In his 10th season as coach of the Westerville North High School boys cross country team, David Weaner readily admits he can't help but smile.

In his 10th season as coach of the Westerville North High School boys cross country team, David Weaner readily admits he can't help but smile.

"I have (all but one runner) back from last year's varsity and a couple additions who were generally in the mix for varsity last year anyway," Weaner said. "We have some really good talent. We have a lot of kids with experience at many levels in both track and cross country. They know what it's like to run in the (OCC-Cardinal Division) meet and what it's like to run in regionals and states.

"They get stronger every training period. They've been steadily improving in cross country and I don't see why this year would be any different."

Leading the list of returnees is senior Jacob Dumford, who placed 10th in the Division I state meet last season in a personal-best 15 minutes, 42.3 seconds, as North finished 12th (258 points) of 16 teams behind champion Dublin Coffman (101).

"He has been working steadily throughout the summer," Weaner said. "We gave him some time off to recoup and rest a little bit. He'll be our front runner. The first of the challenges will be to determine who will be No. 2 and 3."

Also competing at state for the Warriors were senior Kent Ford (39th, 16:14.01), senior Nick Chatel (99th, 16:51.36), junior Evan Larrick (119th, 17:02.22), 2012 graduate Corey Cole (147th, 17:31.93), senior Seth Wenrich (151st, 17:51.13) and senior Joey Swatzell (153rd, 17:58.15).

"In terms of percentage improvement, Nick has displayed the most improvement I've seen so far," Weaner said. "He has the ability to really push and tax Kent.

"Evan won't be very far behind and that's what's exciting. These top four runners, who were in the top four last year, are going to be right there and they're compressing, moving toward the top. That's going to be good."

Others looking to contribute include senior Phil Horn, sophomores Trevor Dilley and Daniel Mallet and freshman Matt Parkhurst.

"Once we get to talking about who is going to be (Nos.) 5 through 10, it's very competitive," Weaner said. "Phil Horn has been out with injuries the last couple years, but he's healthy now and looking good. He's going to be in our top seven or eight.

"We just have a next group down that's going to be exciting."

North opened Aug. 25 in the Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North. The Warriors finished third (83) in the 13-team Panther Division behind Kings Mills Kings (74) and Pickerington North (82).

Dumford placed second (16:25) and Chatel was fifth (16:57).

Last season, North finished third (68) in the OCC-Cardinal meet, behind Olentangy Liberty (42) and Westerville Central (63) and ahead of Dublin Jerome (70), Olentangy (137), Dublin Scioto (167), Marysville (215) and Westerville South (237).

As part of OCC realignment this summer, Liberty and Marysville moved to the OCC-Central and Olentangy switched to the OCC-Capital. Joining the OCC-Cardinal are Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby and Worthington Kilbourne.

"Westerville Central snuck by us (last season)," Weaner said. "One of our kids didn't run as well as he could've that day. ... We knew Liberty was going to be good, and they'll be one of the top ones (in central Ohio) again."

North finished third (118) in the 16-team district 3 meet last year at Watkins Memorial behind Coffman (58) and Liberty (61) as the top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to the regional at Pickerington North.

Dumford led the Warriors, placing sixth in 16:11.44, and Ford placed eighth (16:24.5).

At regional, North placed fourth (153) of 16 teams behind Liberty (91), Coffman (100) and Hilliard Davidson (115) to secure the final state-qualifying spot. Dumford placed third (16:04.81) and Ford finished 14th (16:22.57).

Central returns three regional runners

Central returns three runners who competed in the Division I regional meet last season in seniors Craig Martin and Brandon Shaw and junior Dustin Edens.

The Warhawks finished 11th (278) at regional as the top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to state.

Brandon Shirey, a 2012 graduate, led Central, placing 32nd (17:03.66). Shaw (48th, 17:23.08) was next, followed by 2012 graduate Josh Edens (70th, 17:47.23), Martin (81st, 18:01.95), 2012 graduates Meiswa Phiri (85th, 18:11.26) and Jared Edens (97th, 18:24.92) and Dustin Edens (105th, 18:38.85).

