Worthington Kilbourne High School boys cross country coach Dave Strausbaugh originally figured his team would go through a rebuilding season after losing three of its top seven competitors to graduation in Kevin Liu, John McIntyre and Ian Young.
Strausbaugh no longer feels that's the case after seeing how hard his athletes worked during the offseason to improve their endurance.
"This was supposed to be another rebuilding year because we lost three of our most experienced runners, but we seem to be on pace to finish about where we finished last year," Strausbaugh said.
"We had a better summer than we had last year and our athletes are seeing the results of their offseason work. I'm hoping they will continue to train hard through the season and top what we accomplished last year."
Four letterwinners are back in senior Alex Irwin and juniors Reed Costello, Ben Highley and Tanner Taylor.
Strausbaugh also is expecting sophomores Ryan Baxter, Matt Kulling and Sam Zeid to add to his team's depth.
The Wolves opened Aug. 24 by placing ninth (243) in the 11-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational behind champion Dublin Jerome (27).
"We're young and we don't have the numbers we're used to, but we're talented and the kids put in a good summer," Strausbaugh said.
The Wolves are hoping to fare better in the OCC-Capital Division after placing eighth (182 points) in the OCC-Cardinal meet a year ago behind champion Westerville North (34).
Last year, New Albany won the OCC-Capital meet (32) ahead of Olentangy (56), Olentangy Orange (91), Watkins Memorial (115), Delaware (144), Mount Vernon (145) and Big Walnut (151).
Kilbourne has replaced Watkins Memorial.
"New Albany's very strong, and Olentangy and Olentangy Orange are getting stronger," Strausbaugh said. "We're probably at the level of Delaware, Mount Vernon and Big Walnut right now, so we'll see if we can finish ahead of some of those teams when we race them."
Last season ended on a sour note for the Wolves when Young was unable to run in the Division I, district 1 meet because of a hamstring injury and Kilbourne placed 10th (264) behind champion Westerville North (45). McIntyre (17th, 17 minutes, 35.41 seconds) moved on to regional by finishing in the top 20.
McIntyre finished 93rd (17:47.12) at regional as the top 16 individuals advanced to state.
"Last year's team didn't peak the way we were hoping it would," Strausbaugh said. "We know there will probably be some growing pains this year, but we're working hard so that we can peak at district."
Cardinals off to strong start
Thomas, which is coached by Eric Carter, opened Aug. 17 by placing sixth (194) behind champion Mason (68) in the 24-team Section E race of OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway.
Scoring for the Cardinals were junior Jonathan Kissel (24th, 17:18.7), junior Jonathan Allen (36th, 17:33.99), sophomore Adam Hohlbein (38th, 17:35.3), sophomore Ian Hohlbein (40th, 17:38.66) and sophomore Evan Miller (57th, 17:58.68).
Senior Jack Dotts and sophomore Zachary Emptage also are back.
"We're excited about where we're starting out," third-year assistant coach Bill Darling said. "Sixth was a good showing for us, and even though we're very young, the kids are moving forward in their high school careers."
On Aug. 24, the Cardinals placed fifth (126) in the 11-team Panther Division of the Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North behind champion Dublin Coffman (77).
Last year, the Cardinals placed fourth (128) in the OCC-Central meet behind champion Hilliard Davidson (28) and sixth (166) in the district 2 meet behind champion Davidson (39) as the top five teams advanced to regional.
"We're trying to do better in one of the tougher conferences in Ohio," Darling said. "But we have a clear goal of trying to get to the regional this year. Our kids are young, but they have a lot of experience from running varsity and we're looking for a good season this year."