Always with her eyes focused forward, senior Dorrian Jaffe of the Upper Arlington High School girls cross country team has an unusual way of identifying which of her teammates is nearby during a race.
She recognizes their breathing.
"I could almost see the finish line (in the Central Ohio Invitational on Sept. 14 at Three Creeks Metro Park) and I was getting a little tired, then I could hear (sophomore) Ann (Heuerman) next to me," Jaffe said. "We run together so much that I know who's next to me just by their breathing. It's kind of funny. I don't necessarily like it, but that's partly how I can gauge where my teammates are."
More often than not this season, the Golden Bears' top five runners have been bunched at or near the front of the pack.
Powered by Jaffe, Heuerman, seniors Sarah Heuerman and Karla Jeggle, juniors Megan Brewer and Erin Simko and freshman Elisabeth Barbour, UA has averaged 35.2 points in winning its first five meets this season. Ann Heuerman has two wins, two runner-up finishes and a fourth-place effort to help lead UA.
Jaffe was one of four UA runners to finish in the top eight in the Central Ohio Invitational, placing third in 18 minutes, 33.08 seconds. The others were Ann Heuerman (fourth, 18:34.12), Brewer (sixth, 19:19.04) and Barbour (eighth, 19:27.02).
The Bears' most dominant performance thus far this season came in the 17-team Granville Invitational on Aug. 31, where Ann Heuerman placed second (19:21.3) and all seven UA runners finished in the top 14. The Bears won the meet with 28 points, finishing well ahead of runner-up Watkins Memorial (98).
UA scored 32 points to win the 15-team Division I race of the Bob Reall Invitational on Sept. 21 at Lancaster, with Ann Heuerman finishing first (19:15.1). New Albany was a distant runner-up, finishing 70 points behind the Bears.
"Early on, we've had a big emphasis on just team-building," said coach Latisha Wilder, who succeeded the retired Dale Hartney. "I want to make sure we're all together in races and learning the right ways to warm up, cool down, strategize, things like that. I really like how hard the boys and girls (teams) are working."
Ann Heuerman chuckled when it was suggested that she has built a solid reputation among central Ohio runners.
"It's kind of neat," she said. "When I raced in middle school, I looked at results and saw names of the top runners and just hoped I'd be like that someday. If people know who I am, that's cool."
The boys team scored a season-low 247 points in the Central Ohio Invitational, placing ninth in the 14-team field behind champion Dublin Coffman (70).
Sophomore Ian Hamilton has led the Bears consistently and recorded a season-best 17:05.69 while placing 24th in the meet, pacing a lineup that usually includes juniors Nar Wang and Payton Warner, sophomore Nicholas Gill and freshmen Andrew Harper and Trent Popovich.
Senior Lucas Sencio has missed time with an injury, opening a spot for freshman Jack Taylor.
Wilder, a lifelong runner who also is a personal trainer and bodybuilder, has introduced an increased emphasis on stretching and weightlifting for both teams.
"We've been in the weight room quite a bit, which is something they didn't do in the past," Wilder said.
"I've lifted since I was 15 and I love it. I don't think you can overstate how valuable it can be. It's essential for any athlete to be strong."
Girls soccer team is on 'positive slope'
According to girls soccer coach Mark Wise, a 1-0 loss to OCC-Central Division rival and area power Hilliard Davidson on Sept. 17 told him more about his team than any of its previous eight games.
"No. 1, we put two halves together," Wise said. "Some games, we'd had great second halves after a bad first half. And we implemented the strategies we wanted to use. Last year, Davidson had three goals on us off corner kicks and set pieces. This year, we negated one of their best players and they didn't get the chance for a corner kick.
"That's what I mean when I say this program is on a positive slope. They beat us 7-3 last year. We don't have the best record, but our results are getting better and we've been very competitive."
UA was 3-6 overall and 1-3 in the OCC-Central before playing Marysville on Sept. 24. The Bears' wins came against Pickerington Central (1-0 on Sept. 5), Central Crossing (11-0 on Sept. 10 in a league game) and Hilliard Darby (3-1 on Sept. 14).
Junior midfielder Maddy Miller had a team-high five goals through nine games and senior defender Anna Eversole and sophomore midfielder Megyn Morgan each had three.
Wise, who continues to liberally rotate all 19 players into the lineup, has been mostly impressed with the play of his midfielders and defenders, but he wants to see the Bears' attack take advantage of more scoring chances.
Excluding the Central Crossing game, UA was averaging 0.8 goals per game and allowing 1.9.
"We're lucky to have the depth we have. We haven't overused anybody," Wise said. "You look at the playing time for each game, with 11 on the field and 880 playing minutes per game and all of them getting what I consider reasonable time. That can pay off."
OCC tennis tourney postponed by rain
The girls tennis team's bid to win the overall OCC championship is on hold until Saturday, Sept. 28.
UA, which won its 25th consecutive league title by going 7-0 and earning 39 of a possible 42 points in the OCC-Central, will compete against the conference's other three league champions in Dublin Jerome (OCC-Cardinal), New Albany (OCC-Capital) and host Pickerington Central (OCC-Ohio) to determine the overall conference champion.
The event was to have been held Sept. 21 but was postponed because of rain.
The Bears, who are 12-0 overall entering home match against Lexington on Thursday, Sept. 26, finished their league schedule with a 5-0 win over Westland on Sept. 17.