:25.4).
The Panthers followed with team titles in the district 3 meet (127.5) and the regional (60). Palmer won the 110 hurdles (14.61), Harris won the high jump (6-6) and Mushill was first in the discus (164-0) at district. Palmer was first in the 300 hurdles (37.63) at regional.
Also competing at state was Mushill in the discus (12th, 160-7) and Bentley in the 800 (fourth, 1:53.68).
North opened March 30 by finishing first (119) in the seven-team Hammond Relays ahead of runner-up and host Pickerington Central (73).
"I think having three deep in events at the league meet is a big advantage, but we've also got the talent that will place at state," Spring said.
North girls have
Although the girls team has about 50 athletes out this season -- about 15 fewer than in some past seasons -- 10th-year coach Jim Langenderfer believes it still has enough depth to be one of the top squads in the OCC-Ohio.
The Panthers came up just short of the league title last season, scoring 143.5 points to place behind Reynoldsburg (154) and ahead of Gahanna (121), Pickerington Central (120), Grove City (42.5), Groveport (38), Lancaster (32) and Newark (11).
"Sprints and hurdles will be a strength, and we've got some capable distance runners," Langenderfer said. "They had a lot of enthusiasm last year and it's there again this year."
Back after being North's only state representative last year is senior Rashelle Myers, who tied for 13th (5-2) in the high jump.
Seniors Kristen Eisenhauer and Fayth Greegor return to lead a distance corps that also should include juniors Jordan Potts and Sinclair Stockard and sophomore Kat Lowe.
Leading the sprint corps should be seniors Ashlyn Jones and Sarah Rini, juniors Kourtny Morgan and Bailey Wallace and sophomores Eboni Hall, Alecs Jovanovski, Diandria King and Precious Roach-Harmon.
Senior Kendal Lane returns in the pole vault and will be joined in the event by senior Abby Hart, junior Kelsey Waite and Hall.
Seniors Andrea Hazelwood and Shurelle Stewart will compete in the hurdles.
Joining Myers in the high jump is senior Marie Hall, with Rini and Jovanovski in the long jump.
Junior Annette Echikunwoke is the top returnee in the discus.
In the league meet last season, Greegor won the 800 (2:24.97) and ran on the first-place 3,200 relay (9:59.99) with Eisenhauer, Stockard and 2012 graduate Meg Moledor. Myers was first in the high jump (5-0) and Lane won the pole vault (9-6).
Then in the district 1 meet, North was third (69) behind Dublin Coffman (141) and Canal Winchester (97) as 2012 graduate Jasmine Simmons won the discus (124-4).
At the regional, the Panthers were 22nd (9).
North opened March 30 by finishing second (90) in the Hammond Relays behind host Pickerington Central (102).
"Our seniors last year were a strong group of seniors, but a lot of our experience from last year is back and I think some new faces are going to bring some talent to the program," Langenderfer said. "I think our team will be a difference-maker around the area."