The Grove City High School cross country program continued to make strides this fall.
After having just 23 boys and girls in coach Joe Dollins' first season in 2013, the Greyhounds had 44 athletes this year.
Dollins credits his 13 seniors for helping to strengthen the program, and he expects the number of runners to grow next year.
"We had an all-time high with 44 runners, so the seniors were very helpful," Dollins said. "They set a positive example for our team and (helped) raise the bar (to) build a winning tradition and a climate and culture. ... I'm very proud of our 13 seniors and what we accomplished this year as a team."
Evan Whitaker, who was one of five seniors on the boys team, led the way by advancing to his first Division I regional meet, where he finished 52nd (17 minutes, 1.1 seconds) of 129 runners Oct. 28 at Pickerington North.
Whitaker earned the regional berth by finishing ninth (16:18.21) of 124 runners in the district 3 meet Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial. Grove City finished 12th (308) of 16 teams behind champion Olentangy Liberty (49) as junior Adam Meister (47th, 17:17.2), senior E.J. Rondez (76th, 18:05.32), sophomores Ben Rutledge (86th, 18:33.77) and Zach Elliott (93rd, 18:56.12) and juniors Nick Bruce (99th, 19:22.2) and Jared Ellis (101st, 19:39.67) also competed.
Whitaker led Grove City in the OCC-Ohio Division meet Oct. 14 at Lancaster, finishing 11th (17:11.56) of 156 runners as the Greyhounds were fifth (151) behind North (36), Lancaster (48), Pickerington Central (69) and Gahanna (88) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (166).
"I'm very proud of Evan and all that he has accomplished, not only this year, but in a four-year running career," Dollins said. "He's a special kid, an excellent athlete and an elite cross country runner. I'm honored to know him, call him my friend and coach him and I'm excited to continue to follow his running career in college."
Whitaker plans to compete in college, but hasn't picked a school. "My season has been the best few months of my life," he said. "Not just because of the recognition I've received, but because I have bettered myself as an athlete and readied myself for college."
Others eligible to return include sophomore Trey Harkins and freshman Gregory Kingsbury.
The girls team should return two of its top runners, including sophomore Lindsay Donaldson, who finished 48th (20:59.26) of 125 runners in the district 3 meet.
Junior Sumer McWilliams finished 68th (21:38.47) at district, as Grove City was 14th (396) of 18 teams behind champion Hilliard Davidson (25).
Also competing were senior Maylene Renninger (69th, 21:38.76), sophomore Lauren Glass (100th, 23:07.98), seniors Ella Harris (111th, 23:42.7) and Kaitlin Osterman (118th, 24:35.67) and freshman Laney Hoyt (119th, 24:41.33).
The Greyhounds finished sixth (149) in the OCC-Ohio meet behind Gahanna (26), Lancaster (47), Central (92), Reynoldsburg (106) and North (118) as Donaldson was 22nd (21:49.93) of 53 runners.