Worthington Kilbourne High School girls cross country coach Melanie Williams readily acknowledges the Wolves will be a much different team this year.

Worthington Kilbourne High School girls cross country coach Melanie Williams readily acknowledges the Wolves will be a much different team this year.

For starters, they no longer have a runner whose pedigree includes OCC-Cardinal Division (17 minutes, 28 seconds) and Division I district (17:14) titles, followed by meet-record performances in winning championships at the regional (17:38) and state (17:10.51) levels.

"(Claire Durkin) is one of those special athletes who comes along very rarely, but the girls understand that she was only our No. 1 runner and not our entire team," said Williams, whose team joined the boys team in opening last Saturday at the Mount Vernon Invitational and will compete Saturday at the Westerville Classic at Westerville North.

"We're going to miss our No. 2 runner (graduate Caroline Cann) a whole lot, too, but I think we're still going to be a strong team, because the mentality is to move our entire group up."

Williams expects several runners to contribute, including seniors Hilary Christopher, Sarah Ginier, Morgan Gray, Leigh Kaufman and Arielle Knapp, juniors Maeve Beyer, Meredith Lapp, Christine Miller and Tori Nourse and freshmen Danielle Frank and Alexis Nally.

The Wolves were first (46) in the OCC-Cardinal meet last year ahead of Olentangy (57), Dublin Jerome (79), Mount Vernon (96), Pickerington Central (112) and Westerville South (132) for their third consecutive title.

Kilbourne now is in the OCC-Central with Central Crossing, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Darby, Hilliard Davidson, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington and Westland.

"Being grouped with all of those teams -- like Thomas, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, and Upper Arlington -- that consistently make it to the state meet makes it tough, but we'll hang in there and be competitive," Williams said. "Between all of the girls who came out for the team, I think we'll find at least five who will finish well for us."

The Wolves were fifth (153) in the district 2 meet behind champion Thomas (62) and 10th (283) in the 16-team regional behind champion Mason (111). The other scorers at the regional were Knapp (57th, 20:40), Cann (63rd, 20:46), Christopher (92nd, 21:30) and Kaufman (102nd, 21:53).

"To be competitive in the big meets, the girls know they have to work as a solid pack," Williams said. "We don't have a girl who can finish first every time anymore, but the girls who we have back have improved and are looking to lead us collectively."

Leading the boys team are senior returning letterwinners Sam Dixius, Dan Fuchik and Aaron Long. Seniors Matt Givens, Steve L'Echuyer and Ken Strawser, juniors Steven Batchelder, Eric Clemens and Tom Green and sophomore Ethan Dixius fill out the roster.

"We've got a lot of new kids on varsity so we're young but enthusiastic," coach Dave Strausbaugh said.

The Wolves were third (70) in the OCC-Cardinal a year ago behind Jerome (42) and Pickerington Central (50) and ahead of Mount Vernon (78), Westerville South (122) and Olentangy (136). They were fourth (168) in the Division I district 1 meet behind Reynoldsburg (67), Pickerington North (86) and St. Charles (146).

Kilbourne was eighth (232) in the 16-team regional behind champion Pickerington North (96). Graduates John Batchelder (first, meet-record 15:49) and Dustin Ubbing (29th, 16:55), Sam Dixius (48th, 17:09) and graduates John Enevoldsen (97th, 17:47) and Joshua Jones (110th, 18:05) scored.

The top four teams and top 16 individuals from each boys and girls regional qualified to state. There, Batchelder was 30th (16:07.27) as Medina's Donny Roys won in 15:21.83.

"The OCC is going to be an even bigger challenge this year," Strausbaugh said. "Both Hilliards, Upper Arlington, Thomas Worthington and Dublin Coffman are all real good, and we'd like to be up there in that top tier with those teams. If we can be competitive within our own division, that will prepare us to be competitive beyond that meet."

At a glance

Coach: Boys -- Dave Strausbaugh, first season; Girls -- Melanie Williams, 16th season

Next meet: Saturday at Westerville Classic at Westerville North

Key runners: Boys -- Sam Dixius, Dan Fuchik and Aaron Long, Girls -- Hilary Christopher, Leigh Kaufman and Arielle Knapp