Ryan Borland had several talented runners in his first five seasons as Westerville Central High School girls cross country coach, but he thinks his sixth team could be the deepest.
Beyond seniors Gracie Boden and Dana Roberts and junior Tarike Osuobeni, freshman Chauntress Like and sophomores Mary Leach and Kelsey Potts were poised to crack the top of the lineup when the Warhawks began their season with a fourth-place finish Aug. 24 in the Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational.
"It's a good mix with some newcomers," Borland said. "This is the first time in my six years here that I feel like we have some depth and girls are battling to be in our top seven. I think it's possible by the end of the year, four of our top seven could be freshmen."
Roberts was Central's top runner last season, placing 11th in the OCC-Cardinal Division meet, 14th in Division I, district 1 and 45th at regional. Her league meet time of 19 minutes, 19.71 seconds is the fastest in program history by 22 seconds.
"(Roberts') confidence has grown and she's developed a lot," Borland said. "She trained at a very high level this summer and she's excited to compete in real races. There's a definite gap after Dana, then our two, three, four and five girls are pretty tight."
Like competed in short-distance events in the AAU Junior Olympics in July.
Other expected contributors are senior Alaina Parrish and freshmen Torey Kuchan, Madi McCartney and Kelli Wozniak.
Roberts was fifth (19:57.7) at Mount Vernon as Central scored 116 points behind champion Upper Arlington (33). Osuobeni was 15th (21:12.9) and Like was 20th (21:32.3).
Borland, an eighth-grade history teacher at Genoa Middle School, said he anticipated the influx of freshmen last year. They are welcome, as the Warhawks graduated four of their top seven runners from 2012 and five of their top eight.
"I had a sense that we had a deep class of freshmen coming in," Borland said. "But the way they've jelled with each other and integrated themselves into the team, that's not always something you can anticipate as a coach. They've gone beyond my expectations in learning how we do things."
Sandvik sisters lead North
If all goes according to plan, North will benefit from the talents of junior runners Haley and Heather Sandvik for two more seasons.
But coach Johnny Jackson also is encouraged by a large influx of underclassmen.
The twins each advanced to the Division I state meet last year, with Heather finishing 20th (18:33.34) to earn all-state honors and Haley following in 91st (19:35.57). They entered the season-opening Pickerington Classic on Aug. 24 as the Warriors' top two runners, but were followed closely by returning juniors Anna Kocak, Jocelyn Sharpe and Mary Swatzell as well as senior Alex Mobley. North's only loss from last year's top five was 2013 graduate Heidi Engelhardt.
Also expected to contribute are juniors Morgan Bernhard and Lauren Welsh, sophomore Madie Gauthier and freshmen Emily Welsh and Claire Wetta.
"What really helped was some of our runners went and swam last year, and word-of-mouth spread about joining our team," Jackson said. "Other girls ran in middle school. We practice hard and compete hard, and the girls are getting used to that."
Heather Sandvik, who was first in district 1 and second at regional last year, also competed at state as a freshman, finishing 63rd. Haley Sandvik was eighth at district and 16th at regional as the top 16 individuals advanced.
Heather Sandvik won the Panther Division of the Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North, finishing in 19:17. Haley Sandvik was fourth (20:29.8) and Sharpe was 10th (21:33.2) as the Warriors scored 71 points to place second behind Olentangy Liberty (64) as seven teams scored.
"Their goal definitely is to make it back to state, and we'll see if Jocelyn and Mary can close the gap," Jackson said. "They've done a lot of lifting and conditioning. They have goals as far as times, but they understand they might not hit those times until later in the season."
Familiar faces return to pace Wildcats
South junior Lauren Frank played in three soccer scrimmages Aug. 17, then sprinted to National Trail Raceway in Hebron to join her cross country teammates in the OHSAA Preseason Invitational.
Frank placed 90th (22:30.57) to pace the Wildcats, who were 20th (600) behind champion Mason (47) as 24 teams scored.
Coach Jimmy Gaul has come to expect such efforts from Frank, whose top finish last year was 16th in the Johns-town Invitational, and hopes to see several more the next two years.
"That's just who Lauren is," Gaul said. "She knows what it takes to be a winner and be successful. Luckily, we have a lot of girls back like that."
Behind Frank in the lineup are seniors Jenna Fudale, Victoria Husain, Brittany Kidder, Victoria Lisman, Taylor Moore, Jada Smoot, Caryn Snide and Alexandra Whaley and junior Amanda Gesouras.
Fudale led South twice last year.
"Lauren and Victoria have kind of separated themselves from the pack, and I think Jenna can be right there with them if she stays healthy," Gaul said. "It'd be huge if we had a solid third runner every meet. After that, things are really up for grabs.
"I'm very excited to see what the season will hold, not just in terms of district and regional success but in terms of going week-by-week and seeing what comes our way from hard work. They've had a great time training, working hard and coming together."