Shirey was a state qualifier as a junior.

Others expected to be contribute include senior Keith Cavicchia, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Bernie Skubak, junior Conor Hollern, sophomores Cameron George, Grant Schwartz and Sean Walston and freshman Noah Corbett.

"We have a really young team this year," 10th-year coach Jason Loughman said. "We lost a lot of seniors and it's definitely a rebuilding year for us. We have a (three) varsity guys back from last year, but overall we're pretty young."

Central finished fourth (80) in the 14-team district 2 meet last season at Watkins Memorial behind champion New Albany (64) as the top five teams advanced to regional. Shirey placed second (16:06.9) to lead the Warhawks.

Advancing to regional as a team and finishing second in the OCC-Cardinal meet were among the highlights last season.

"(Finishing ahead of North in the league meet) was definitely something we knew we could do going in," Loughman said. "I don't know how many times we faced North during the season last year, but we knew that we were very similar to North and we felt on any given day we could beat them.

"If we had an off day, they could beat us. We beat them in the (league) meet, but in the regional they came on and beat us."

Central opened Aug. 22 in the 12-team New Albany Classic, placing sixth (164) behind champion New Albany (24). Shaw finished ninth (17:29), followed by Martin (16th, 18:07), Hollern (33rd, 18:49), Fitzpatrick (51st, 19:41) and Cavicchia (55th, 19:54).

The Warhawks finished third (95) in the Lexington Invitational on Aug. 25 behind champion Ashland (31) as Martin placed seventh (18:24).

"Realistically, I know where we are right now as a team and kind of what we have coming back," Loughman said. "Our goals last year were to either win the (league) or be in the top two and qualify as a team for the state meet.

"This year, knowing the team, we feel if we could qualify for the regional meet and finish maybe in the top half in our (league) as a team, those would be really good goals for us."

Smith among top runners for South

South returns four runners who competed in the Division I, district 1 meet last season at Watkins Memorial in seniors Grant Gwin and Tyler Whitney, junior Elijah Less and sophomore Greg Smith.

The Wildcats finished ninth (246) of 13 teams at district behind champion Davidson (42) as the top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to regional.

Smith missed qualifying for regional by one spot, as he placed 21st (17:26.18). Less finished 61st (19:20.52), Whitney came in 64th (19:34.49) and Gwin was 67th (19:45.55).

"Greg ran 16:43 last year and some other guys (this year) have aspirations to run 17-flat," sixth-year coach Jimmy Gaul said. "We're going to have a front runner in Greg, but we have to get a strong pack behind him and that's been our focus.

"Whoever's racing varsity has to try to come across that line as fast as possible."

Others expected to contribute include seniors Jack Dunlope, Ethan Pace, Ethan Skaates and Jake Yavorsky, sophomores Nick Vermaaten and Derek Wei and freshman Peter Westfall.

The Wildcats' program consists of 35 runners. In Gaul's first season, there were only 11.

" We have a nice blend going on," Gaul said. "We have a couple of senior guys who are in that top 10 mix for varsity, a pretty small junior class and the rest of the spots are filled out mostly by sophomores and one freshman.

"Our guys have done a great job of being dedicated to themselves and training this summer. They're in good shape and we're happy with the work they've done. We've talked about being ready to go come league and district time."

South opened Aug. 18 in the OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway, finishing 19th (573) of 25 teams in the section A race behind champion Davidson (59). The Wildcats were led by Smith, who finished 77th (17:36.82).

"It seemed like last year we could never get everyone together on the same page at once," Gaul said. "One person was injured or something like that.

"The highlight (from last season) was really the experience the young guys got last year. A lot of freshmen got to run varsity races and see what it was like. The seniors did a lot of work last year to pull the team together. On the course, it was frustrating, but off the course, everybody worked hard."