The Upper Arlington High School girls cross country team won its first five events last season and eight of its first nine, including the OCC-Central Division and Division I, district 3 meets.
Senior Megan Brewer stopped short of saying that the Golden Bears have picked up where they had left off a year ago by winning the 21-team Bengal Division of the Pickerington Classic held Aug. 23 at Pickerington North, but she said the Bears know exactly who they want to see during races -- their teammates.
"The people you work out with, you can run with and stay with them," Brewer said. "That way, we bring in more points than if there is a huge gap. I think (second-year coach Latisha) Wilder wants to make sure we are racing with people around us.
"At the (OHSAA) Preseason Invitational (Aug. 16 at National Trail Raceway), we were first in our region and second overall (to Mason). We were pumped and surprised. I guess that proves that we still are a very strong team and we're hoping to come back and do better than we did last year."
UA has returned four of its top seven runners from last season, when it finished 15th (334 points) in the 16-team state meet at National Trail Raceway, behind champion Mason (76).
Leading the list of returnees who competed at state last year is junior Anne Heuerman, who finished 10th (18 minutes, 51.98 seconds) of 154 runners and earned all-state honors by finishing in the top 25.
Heuerman became UA's first all-state runner since Olivia Menden in 2010 and her state finish was the program's best since Kaitlyn Peale placed sixth in 2006.
The other returnees who competed at state are Brewer (122nd, 20:22.35), sophomore Elise Barbour (126th, 20:25.77) and senior Erin Simko (141st, 20:57.82).
The Bears won the 17-team district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial, scoring 64 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Lancaster (112), and placed second (104) in the 16-team regional meet at Pickerington North, behind Gahanna (90).
Heuerman was UA's highest finisher in both meets, placing fourth (19:11.31) at district and sixth (19:03.25) at regional, and finished first (18:08.68) in the OCC-Central meet, as the Bears scored 39 points to hold off Thomas Worthington (51) for the title.
Heuerman opened this season by winning the Bengal Division of the Pickerington Classic. She finished in 19:02.1 -- 56.4 seconds ahead of runner-up and three-time state qualifier Heather Sandvik of Westerville North.
Brewer was fourth (20:17.3), followed by freshman Madeline Nichols (sixth, 20:32), Simko (14th, 21:06.7), Barbour (15th, 21:07.4), freshman Morgan Brewer (33rd, 22:40.8) and senior Erin Eastwood (44th, 23:18). UA scored 40 points in the meet, with Thomas Worthington (58) placing second.
"I see this team being just as competitive as it was last year," Wilder said. "They have worked really hard over the summer. They were very consistent with their training. And we're healthy. I can't overstate that."
Also on the team are senior Jenna Bowers, sophomore Meredith Caswell and freshmen Morgan Brewer and Maddy Mead.
Heuerman placed fourth (18:49.54) in the OHSAA Preseason Invitational, helping UA place second (107) behind Mason (88) as 23 teams scored.
UA entered the week ranked sixth in the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches' preseason poll. The Bears were one of five teams from the OCC-Central in the poll. The others were Hilliard Davidson (third), Thomas (seventh), Olentangy Liberty (17th) and Dublin Coffman (21st).
"We get to run in one of the fastest regions in the entire state of Ohio," Megan Brewer said. "We have a really tough region and it makes it easier to compete with people who will be at the state meet. You know how they run, when they will make their moves, stuff like that.
"I feel like we are still a very strong team and we're hoping to come back and do better than we did last year."
Hamilton returns to lead boys runners
The boys cross country team has returned its top runner from last season in Ian Hamilton.
The junior led the Bears in the 16-team Division I, district 1 meet at Watkins Memorial, finishing 56th (18:08.59) of 115 runners, as UA finished 13th (372) behind champion Lancaster (36). The top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to regional.
UA finished sixth (167) in the OCC-Central meet last year, behind Davidson (34), as Hamilton placed 24th (16:33.08) to pace the Bears.
Also competing at district were junior Jurgan Wilkes (74th, 18:34.81), senior Payton Warner (82nd, 19:05.9) and sophomores Andrew Harper (94th, 19:34.87) and Trent Popovich (95th, 19:38.34).
UA finished 13th (276) in the 17-team Panther Division of the Pickerington Classic on Aug. 23, behind champion Coffman (67). Hamilton led the Bears, finishing 39th (17:54.8).
"Ian Hamilton, Payton Warner and (junior) Nick Gill all had good track seasons," Wilder said. "Looking at that carryover from the strength and speed they built, I am looking for that to carry over."
Payton is the only senior among the Bears' top-10 runners. There are 68 boys in the program.
"They see the potential that they have because they are young," Wilder said "We still have the big bulk of them as sophomores and juniors. They have a lot of racing ahead of them. They can be as fast as they want to be."
Warner had the Bears' second-highest finish in the Pickerington Classic, placing 47th (18:04). Gill (53rd, 18:12.9) was next, followed by Wilkes (63rd, 18:25.9), freshman Ross Davie (91st, 18:53.3), Harper (100th, 19:07.8), Popovich (109th, 19:13.8), sophomore Nathan Repucci (182nd, 20:21.7), freshman Jack Weimer (191st, 20:29.1) and junior Cameron Wade (200th, 20:36.5).
Others vying for action include senior Kevin Baxley, juniors Harper Nelson and William Sullivan and freshman Bryce Martyn.
"There's always going to be someone bigger and faster out there, and we realize that," Warner said. "Generally, our guys team hasn't been that amazing compared to our girls team, so we just go out there and try our best. If we make it to regional, fantastic. We don't have any extreme high hopes of making it to state, but we will go out there and try our best. That is all that matters."
Aug. 16 -- OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway
Aug. 23 -- Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North
Aug. 30 -- Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 6 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 13 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park
Sept. 20 -- Bob Reall Invitational at Lancaster
Sept. 27 -- Midwest Meet of Champions at Hilliard Bradley
Oct. 4 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 11 -- OCC-Central meet at Hilliard Darby