The Thomas Worthington High School boys cross country team was inconsistent the past two seasons while relying on younger runners to lead the way.
First-year coach Bill Darling, who was an assistant under former coach Eric Carter the past three years, doesn't believe that will be the case this year.
"We are blessed this season to have a lot of top runners who are juniors and seniors," Darling said. "In the past few years, our top runners have been young, and that can lead to some up-and-down performances. They've worked very hard this summer and are looking to have one of the best seasons we've had around here in some time."
The Cardinals opened Aug. 16, placing fourth (116 points) of 21 teams in the OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway, behind champion Cleveland St. Ignatius (64).
Senior Jonathan Kissel led the Cardinals, placing fourth in 16 minutes, 12.75 seconds. Senior Jonathan Allen (14th, 16:47.62) was next, followed by junior Evan Miller (28th, 17:08.31), junior Adam Hohlbein (32nd, 17:12.74), freshman Arjun Jha (38th, 17:19.33), junior Ian Hohlbein (40th, 17:22.16), junior Rohan Kumar (56th, 17:32.99), junior Zac Emptage (65th, 17:37.6) and senior Andrew Craig (76th, 17:46.15).
The Cardinals placed third (93) in the 17-team Panther Division of the Pickerington Classic on Aug. 23 at Pickerington North, behind champion Dublin Coffman (67).
"Senior leadership and depth are our strengths," Darling said. "The past few years, our second (group of) seven (runners) has always been one of the best around. Now those runners have moved up and grown up and are looking to push the varsity to a great season."
Kissel was the Cardinals' top finisher in the Division I regional meet last year at Pickerington North, placing 33rd (16:54.37) of 122 runners. Allen (50th, 17:13.32), Hohlbein (75th, 17:33.05), Craig (88th, 17:48.09), Emptage (92nd, 17:49.91) and Miller (109th, 18:09.59) also competed at regional.
Thomas finished 11th (279) of 16 teams at regional, behind champion Dublin Jerome (66), after placing third (94) in the 14-team district 1 meet at Watkins Memorial, behind champion Hilliard Davidson (29).
"Last year, our goal was to make it to the regional, which we did," Darling said. "This year, the team is setting a goal to qualify for the state championship meet. It will take an outstanding effort, but it is a reachable goal. They've been pointing to this season for a long time."
The Cardinals placed fourth (93) in the OCC-Central Division meet a year ago, behind Davidson (34), Olentangy Liberty (58) and Coffman (58).
"We are in one of the toughest (leagues) in Ohio, no doubt," Darling said. "Hilliard Davidson, Dublin Coffman and Olentangy Liberty are about as tough of a top three that you'll find. The past three years, we've finished no higher than fourth. Our goal is to break into the top three."
Experienced Wolves looking to improve
Seven-year Kilbourne coach Dave Strausbaugh is hoping an experienced group of runners will lead his team to a higher level of success.
The Wolves have returned all seven runners who competed in the Division I, district 2 meet last season at Watkins Memorial in junior Tanner Taylor (44th, 17:48.54), junior Ryan Baxter (52nd, 17:58.28), senior Reed Costello (54th, 18:03.31), senior Dylan Roesch (57th, 18:17.61), senior Matt Kulling (62nd, 18:36.7), junior Sam Zeid (64th, 18:48.46) and senior Ben Highley (83rd, 19:51.67).
The Wolves finished ninth (269) in the 14-team district 2 meet, behind champion Jerome (23).
Also expected to be a key contributor is senior Dylan Foley.
Kilbourne opened Aug. 23, finishing sixth (155) in the seven-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational, behind champion Massillon Jackson (38). Baxter led the Wolves, finishing 22nd (17:41.7).
"We have 11 seniors and a lot of overall experience back, so we're hoping to move to the next level this year," Strausbaugh said.
Kilbourne placed fourth (123) in the OCC-Capital meet last year, behind New Albany (27), Olentangy (48) and Olentangy Orange (68).
"New Albany's still the team to beat in the OCC-Capital, but we'd like to improve on last year's finish in our league meet," Strausbaugh said. "We'd also like to make it to the regional meet because we haven't done that in a while, but it's going to be a big jump for us to get there. We had a better offseason of work this summer and we're continuing to train hard during the season."
Aug. 23 -- Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational
Aug. 30 -- Run for a Dream Invitational at Methodist Theological School
Sept. 6 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 13 -- Alliance Running Invitational at Miami Valley Career Center
Sept. 20 -- Otterbein Invitational
Oct. 4 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas
Oct. 11 -- OCC-Capital meet at Newark
Aug. 16 -- OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway
Aug. 23 -- Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North
Aug. 30 -- Ona (W.Va.) Cabell Midland Championships
Sept. 6 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 13 -- Galion Cross Country Festival
Sept. 20 -- Pickerington Central Invitational
Oct. 4 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at home
Oct. 11 -- OCC-Central meet at Darby