A season Westerville Central High School boys cross country coach Jason Loughman thought would feature transition and learning included plenty of both.
Senior Brandon Shaw and junior Dustin Edens shared the top spot for the Warhawks, who finished seventh in the OCC-Cardinal Division meet Oct. 13 and seventh in the Division I, district 3 meet a week later, one spot from advancing to regional.
"We had a lot of guys learning about the sport of cross country," Loughman said. "As the season went on, they got in better shape and saw what it takes to compete at a high level. But overall, they were a great bunch of guys to coach and work with."
Shaw and Edens were 20th (16 minutes, 45.22 seconds) and 21st (16:50.7), respectively, in the league meet at Hilliard Darby to guide Central to 164 points and a seventh-place finish behind champion Westerville North (34), Dublin Jerome (51), Hilliard Bradley (95), Darby (113), Dublin Scioto (148) and Westerville South (150) and ahead of Worthington Kilbourne (182).
On Oct. 20, Edens' 27th-place finish (17:34.31) paced the Warhawks to 207 points and a seventh-place finish in the 18-team district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial behind champion Jerome (31), as the top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to the regional meet Oct. 27 at Pickerington North. Upper Arlington scored 183 points for the final regional berth.
The Warhawks will look to replenish numbers throughout their program entering 2013, when they are expected to return Edens and classmates Conor Hollern and Joel Schmelzer.
"Right now, our numbers are still thin and we have to look for ways to increase those," Loughman said. "I hope we can use this year as a steppingstone, use what we did this year to make a jump. The offseason will be critical. That's when you separate the great teams from the average teams."
Roberts stays on top for Central girls
On the heels of a sophomore season in which she led the Central girls team in its final four races, junior Dana Roberts was the Warhawks' top runner all of this year. She competed in the Division I regional meet, where she placed 45th (20:23.84) as the top 16 individuals advance to state Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway.
Roberts finished 11th (19:19.71) in the OCC-Cardinal meet -- breaking by 22 seconds the school record held by Carly Muller since 2004 -- and 14th (20:23.46) in district 1, from which the top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to regional.
"It's exciting to see what Dana could do next year," coach Ryan Borland said. "It was good to see her break the record not just because of her time, but because of how she raced."
The Warhawks were sixth in the league with 146 points, behind champion Scioto (40), Jerome (66), North (72), Bradley (100) and Darby (109) and ahead of Kilbourne (173) and South (231). Central was seventh (177) in the 14-team district meet behind champion Hilliard Davidson (35).
Borland said the team's strategy improved considerably the final month of the season.
"We started the season getting out faster and that hurt our chances at maintaining our positions," he said. "Eventually they realized we had to race the kids we should be racing. We started doing that, and I'm pleased that our better races came in October."
While one of the Warhawks' four seniors was No. 2 runner Natalie Pinney, among the expected returnees are junior Gracie Boden and freshman Macy Leach, each of whom was as high as third at times this season. Pinney had missed most of 2011 because of a stress fracture.
Smith shows promise for South boys
Sophomore Greg Smith of the South boys team remained entrenched as the Wildcats' top runner, finishing ninth in the OCC-Cardinal meet (16:15.23) and 10th in the district 1 meet (17:26.21) before a 111th-place finish (18:13.28) at regional.
At district, South was seventh (185) in the 13-team field behind champion North (45). The Wildcats were 33 points behind fifth-place Pickerington Central, which earned the final berth to the regional.
South loses four seniors who were in the top seven at some point -- Jack Dunlope, Grant Gwin, Tyler Whitney and Jake Yavorsky -- but is expected to return its top three from the end of the season in Smith and classmates Nick Vermaaten and Derek Wei. Junior Elijah Less also was in the top seven this year.
Smith was second (18:10.97) on Oct. 6 in the six-team Johnstown Invitational, when South scored a season-low 48 points and placed second behind Canal Winchester (34). Whitney was fourth (18:43.01) and Vermaaten ninth (19:15.74) that day.
"(Smith's) work ethic and desire rubs off on the whole team," coach Jimmy Gaul said. "Those seeds have been planted and the guys we have coming back are hungry to compete for even more."
South girls hope to remain intact
All of the top seven runners on the South girls team are expected back next season.
Sophomore Lauren Frank led the Wildcats in all but two races this year, when junior Jenna Fudale took the top spot. Frank, whose top finish was 16th (22:49.12) in the Johnstown Invitational, was 34th (20:35.31) in the league meet and 40th (21:47.8) in the district 1 meet, in which South was 12th with 299 points. No Wildcats advanced to the regional.
"The only times we didn't have Lauren were when she was nicked up from soccer, and Jenna stepped right in. She's comfortable leading us," Gaul said. "This team is close. Our big job is having to recruit new girls for after next year when we lose so much."
Also expected to return are juniors Caryn Snide, Victoria Husain, Taylor Moore, Jada Smoot and Alexandra Whaley and sophomore Amanda Gesouras.