Thomas Worthington High School girls cross country coach Andy Cox already felt optimistic about the season considering that four of his top runners have returned.
Those athletes, seniors Ashley Forte, Allison Huedepohl and Ariel Rittenhouse and junior Laura Hill, helped lead the Cardinals to the Division I regional meet last season.
But now that a talented group of freshmen, including Marcella Chavez, Hannah Moulton and Christina Nash, and some improved veterans such as seniors Janie Carter and Natalie Frank and juniors Paige Narciso and Holly Payne have bolstered the team's depth, Cox said he is confident the Cardinals will have a successful season.
Thomas opened Aug. 17 by placing seventh (228) behind champion Mason (47) in the 24-team Section G race of the OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway.
Scoring were Nash (15th, 20 minutes, 18.41 seconds), Hill (24th, 20:39.43), Narciso (61st, 21:49.29), Forte (66th, 21:54.17) and Payne (71st, 22:05.37).
On Aug. 24, the Cardinals scored 62 points to win the 11-team Bengal Division of the Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North ahead of runner-up Watkins Memorial (67).
"Right now we have a quality group of 14 girls vying for seven spots, so our depth is very good," Cox said. "We have a large part of the core of our team back, and we have a couple of nice surprises in Holly and Paige who have both improved immensely. And I don't think we've ever had so many talented freshmen come in together like this on the girls side before. Overall, we have a great group this year."
Last year, the Cardinals were fifth (107) in the OCC-Central Division meet behind champion Dublin Coffman (43), fourth (115) in the district 3 meet behind champion Upper Arlington (49) and 12th (290) at regional behind champion Hilliard Davidson (50).
Cox said the goal this season is to get to state.
"Our division of the OCC is so loaded that we could finish fourth or fifth in our league and still make it to the state meet," Cox said. "Olentangy Liberty, Upper Arlington, Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Davidson are all good enough to qualify for state, and that's our goal, too."
Wolves looking to improve in postseason
Kilbourne coach Melanie Williams is confident her team will fare better in its league and postseason meets this season.
The Wolves will compete in the OCC-Capital after finishing seventh (173) in the OCC-Cardinal meet a year ago behind champion Dublin Scioto (40).
Kilbourne replaced Watkins Memorial in the OCC-Capital. Last year, New Albany scored 33 points to win the league meet ahead of Olentangy Orange (65), Olentangy (82), Watkins Memorial (84), Big Walnut (127), Delaware (140) and Mount Vernon (155).
In the district 3 meet last season, Kilbourne placed eighth (189) as the top six teams advanced to regional. The sixth berth was claimed by Orange (176).
The top 24 individuals also advanced, and senior Kaitlyn Napoli made it by placing 16th (20:24.17).
At regional, Napoli finished 97th (21:37.9).
"I think we're going to be a lot more competitive in the smaller division of the OCC this year because we'll be competing against schools that are closer to us in size," Williams said.
"Our team has improved and I think we've got a shot at taking our entire team to regional, too."
The Wolves opened Aug. 24 by finishing seventh (169) in the 11-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational behind champion UA (33).
Seniors Lily Fang, Napoli and Leanne Wegley have returned to serve as team captains.
Junior Lauren Spangler also is back but will miss the first half of the season with a leg injury.
Senior Jessica Carroll, junior Emily Stoodley and freshmen Danielle Barker, Elizabeth Findell and Camille Rider are expected to bolster the Wolves' scoring and depth.
"We have a group of returning seniors and juniors who are good and we have a bunch of new freshmen who are making us better," Wegley said.
"We don't have a (star runner) like a lot of other teams, but we have a lot of strong runners who will work together to compensate for our lack of a (star)."