The Westerville South High School boys cross country team features a new No. 1 runner and plenty of returning experience.
Leading the returnees is senior Cole Koehler, who has replaced 2018 graduate Nathan Ware at the front of the Wildcats' pack.
Koehler finished 33rd (17 minutes, 7.19 seconds) in the Division I, district 2 meet last season.
"Cole has been a varsity runner since he joined the program as a freshman, so he's taken over the mantle of what Nathan has been the last couple of years," said coach Jimmy Gaul, who is in his 12th season.
Following Koehler in the lineup are juniors Donovan Slattery and Isaac Combs. Slattery was 62nd (17:51.46) at district and Combs was 74th (18:05.27).
Senior Ian Anderson is the fourth runner and junior Anthony Vilardo, who was 57th (17:44.47) at district, is fifth.
Senior Brandon Allbritton, juniors Connor Bushman and Jaxen Swank and sophomores Liam Allbritton and Isaac Weaver also are looking to contribute.
"Our team has set up goals and it's something that is really interesting that we haven't had in recent years is the teams themselves making up what we want to achieve and what we want to do," Brandon Allbritton said.
South opened the season Aug. 25 by finishing third (88 points) of eight teams in the Mount Vernon John Fair Invitational at Kenyon College behind champion Olentangy (23).
Koehler was eighth (17:36.5) of 134 runners, followed by Slattery (11th, 18:03.3), Combs (17th, 18:18.7), Anderson (22nd, 18:24.9) and Vilardo (38th, 19:21.6).
On Sept. 1, the Wildcats finished fifth (141) of eight teams in the Westerville North Classic behind champion Olentangy (42). Koehler was ninth (17:38.97) of 73 runners, Slattery was 26th (18:27.33) and Combs finished 34th (18:50.15).
Ware placed 57th (17:08.37) at regional last year, capping a season in which South finished third (84) in the OCC-Buckeye Division meet behind champion Olentangy Liberty (31).
"You have Liberty and (Olentangy) Orange, so right off the top you're dealing with two of the perennially best teams in central Ohio, so it's a big challenge," Gaul said of the league. "We want to put our best effort out there and see if we can duplicate what we did last year and rule the 'Ville."
Girls runners show promise
The girls cross country team is feeling optimistic under fourth-year coach Erin Focht.
Freshman Emily Ellsworth has taken over the No. 1 spot, followed by sophomore Taylor Hughes, senior Ellie Bouton, junior Karina Deere and senior Tasha Carr.
Senior Jordan Monsul, sophomores Marley Jackson, Izzie Kotik and Abbey Williams and freshmen Elise Bennett, Emma Henderson and Katherine Stoll also should be in the mix.
"We're definitely focusing a lot more on strengthening and kids aren't getting injured as much and it's really helping with our performances," Deere said.
South finished fourth (100) of six teams in the John Fair Invitational behind champion Olentangy (40). Ellsworth was 10th (21:48.6) of 99 runners, followed by Hughes (19th, 22:39.5), Carr (31st, 24:35.4), Jackson (34th, 24:45.4), Henderson (39th, 24:59.3) and Bennett (40th, 25:03.7).
"I'm very happy with the start for the girls (Aug. 25)," Gaul said. "There was a really good energy and a positive connection amongst them that's leading to great work getting done on the roads. We've taken our lumps the last few years."
The Wildcats placed ninth (249) of nine teams in the Westerville North Classic behind champion Pickerington North (30) as Williams was 45th (25:58.91) of 143 runners.
Last season, South finished sixth (174) in the league meet behind champion Liberty (36).
"We'd like to ... finish in the top half of some meets," Gaul said. "We want to put something together for the future, getting the experience of learning the importance of pack running."
Girls golfers vie in league play
The girls golf team finished sixth (497) in the third round of the OCC-Buckeye tournament Aug. 29 at Royal American behind first-place Orange (329).
McKhala Eckert shot a 108 to lead the Wildcats.
South competes in the fourth and final round of league play Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Cooks Creek.
Aug. 25 -- Mount Vernon Kiwanis John Fair Invitational at Kenyon College
Sept. 1 -- Westerville North Classic
Sept. 8 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 15 -- Bobcat Invitational at Grandview
Sept. 22 -- Pickerington Central Invitational
Sept. 29 -- Erin L. Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club
Oct. 6 -- Johnstown Harrier Showdown at Sportsman Club
Oct. 13 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Hilliard Davidson
Below are the coming schedules for the South girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 12 -- OCC-Buckeye at Cooks Creek
Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 11 -- Home vs. Marysville
Sept. 11 -- At Worthington Kilbourne
*Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
Sept. 10 -- At Newark
Sept. 11 -- Home vs. Northland
Sept. 12 -- At Grove City
*Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
Sept. 11 -- Home vs. Columbus Academy
Sept. 12 -- At Big Walnut