Two packs per race has become a winning method for the Upper Arlington High School girls cross country team.
Through six races this season, the Golden Bears' seven runners have separated into two distinct groups. Junior Dorrian Jaffe, sophomore Megan Brewer and freshman Anna Heuerman have been the team's top three runners in each race, and juniors Sarah Heuerman and Karla Jeggle and sophomores Kristen Seely and Erin Simko have been the next four.
The order's never set, and that's fine with coach Dale Hartney as long as the results continue. On Sept. 15 in the nine-team Newark Invitational, the Bears were five points shy of a perfect score, recording 20 points to easily outdistance runner-up Licking Valley (84).
"It wasn't against the world's greatest competition, but the girls ran well. You can't not be happy with that performance," Hartney said. "They've won every race except the McGowan (Invitational on Sept. 8 at Watkins Memorial), and we were second to (Hilliard) Davidson there. Those front three girls are within four or five seconds of each other most of the time, and then there are four girls running very close right behind them. They've jockeyed amongst themselves, and I like to see that."
Jaffe placed second in the Newark Invitational in 18 minutes, 58.5 seconds, followed by Anne Heuerman (third, 19:05.8), Brewer (fourth, 19:25.6), Sarah Heuerman (sixth, 20:06.2), Simko (seventh, 20:17.2), Jeggle (eighth, 20:19.8) and Seely (ninth, 20:21.6).
The Bears have won five events this year, with the others being the 12-team New Albany Classic on Aug. 22 (38 points; New Albany was second with 85), the eight-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational on Aug. 25 (33; Teays Valley was second with 57), the 15-team Granville Invitational on Sept. 1 (37; Granville was second with 57) and Lancaster's 14-team Bob Reall Invitational on Sept. 22 (58; Parkersburg (W.Va.) was second with 73).
UA is an experienced team, as it returned six of its top seven runners from a year ago. The exception was 2012 graduate Olivia Menden, who is running for Davidson College, a Division I school in North Carolina.
Such a clear separation among the top seven hasn't necessarily been a trait of Hartney's perennially successful teams.
"Your top five must be close, of course," he said before mentioning a training method he's implemented the past few years. "You're not going to win if your top five are spread out all over the county.
"At the first two meets every year, I require our top seven to run together the first two miles, then they can break away and finish where they will. I think that benefits all our girls. A long time ago, we'd run our top 10 or 12 together that long."
Silver stepping up for boys team
Senior Stewart Silver has stepped up to pace the boys team in the absence of its usual top runner, senior Nathan Perry.
Perry is out with a foot injury but is expected to return by early October.
Silver placed second in a personal-best 16:41 in the 13-team Newark Invitational, finishing 23 seconds behind the winner, Newark's Toby Hardwick (16:18). His performance powered the Bears to 56 points and a second-place finish, 17 points behind Newark (39).
"I definitely feel some increased responsibility with Nathan out, but I just have to go as fast as I can without worrying about it," said Silver, who also led the Bears in the Bob Reall Invitational by finishing 15th (17:20.9). "It's a negative for the team, but I feel like it's an opportunity to show what I can do."
Similar to the girls team, Silver has seen some packs within the boys squad. Behind him and Perry are freshman Ian Hamilton, senior Jake Fowler, junior Kyle Eppert and sophomore Nar Wang.
"They're a very refreshing group. They all work hard," Hartney said. "All of them are setting an example."