The Pickerington High School Central girls cross country team was excited last fall when it advanced to the Division I regional meet for the first time since 2002, the year before the district's split into two high schools.
With a strong freshman class to go along with having four of their top runners back, the Tigers have their eyes on making it back to the regional level -- and then some -- this season.
Seniors Elizabeth Weed, Morgan Richardson and Stephanie Gase and junior Madison Cheyunski are the top runners.
"Last year our goal was just to make it to the regional," second-year coach Hunter Nichols said. "This year we expect to get to the regional. Last year we were seeded 14th for the regional and we finished 13th, which was big for us. This year I don't think it's a stretch to think we can be in the top half. I know a couple of the girls' goals are to get into the state meet, which we haven't had anybody do since the split."
Weed came within five spots of making it to state as an individual in 2011 and last fall took 30th (20 minutes, 9.26 seconds) at regional as the Tigers were 13th (305) behind champion Hilliard Davidson (50).
Weed was fourth (19:59.3) in the OCC-Ohio Division meet last season as the Tigers placed third (77) behind Gahanna (40) and Pickerington North (59).
Cheyunski, Gase and Richardson also were among the team's top seven most of last season.
Senior Emily Fogus, sophomores Madison Scrape and Rachel Sentivany and freshmen Elizabeth Fee and Gabby Carr are others who should be key runners. Scrape is new to the program after competing in track and field last spring, while Fee also is on the soccer team this fall.
Central opened by placing third (79) behind Thomas Worthington (62) and Watkins Memorial (67) as 13 teams scored in the Bengal Division race of the Pickerington Classic on Aug. 24 at Pickerington North.
"We're looking forward to this year," Nichols said. "We've got a great senior class this year, so we're looking to make some noise. We had about 18 last year and now we're up to 25 this year. We've got a big freshman class."
North also has strong senior class
There also is a deep group of seniors in North's program this fall, with Jordan Potts, Sinclair Stockard and Kelsey Waite leading the way.
Those three were among the Panthers' top seven runners much of last season, as was sophomore returnee Kat Lowe.
North opened Aug. 24 by placing sixth (124) behind champion Olentangy Liberty (64) as seven teams scored in the Panther Division race of the Pickerington Classic.
"We really miss our seniors that graduated from last year, but I really see our team starting to come together," 11th-year coach Jim Langenderfer said.
"We have a core group of leaders."
Other seniors are Salma El-Barrad, Sam Henne, Cheyenne Khezrdanamehr, Amanda McBride, Hayley Montgomery, Bailey Wallace and Emily Williams.
Key juniors should be Leah Blankenship, Shelby Meyerrose and Rosa Rumora. Newcomers who could contribute are freshmen Abby Grube, Jessica Griffin, Anna McShurley, Sierra Waite and Julia Westfall.
Lowe was the Panthers' No. 2 runner in last year's league meet, placing 11th (21:12.1), and according to Langenderfer had a successful offseason competing in AAU meets.
North's top runner a year ago was 2013 graduate Kristen Eisenhauer, a three-time state qualifier who finished 36th (18:51.63) at state a year ago. She was third (19:37.5) in the league meet.
Fayth Greegor also was lost to graduation after finishing 12th (21:14.9) in the league and 50th (20:34.3) at regional.
"Our seniors have got a nice mix of talent and leadership," Langenderfer said. "They've all been practicing fast. Somebody who looks good is Kat Lowe."