The results were not what the Bexley High School girls cross country team wanted in the Division II state meet, but having five freshmen in the starting lineup left coach Eric Acton feeling optimistic.
The Lions finished 18th (352 points) of 20 teams behind champion Lexington (137) on Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway.
"I think they ran very well as a team," said Acton, who completed his 30th season. "I've never been around a team that's been so young and so competitive. They really work hard for each other. They bear down and they're engaged the whole race.
"It's pretty amazing, especially when you get here. Your eyes are pretty wide open with this kind of company. You get these races where the best in the state are here and the best individuals in the state ... and they weren't intimidated at all."
Senior Molly Fagin led the Lions by finishing 42nd of 179 competitors in 19 minutes, 25.2 seconds as the three-time state participant battled injury. Chagrin Falls' Annie Zimmer won in 18:13.6.
Fagin placed 17th at state last season in 18:51.6 as the Lions reached the meet as a team for the first time since 2010 and finished 15th. As a sophomore, Fagin finished 83rd (20:20.9).
"It was fun being (at state) with the team, but I'm disappointed with how I did," Fagin said. "There's not much I can do about it but just try to stay focused for track (and field season).
"I had an injury in my IT (iliotibial) band in my left leg and had to take (time) off (from running) for that in the middle of the season, but it's feeling better, so hopefully it gets better pretty soon."
Freshman Maria Steinke (93rd, 20:22.1), freshman Ally Grieshop (114th, 20:49.4), freshman Karleigh Place (128th, 21:03.8), junior Annie Politi (147th, 21:19.6), freshman Hannah Hayden (151st, 21:33.0) and freshman Leah Tadese (169th, 22:45.4) also competed.
"It was cool hearing all the loud noises (at state)," Steinke said.
"I saw my sister (2017 graduate Kayla Steinke) run (at state) last year so it was cool watching her and then running here. We were just hoping to make it to state. That was our goal."
The Lions finished fourth (188) in the regional Oct. 28 at Pickerington North behind champion Fairfield Union (83) as the top six teams advanced to state. Fagin was 10th (19:28.26).
On Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial, Bexley was first (76) in a 21-team district race as Fagin placed second (19:11.1).
Fagin won the MSL-Ohio Division meet in 19:15.0 on Oct. 14. It was the third consecutive team title for the Lions, who scored 31 points to finish ahead of Grandview (54), Columbus Academy (79), Whitehall (105), host London (124) and Worthington Christian (133).
The boys team ended its season in the Division II regional, finishing ninth (306) behind champion Thornville Sheridan (58) as the top seven teams and top 28 individuals qualified for state.
Sophomore Miles Feinknopf (36th, 17:13.6) led the Lions, followed by junior Theo Snowdon (48th, 17:29.13), senior Sam Warner (72nd, 17:45.77), senior Andrew Rogers (108th, 18:20.65), sophomore Dylan Abel (130th, 18:41.48), senior Zach Shapiro (143rd, 19:00.06) and freshman Spencer Stevenson (151st, 19:22.31).
The boys were second (113) behind Heath (50) in the district 2 race as Snowdon (13th, 17:02.31) and Feinknopf (15th, 17:09.64) led the way.
The Lions were third (72) in the league meet behind Academy (40) and Grandview (50) and ahead of Worthington Christian (91), London (110) and Whitehall (157). Snowdon was ninth (17:28.3).
Football players learned 'hard lessons'
Enduring a winless season wasn't easy, but first-year football coach Nathan Castorena said his players have learned lessons that will make them better.
The Lions finished 0-10 for the first time in program history. That comes one year after finishing the regular season 10-0 for the first time.
"We had a lot of guys who were learning football," Castorena said. "We had 10 weeks of hard lessons, and we'll be a better football program because of it."
The Lions finished sixth (0-5) in the MSL-Ohio behind tri-champions Academy, London and Whitehall (all 4-1), Grandview (2-3) and Liberty Union (1-4).
Ethan Gammage (OL/DL; honorable mention all-league), Tyler Mitchell (WR/LB; honorable mention all-league), Mason Remeis (WR/DB; second-team all-league), Grant Robinson (OL/DL; first-team all-league) and Wesley Woodward (WR/DB) led a 13-player senior class.
Remeis led the team with 22 receptions for 245 yards, and Mitchell had 10 catches for 132 yards and four touchdowns. Woodward caught 12 passes for 92 yards.
"I can't even begin to explain what this senior group has meant to us," Castorena said.
"They waited a long time for their opportunity and they worked hard to earn their playing time. They are high-character guys and quality people, and I'm really proud to have coached them."
Junior quarterback Anthony Welsh completed 53 of 107 passes for 575 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He also rushed for 185 yards and five touchdowns on 77 carries.
Junior Ian McFadden was the leading rusher with 252 yards on 65 carries.
Sophomore linebacker Patrick Beck led the defense with 38 tackles, including six for loss, and two sacks.
"It was a tough season, but I learned to keep fighting every day, keep working at practice and keep grinding," Beck said. "We need to keep our heads high and play every game as hard as we can."
Junior Connor Moriarty (RB/DB), sophomores Carter Brenner (DB) and Luke Robinson (OL/DL) and freshman Grant Sheridan (LB) also are expected back.