Two years ago, the Westerville North High School boys track and field team had fewer than 15 athletes.

Two years ago, the Westerville North High School boys track and field team had fewer than 15 athletes.

This season, the Warriors have more than 15 runners in the distance events alone.

Much of the increase in the number of athletes in the program is the direct result of the efforts of coach Johnny Jackson, who spends the offseason recruiting athletes to join the team.

Jackson, however, deflects much of the credit to other coaches at the school.

"(The increase in participation) has a lot to do with the other coaches (at North) who've encouraged their kids to do track and field," said Jackson, who is in his fifth season as boys coach and seventh season as girls coach. "Our boys distance group is larger than some full teams I've had."

Last season, the Warriors tied Big Walnut, Canton GlenOak, North Canton Hoover, Northland and Richfield Revere for 26th (8 points) at the Division I state meet, behind champion Warren Harding (47).

North was fourth (62) at the regional meet at Pickerington North behind champion Gahanna (63) and placed second (77) of 15 teams in the district 1 meet at Dublin Coffman behind champion Gahanna (120).

In the OCC-Cardinal Division meet last year, the Warriors finished third (104) behind Olentangy Liberty (142) and Westerville Central (111.5), and ahead of Olentangy (91), Marysville (78), Westerville South (54.5), Dublin Scioto (41) and Dublin Jerome (38).

Among those expected to lead the Warriors are seniors Mitch Cousins (discus/shot put), Kevin Ford (distance), Norris Freeman (distance), Brian Hannaford (distance), Jeff Hannaford (distance) and Ryan Weldon (distance), junior Joey Wilkin (hurdles) and sophomore Jacob Dumford (distance).

"The distance corps is solid," said Jackson, whose teams open Saturday, April 2, in the Wildcat Premier at Hilliard Davidson. "We're hoping we can score some points with our new throwers and we've got the sprinters to do some damage but need to put it all together."

•The girls team does not have as much depth as the boys team, but Jackson believes the Warriors have the potential to get some athletes to state, particularly in the sprint events.

North did not have any state qualifiers last season. The Warriors finished 25th (10) at regional behind champion Reynoldsburg (95) and eighth (45) of 13 teams at the district 1 meet behind champion Gahanna (132).

In the OCC-Cardinal meet, North finished sixth (66) behind Scioto (158), Central (118.5), Olentangy (79), South (71) and Liberty (68.5), and ahead of Marysville (60) and Jerome (41).

Among the Warriors' top athletes are seniors De'Lesia Dailey (long jump), Jacquia Hearn (hurdles/sprints), Meghan Maurer (mid-distance/distance) and Linda Sandvik (distance), junior Hope Wood (sprints) and sophomores Madelaine Bayda (high jump/long jump), Kierra Davis (sprints) and Gabrielle Pace (sprints).

The 1,600 relay missed qualifying for state by one place each of the past two years. Maurer and Pace were on the relay last season.

"I expect (the 1,600 relay) to contend for a position in the regional finals and hopefully into state," Jackson said. "They've missed going to state by very little the last two years, so hopefully they're tired of that."

Jackson liked what he has saw from his athletes in the offseason.

"They've been very dedicated in the weight room and through conditioning," he said. "I think as long as we stay healthy that we shouldn't be underestimated."