The New Albany High School girls cross country team set a goal of fourth place or better in the season-opening Panther Classic on Aug. 27 at Pickerington North and fell one spot shy.

The New Albany High School girls cross country team set a goal of fourth place or better in the season-opening Panther Classic on Aug. 27 at Pickerington North and fell one spot shy.

That's part of the reason coach Herb Gregory spent much of last week reminding his runners they can be even better than they think -- if they work for it.

"I want to see them be more competitive," said Gregory, who is in his fourth season. "We talked a lot after (the Panther Classic) about the fact that we're in a good place physically, but I know there is more mental progress that we can make. In the second mile in particular in that race, we seemed to be content with where we were. I want to see us make those moves to get ahead, and know when to make those moves.

"That's something you have to learn. They just need to believe they can be pretty good. A lot of them don't believe we should be up toward the front of the pack. Seeing themselves perform at a higher level will breed confidence."

Junior Alyssa Painter returns after finishing as New Albany's top runner in eight of nine races last year. She began this season the same way, finishing 11th (21 minutes, 26.8 seconds) in the Panther Classic to lead the Eagles to 151 points and fifth place in the 23-team Bengal Division behind champion Thomas Worthington (25).

Also scoring for the Eagles were freshman Keely Smith (24th, 22:19.19), sophomore Monica Vale (40th, 23:08.38) and juniors Simmi Diwanji (42nd, 23:11.06) and Taylor Given (44th, 23:13).

Sophomores Maya Patel (63rd, 23:50.81) and Alyssa Kneedler (65th, 23:52.65) rounded out the top seven.

Kneedler is a move-in from Pickerington North.

"Alyssa's approach to training is much more mature as she's getting older," Gregory said. "She asks questions about what needs to be done. She pays more attention to detail than she did when she was a freshman. That happens the more races you run, and just the more you learn. She has high goals for herself, and I have high goals for her."

According to Gregory, other potential varsity contributors include seniors Christina Chen, Cara Dovell, Kamryn Russell, Karli Schumacher and Maggie Sestak, juniors Kate Golian and Loren Klein, sophomores Margeaux LaJeunesse and Chloe Platte and freshmen Meredith Given and Katie Welte.

LaJeunesse and Platte are first-time runners who also play for the girls lacrosse team, which made a Division I state semifinal last season.

"We have a group of maybe eight to 10 girls poised to do big things," Gregory said. "We are going to be tested, but that's a good thing."

New Albany is seeking its first OCC-Capital Division championship since 2013.

Pack mentality driving boys runners

First-year boys cross country coach John Galbreath saw evidence of good pack scoring in the season-opening Panther Classic, but the Eagles still are looking for someone to take hold of the top spot.

"We're in good condition; we just don't have that frontrunner out right now," said Galbreath, who was hired in June to replace Mark Frank. "We have a good group of pack kids in the middle, and that's what our success will depend on. We're building a good foundation. I want us to be a more competitive group. We've learned a lot, and we'll continue to learn."

Junior Kane Breuer was 55th (18:26.44) on Aug. 27, and the Eagles scored 324 points to finish 12th of 15 teams in the Panther Division behind champion Thomas (61). Also scoring were seniors Parker Kim (60th, 18:33.23), Chandler Stringer (64th, 18:39.2) and Reed Wyant (67th, 18:45.02) and junior Kenneth Polta (89th, 19:06.99).

They were followed by freshman Eric Von Zastrow (95th, 19:19.64) and senior David Curren (113th, 19:31.17).

Galbreath coached both the boys and girls teams from 1991-95 before spending more than a decade as an assistant coach. He spent one more season as the boys head coach in 2006 and coached the New Albany Middle School teams in recent years.

Other runners who could see time on varsity include seniors Garrett Lafferty, Cameron Poulton and Charlie Stanislav, junior Kevin Remiker, sophomore Mitchell Briggs and freshmen Pedro Faerman and Brandon Willis.

"We're excited to get back out and race," Galbreath said. "We were disappointed (Aug. 27), not in our times but in our place. We will be more competitive. Our training and our work ethic have been incredible. The older guys have logged a lot of miles and they have a lot more foot speed than they used to. We have a lot we can build on."

Boys golfers close in on league title

As if being undefeated through the first half of the OCC-Capital tournament wasn't enough reason for positivity, the boys golf team was feeling good about itself even before it pulled into Darby Creek for the third round Aug. 31.

A few hours later, New Albany had all but clinched its sixth consecutive league championship.

Clay Grantham's score of 70, and rounds of 71 from Austin Masturzo and Logan Spiess, guided the Eagles to a team score of 291 and first place ahead of Big Walnut (319), Canal Winchester (386), Newark (424) and Groveport (471). Franklin Heights did not record a team score.

New Albany is 15-0 in the OCC-Capital entering the final round of the tournament Wednesday, Sept. 14, at Turnberry.

"Our players love Darby Creek," coach Andy Moore said. "They hit off the tee very well and that let them attack the pins. It was one of those days when everything came together.

"Clay missed a few putts by half an inch or so; a 70 is pretty good, but he was that close to having a really incredible round. Days like that build so much confidence."

Grantham, Masturzo and Spiess all have been the Eagles' top golfer at various points this season while the top five has remained consistent. Spencer Green shot a 79 at Darby Creek, and Matt Myers added an 82.

Grantham shot a medalist round of 69 on Aug. 10 in the Westerville Central Invitational at The Lakes.

Big Walnut is second in the league at 12-3, followed by Canal Winchester (9-6), Newark (6-9), Groveport (3-12) and Franklin Heights (0-15).

"We've had some rounds in the 290s, and now we are flirting with the 280s," Moore said. "They know they can do it."