After being diagnosed with cancer in March, Worthington Kilbourne High School girls cross country coach Melanie Williams went through months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, causing her to miss many of the team's spring and summer training sessions.
During that time, the Wolves'three senior captains -- Tessa Bolon, Hana Estice and Lauren Spangler -- displayed their leadership.
"When I was too sick to attend practice, our captains took on the responsibility of organizing workouts and our assistant coach (Kevin Gacka) helped motivate the girls to continue training hard," Williams said. "All of our girls have been wonderful and they've worked really hard to set themselves up for a good season. I just hope we can keep our injuries to a minimum so all of their hard work pays off."
Senior Emily Stoodley has returned as Kilbourne's No. 1 runner after placing 87th (19 minutes, 52.15 seconds) of 154 runners in the Division I state meet last year at National Trail Raceway.
Stoodley, who was the Wolves' first state qualifier since 2007, placed 13th (19:32.57) in the regional meet at Pickerington North, as the Wolves finished ninth (225) behind champion Gahanna (90).
"Emily's back as our top runner and our top-10 runners are a strong group," Williams said.
Also back after competing at regional are sophomores Camille Rider (41st, 20:22.5) and Beth Findell (104th, 22:03.44) and Bolon (114th, 22:42.69).
Kilbourne opened Aug. 23, finishing sixth (115) in the eight-team Mount Vernon Kiwanis Invitational, behind champion Gahanna (57).
Stoodley won the event in 19:31.9. Rounding out the Wolves' top-six finishers were Rider (13th, 21:05.2), freshman Keira Smith (20th, 21:27.6), Bolon (58th, 23:12), junior Megan Coogan (59th, 23:13.2) and Findell (64th, 23:32.6).
Others expected to be key contributors include senior Emily Henthorn and sophomores N'Dea Gordon and Sarah Napoli.
Among the team goals is winning the OCC-Capital Division title. Kilbourne finished second (38) in the league meet last year, behind New Albany (29).
"We're really excited about the OCC after coming so close last year," Williams said. "We're looking forward to having a repeat of getting our entire team to regional and the girls even have their sights set on making it to state. A lot of our runners have stepped up and improved their times, so I think we've got a shot at reaching those goals."
Cardinals aiming for return trip to state
Thomas has returned five of its seven runners who competed in the Division I state meet last season.
Sophomore Christina Nash was the top finisher for the Cardinals, placing 53rd (19:27.05). Also competing at state were senior Laura Hill (105th, 20:09.5), junior Annie Steele (114th, 20:17.45), senior Holly Payne (119th, 20:18.49) and sophomore Hannah Moulton (120th, 20:18.75).
Making their first state appearance since 2006, the Cardinals placed 13th (292) of 16 teams, behind champion Mason (76).
Thomas made strong showings in its first two meets. The Cardinals opened Aug. 16 by placing sixth (129) in the 23-team OHSAA Preseason Invitational behind champion Mason (88).
Scoring were Moulton (13th, 19:57.11), Nash (14th, 19:57.44), senior Paige Narciso (29th, 20:30.78), Hill (36th, 20:46.45) and Payne (37th, 20:48.56).
The Cardinals then finished second (58) in the 17-team Bengal Division of the Pickerington Classic on Aug. 23 at Pickerington North, behind champion Upper Arlington (40).
"We feel good about the way we opened our season," 18th-year coach Andy Cox said. "Hannah was a nice surprise because she was up there with our No. 1 runner after she finished mostly as our fifth through seventh runner last year. Our fifth through seventh runners were only 51 seconds apart in our first meet and we're going to try to continue to close that gap through the rest of the season."
Other runners expected to be key contributors include senior Sydney Ann Welter, sophomore Anusha Baldaro and freshman Anna Lisa.
Thomas is looking to win the OCC-Central title after placing second (51) in the league meet last year, behind UA (39).
"The OCC is always a huge challenge," Cox said. "In (the OHSAA Preseason Invitational), we were just ahead of Hilliard Davidson (seventh, 145) and just behind Olentangy Liberty (fourth, 113) and Upper Arlington (second, 107), so the competition is tough as ever.
"Our biggest goal is to make it back to the state meet to try to improve on our finish there. The competition in our region is very, very tough, so we can't take that for granted. But our girls logged some quality miles in the offseason and look really good right now, so I feel optimistic about our chances."
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 Hilliard Darby