With the exception of a couple meets, last season was an awfully good one for the Reynoldsburg High School boys and girls cross country teams.
But at Reynoldsburg, success means running well at the most critical times, and that's something coach Denny Hammond wants the Raiders to remember.
The boys team had a near-perfect race in the Division I district meet and a solid race in the regional, but at state finished last of 16 teams.
The girls team had a strong day at the OCC-Buckeye Division meet, but had an off day at district and wound up missing the regional for the first time since 2001.
"The first day at practice, I said if you're a girl, you should be thinking about the district, how the season ended horribly at the district," Hammond said. "For the guys, you should be thinking about how the season ended at state. We just didn't run well. That should get you out of bed everyday to run."
Hammond has laid out a tough regular-season schedule, which for the boys began last Saturday in Galion with a sixth-place finish (144) behind champion Carmel (Ind.) (42) in the 11-team Asics Hot Summer Bash. The girls were ninth (210) last Saturday at Mount Vernon in the Kiwanis Invitational, won by Upper Arlington 41).
Both will compete Saturday at the Lebanon Invitational.
Senior Calvin Garza said the Raiders feel good about the way their preseason training played out.
"Everyone is working hard, no one is really slacking off," Garza said. "Everyone has confidence, we're feeling pretty good right now because of the training we've been doing. We've been doing some pretty hard workouts, and that just builds confidence for us."
Last season, the boys had a rough district meet, finishing second (46) behind Hilliard Davidson (27). They responded the next week with a district title, and they placed third at the regional meet the next week to advance to state. It was the first time any of the Raiders except Garza had been to state, and it showed as they totaled 331 points. Medina won with 76.
All but two runners who competed at state are back, and Hammond said this team has the potential to be the best he has coached in his 15 years at the school. Garza and fellow senior Daryl Murphy give a strong veteran presence. Garza is a two-time state qualifier.
Murphy was was 66th at state (16 minutes, 35.01 seconds) and Garza was 70th (16:37.33).
Also back are sophomores Hiruy Abraha and Paul Newell and junior Lamar Booker. Abraha, who transferred to Whitehall last spring but transferred back in the summer, made all-district with a 16:31 at that meet. Newell and Booker both started most of the season last year and had strong track and field seasons last spring.
Abraha's brother, Tsehaye, a freshman, was undefeated in middle school cross country last year and was the state champion in the 1,600 meters and 3,200 in track and field. He has run as low as 4:31 in the 1,600 and 9:54 in the 3,200.
The seventh spot is up in the air, with seniors Jake Wilson and Andrew Tonne and juniors Matt Nofziger and Nathan Richardson in the mix.
•Though the girls team had a down year last season, virtually the entire lineup is back along with a newcomer who could provide the lift the Raiders need.
Hammond said the Raiders should have a solid "one-two punch" with juniors Dani Watson and junior Loni Marchello, who ran track and field last spring but has not run cross country before.
Watson battled injuries last season but did post a personal-best of 19:31. Now that she is healthy, Watson is hoping to crack 19 minutes.
Last spring, Marchello ran on the 3,200 relay that was second in the state, and Watson actually ran in Marchello's place on that relay when it won a regional title.
Senior Emily Ladowitz, juniors Lashina Rhynehardt and Collette Mihocik and sophomore Michelle Snyder also are back. Mihocik was the team's top finisher at district, running a personal-best 20:56.25 to take 38th. Ladowitz, Snyder and Rhynehardt typically didn't run far behind Mihocik, and Watson said the times for all the runners are better this preseason than they were last season.
Hammond said he is undecided on the seventh spot in the lineup.
After the disappointing end to last season, Watson said the girls team has a chip on its shoulder.
"We want to use (last season) as motivation to be like the boys and show coach Hammond that we're good, too," she said.
At a glance
•Coach: Denny Hammond, 15th season
•Next meet: Saturday at Lebanon Invitational
•Key athletes: Boys -- Hiruy Abraha, Tsehaye Abraha, Calvin Garza and Daryl Murphy; Girls -- Emily Ladowitz, Loni Marchello, Collette Mihocik and Dani Watson