Greg Smith led the Westerville South High School boys cross country team in his first race as a freshman, and with few exceptions has been the Wildcats' top runner ever since.
The junior is closing in on the school record and his personal-best time, but Smith is fine with not being recognized -- either on the course or for his achievements.
"If someone comes up and asks if I'm Greg Smith, I might point to someone else and say that's him," Smith said after placing eighth (16 minutes, 35.75 seconds) in the Central Ohio Invitational on Sept. 14 at Three Creeks Metro Park. "I just work hard and run the best I can."
But that modesty is in contrast to a fierce determination.
Smith has his eyes on the school record of 16:02.5, set by Ryan Davis in 2002, and is nearing his personal best of 16:15.23 from last year's OCC-Cardinal Division meet. That time was set at Hilliard Darby on a day when the winner -- Jacob Dumford of Westerville North, who now runs for Notre Dame -- finished the largely flat course in 15:15.27. That was more than two seconds faster than Dumford's state runner-up time of 15:17.61.
"I have 16:35 now, and now my mindset is the next time I'm shooting for is 16:20," Smith said. "I think I can get that at Otterbein (the Otterbein Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 21), but that's a bit of a tall order. It has a few hills that are insane. If I can hit 16:20, then I want 16:15. And then I want the school record."
Smith was 10th (17:26.21) in the Division I, district 1 meet last year and 111th (18:13.28) at regional.
"We've talked about (the school record) as a season goal," coach Jimmy Gaul said. "I think he has that exceptional race in him, and so does he."
The Wildcats finished eighth (161) of 14 teams at Three Creeks behind champion Dublin Coffman (70). Freshman C.J. Johnson was 14th (16:53.3) for South, which scored its fewest points since placing second at last year's Johnstown Invitational with 48 points.
"For the first time this year, I had all my top guys," Gaul said. "For whatever reason, just from a confluence of circumstances, we hadn't had everyone together until (Sept. 14). We're still working on things. I've told the guys to try to keep within a minute of Greg, and we're getting there."
Senior Victoria Husain's 61st-place finish (21:30.15) led South's girls to a 15th-place finish (410) of 16 teams behind champion Upper Arlington (35). Senior Jenna Fudale was 75th (21:55.68) and junior Lauren Frank was 87th (22:17.91).
North girls seek consistent lineup
North junior Heather Sandvik held her position as arguably the area's top girls runner during the Central Ohio Invitational, winning in 18:26.74 as Kelsey Sandlin of Gahanna was second (18:27.57).
"This is already my third win this year, and last year it took me until (the OCC-Cardinal meet) to get my first win," said Sandvik, who improved on her 18:58.08 mark from the Tiffin Cross Country Carnival on Sept. 7 that was the area's best time as of last week. She has dropped almost a minute since a 19:17 effort won the Panther Division of the season-opening Pickerington Classic on Aug. 24.
"There is some pressure having the top time in the area, but I just try to have fun with it," Sandvik said. "I'm doing my best to go faster every week."
Junior Haley Sandvik, Heather's twin and the Warriors' usual second runner, was second for North at Three Creeks with a 20th-place finish (19:56.65). She was followed by junior Jocelyn Sharpe (40th, 20:42.64), sophomore Mary Swatzell (51st, 21:07.05), senior Alex Mobley (76th, 21:57.31), freshman Claire Wetta (82nd, 22:09.51) and junior Morgan Bernhard (91st, 22:42.35).
Several runners have alternated into the fifth, sixth and seventh spots, including juniors Teresa Chatel and Anna Kocak, Mobley and freshmen Emily Welsh and Wetta.
While coach Johnny Jackson is aware of his team's depth, he'd prefer consistency.
"I know right now we're not the fastest we're going to be this year, but I want to see more of the same names in the same spots every week," Jackson said. "I just want that solid fifth runner because I think that's going to make the team better and more competitive."
Four North boys finished within 12 seconds of one another as the Warriors were seventh (152) at Three Creeks. Senior Nick Horton was 22nd (17:02.06), followed by sophomore Matt Parkhurst (23rd, 17:02.36), senior Evan Larrick (27th, 17:10.04) and junior Trevor Dilley (29th, 17:13.25).
Central coach likes team's approach
Even though Central's boys finished 12th (312) at Three Creeks and the Warhawks' lead runner, junior Cameron George, was 49th (17:40.73), coach Jason Loughman was encouraged by his team's thought process while racing.
"They're raced better as a team today than all season," Loughman said. "There's a difference between running and racing, and the guys are starting to learn that. They know when to take risks and trust their training. I'm enjoying watching those skills come along."
Central ran without seniors Dustin Edens and Joel Schmelzer, who are recovering from injuries. The Warhawks' top four runners were separated by 32 seconds, and their top seven were 1:42 apart.
Senior Dana Roberts (ninth, 19:27.32) and junior Tarike Osuobeni (15th, 19:43.18) led Central's girls to a fifth-place finish (173). They were followed by freshman Chauntress Like (33rd, 20:46.43), senior Gracie Boden (49th, 21:01.4) and freshman Kelli Wozniak (67th, 21:47.35).