Pickerington High School North boys cross country coach Tim Starkey never doubted he had a strong enough front-runner who could qualify for the Division I regional meet.
What he wasn't sure about was whether his team's pack would be tight enough to reach that level, particularly after the Panthers had their two-year hold on the OCC-Ohio Division title snapped Oct. 12.
In the district 1 meet Oct. 19 at Watkins Memorial, junior Zach Zimmerman lived up to expectations as the team's No. 1 runner and North got a boost from senior Nick Haghiri to advance.
Hilliard Davidson was first with 29 points, followed by fellow regional-qualifiers New Albany (46), Thomas Worthington (94), North (112) and Olentangy Orange (125).
The regional is Saturday, Oct. 26, at North. The top four teams and top 16 individuals advance to the state meet Nov. 2 at National Trail Raceway.
"Our No. 4 and 5 guys have to get up there higher," Starkey said as his team prepared for district.
Haghiri was the Panthers' No. 4 runner in the league meet, finishing 25th in 17:51.89. At district, he dropped more than 22 seconds, finishing 26th in 17:29.52 and turning in the third-best time for North.
Zimmerman placed fourth (16:15.88) and junior Ryan Kronk was 11th (16:42.14). Senior Brian Lanier (29th, 17:40.43), junior Mitchell Curnutte (42nd, 18:06.26) and sophomores Kyle Howell (43rd, 18:06.98) and Javier Pugh (49th, 18:42.98) also competed.
Central girls also advance
The Central girls team also placed fourth to advance to regional.
The Tigers scored 98 points to finish behind Davidson (48), Thomas (61) and Worthington Kilbourne (94), while Westerville North (110) earned the final regional-qualifying berth from the district 1 meet.
Rather than have his runners taper during the week before the league meet, coach Hunter Nichols kept them on their regular training schedule. The extra work paid off with faster times at district.
Senior Elizabeth Weed finished eighth in 19:13.77 after running 20:04.04 to lead the Tigers in the league meet.
Senior Stephanie Gase finished just behind Weed (ninth, 19:20.81). Junior Madison Cheyunski (21st, 20:04.13), freshman Elizabeth Fee (28th, 20:39.33), senior Morgan Richardson (32nd, 20:58.13) and sophomores Madison Scrape (36th, 21:13.94) and Rachael Sentivany (54th, 22:10.28) also competed.
Central boys fall just short
The Central boys team came one spot short of advancing to the regional meet after advancing to that level the previous two seasons.
In the district 3 meet, the Tigers placed seventh (209) behind champion Lancaster (36) as the top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced.
Juniors Sean Phillips (28th, 17:31.4) and Jonathan Fee (29th, 17:32.41) were the closest to advancing individually. Also competing were senior Terry Peppers (42nd, 17:55.8), freshman Jack Jaynes (44th, 17:57.44), juniors Evan Jaynes (66th, 18:16.68) and Myles Harton (69th, 18:22.15) and sophomore Hunter Denton (75th, 18:41.07).
Season ends for North girls
The North girls placed seventh (165) in the district 1 meet as the top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced.
Freshmen Abby Grube (25th, 20:30.04), Sierra Waite (30th, 20:47.85), Anna McSurley (35th, 21:10.29) and Julia Westall (37th, 21:14.48) led the way.
Also competing were seniors Jordan Potts (38th, 21:22.92) and Cheyenne Khezrdanamehr (49th, 21:57.81) and freshman Hannah Rickman (56th, 22:11.46).