The Reynoldsburg High School girls track and field team begins this season in a much different position than a year ago.

The Reynoldsburg High School girls track and field team begins this season in a much different position than a year ago.

After finishing second in the 2008 state meet, the Raiders entered last season with a goal of winning the state team championship.

They did so in dominant fashion, finishing with 82 points for the highest score any Division I state champion has ever produced as they placed in all four relays and in six individual events.

While some of the key remnants of that team return, much of the depth that helped Reynoldsburg accumulate the gaudy point total is missing.

Not only did the Raiders lose eight key seniors, including four who scored state points, but junior Azia Walker moved to Los Angeles and junior Taneisha Cordell transferred to New Albany.

Further complicating matters is the school's pay-to-participate fee increased from $30 to $500.

After typically having about 50 girls and 50 boys come out for the program, the Raiders have fewer than 20 girls and about 25 boys.

"We're used to having over 100 kids come out, and this year we've probably got (fewer than 50)," said Denny Hammond, who coaches both the girls and boys teams. "The pay-to-participate fee kills a sport like track. We always used to get kids that have never run track before, but nobody's going to just try it for $500."

While the lower numbers hasn't necessarily crippled the program, it will make finishing among the top 10 in the state -- as it has each of the past four seasons -- more of a challenge.

The Raiders opened last Saturday in the Hammond Relays and will compete Saturday in the University of Cincinnati Invitational.

The Raiders return seven athletes who competed at state last year, led by sophomore Destinee Gause.

Gause won the 200 meters (24.21 seconds) and ran on the winning 1,600 relay (state-record 3:43.83) and winning 800 relay (state-record 1:37.02) as well as the second-place 400 relay (program-record 46.78).

In the state indoor meet on March 20 in Akron, Gause won the 200 (24.76) and was fourth in the 60 (7.8).

Sophomore Faith Washington is back after finishing fourth in the 300 hurdles (43.38) and running on both the 800 and 1,600 relays. She was third in the 60 hurdles (9.38) at the indoor state meet as the Raiders finished third (34) behind Rocky River Magnificat (53) and Midpark (45) after winning the title last March.

Senior Loni Marchello will compete in the high jump and also ran on the 3,200 relay, along with returning senior Dani Watson, that was fourth (program-record 9:16.37) at state last year.

Junior Kacia Grant ran on the 400 relay at state and should be another key sprinter, along with freshman Diamond Gause, who is Destinee's sister and should compete in hurdles as well as relays.

Junior Donyelle Brown was second in the shot put (40 feet, 8 inches) and seventh in the weight throw (38-10) at the indoor state meet and should be a consistent scorer in the shot put and discus. Senior Alicia Rodgers was sixth in the weight throw (39-2) in the indoor state meet and should be another key thrower.

"It's actually coming together a lot better than I thought it would," Watson said. "We don't have as many girls because of the pay-to-play fee this year, but we have people who want to be here and we have a lot of great athletes back, like Destinee Gause."

The boys team competed in six events at the state meet last year when it scored 14 points to place 14th behind champion Gahanna (48). However, the Raiders only have one returning state competitor in senior Lamar Booker. He ran on the 3,200 relay that was second at state in a program-record 7:43.69.

He likely will compete in the 800 and 1,600 as well.

The Raiders have experience in distance events, with junior Hirui Abraha and sophomore Tsehaye Hiluf also among their returnees. Senior Kevin Zabala is another top middle-distance runner.

Senior Matt Kershaw is back in the discus and sophomore Davion Bowers is the team's best thrower in the shot put.

"We've got a lot of new guys among our sprinters," Hammond said. "Some of those guys are going to have to step up."

The other 2009 graduates who competed for the girls team at state were Melissa Dodaro, who defended her title in the discus (146-4) and placed fifth in the shot put (40-10 3/4), Timia Ingram (400 relay and 800 relay), Ashley Phillips (400 relay) and Melanie Marx (3,200 relay).

Also at state, Walker won the 400 (54.74) and ran on the 800 and 1,600 relays. Cordell won the 800 (2:10.79) and ran on the 1,600 and 3,200 relays.

The Raiders scored 177 points for their third consecutive OCC-Ohio Division meet. They scored 157 points to win the district 3 meet and 113 points to win their second consecutive regional title.

Daryl Murphy, who was fourth in the 1,600 (program-record 4:13.23), was among the 2009 graduates who competed at state for the boys team along with Calvin Garza (3,200 relay, 1,600), Huss Trowery (shot put) and Jake Wilson (3,200 relay). Senior Ken Fisher, who was eighth in the state in the 400 (50.41) and also competed at state in the 200, is not back with the team.

The boys scored 144 points for their ninth consecutive league title to top a field that included runner-up and eventual state-champion Gahanna (134.5).

The Raiders had a string of eight consecutive district titles snapped when they placed second in district 3 (99) behind Big Walnut (107) and then were second (48) behind Gahanna (81) at the regional.

"We won't have very many people this year, but we'll be all right," Hammond said.

At a glance

•Coach: Boys -- Denny Hammond, 16th season; Girls -- Hammond, 12th season

•Next meet: Saturday at University of Cincinnati Invitational

•Key athletes: Boys -- Hirui Abraha, Lamar Booker, Davion Bowers, Tseyhaye Hiluf, Matt Kershaw and Kevin Zabala; Girls -- Donyelle Brown, Destinee Gause, Loni Marchello, Alicia Rodgers, Faith Washington and Dani Watson

SCHEDULE

March 27 at Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central

April 3 at University of Cincinnati Invitational

April 6 at Grove City

April 10 at Cleveland Collinwood Invitational

April 13 vs. Newark

April 17 at Mansfield Mehock Relays

April 20 vs. Pickerington North

April 23 at Edwin Moses Relays in Dayton

April 27 at Lancaster

April 30 at Don Mitchell Invitational in Dayton

May 4 vs. Groveport

May 7 at Larkin/Crosten Classic at Upper Arlington

May 11 at Pickerington Central

May 13, 15 at OCC-Ohio meet