Senior Tyler VanSickle's desire to be the top runner is helping the Utica High School boys cross country team.

Senior Tyler VanSickle's desire to be the top runner is helping the Utica High School boys cross country team.

Classmate Dylan Weaver clearly was last year's leader. He ran first for the Redskins and fifth overall (17 minutes, 19 seconds) at the Division II, Section 1 district meet at Watkins Memorial to earn first-team honors as the team qualified for the Troy regional for the second time in three seasons.

VanSickle worked steadily all year to close the gap, however, eventually placing ninth (17:36) at Watkins as returning junior Tyler Harriman (11th, 17:38) also made second-team all-district. Weaver (51st, 17:48) and VanSickle (52nd, 17:49) ran stride for stride with each other in Troy, and now it looks like they're ready to take that friendly rivalry to another level.

"(VanSickle's) really testing him," said coach Elizabeth Edinger, whose boys and girls teams compete next in Saturday's Granville Invitational. "He wants it (the No. 1 position) just as bad so that's helping him, Dylan and the whole team."

Seniors Storm Van Wey and Matt Wilson also return for the Redskins, who finished third (87 points) at last year's MBC meet dominated by Fredericktown (26) and was fourth (90) at the district meet won by Canal Winchester (77).

Junior Jent Dassylva is the most promising runner among five newcomers for Utica, which opened at last Saturday's Newark Catholic Invitational. The others are senior Shawn Painter, juniors Pete Hughes and Levi Skinner and freshman Kyle Moran.

•The girls cross country team also might have a battle for the front-runner position. Senior Jessie Leaman, a two-time regional qualifier, hopes to overcome a slew of recent injuries that have derailed her career. By season end a year ago, sophomore Hannah Tomcisin had moved into the lead in most races, and was the team's top finisher (41st overall, 22:18) at the Section 2 district meet.

Seniors Brooke Perkins and Arita Geerdink, junior Emily Revercomb and sophomore Ceaira Robey also return for Utica, which did not score as a team at the MBC meet won by Johnstown. The newcomers are senior Abbie Corbett and sophomores Tasha Ramsey and Brittany Stout.

"We have more depth this year so that's a good start," Edinger said. "As much as anything, we're just keeping a positive attitude."