Coming off a season in which it captured league and district championships, the Pickerington High School Central girls track and field team has just four seniors and is in what should be a tougher division of the OCC.
But the overall numbers are up to 53 and the Tigers have increased their number of potential distance runners from six to 16.
In addition, Central returns four of the competitors who helped it finish eighth in the Division I state meet with 18 points as Cleveland Heights Beaumont (62) won.
The Tigers open Saturday in the home Hammond Relays and compete Tuesday against visiting Pickerington North and Hilliard Darby.
"Everything has been going well," coach Robb Hammond said. "Our numbers are up, and it's been nice this year that we've had decent weather. We've been doing a lot of conditioning."
Sophomores Tionne Goodson, Jasmine Greene and Jalisa Jarrett ran on the 800-meter relay that was sixth in its heat (1 minute, 43.45 seconds) and the 1,600 relay that was fourth (3:52.32) at state.
Also back is junior Kaitlin Peters, who competed in the preliminary of the 1,600 relay at state before graduate Kelsey Kuzmic, who now competes for Ohio State, ran in the final.
Jarrett also was first in the OCC-Cardinal meet in the 400 (58.55) as the Tigers won the team title with 186 points.
Abena Boamah-Acheampong, who is joined in the senior class by Jazmine Smith (sprints), Salease Randolph (shot put, discus) and Whitney Woods (sprints), was second in the high jump (5 feet, 4 inches) in the district meet. The Tigers scored 128 points in the district 1 meet to win their first title since 1999.
Other key returnees include juniors Christina Gagliardo (pole vault) and Chanta Garcia (long jump) and sophomores Kaitlyn Meyer (distance) and Jordan Robinson (distance). Gagliardo won the OCC title in the pole vault (10-6) and Meyer was second at district in the 3,200 (11:45.65).
Kuzmic led a 2008 class that also included Amber Burwell and Deja Cagle. At state last year, Kuzmic was fourth in the 100 hurdles (14.66) and second in the 300 hurdles (43.67). Cagle ran a leg on the 800 relay at state and Burwell was 11th (37-6 1/4) in the shot put.
Central was third (50.5) behind Reynoldsburg (109) and Pickerington North (61) in the regional. All three teams are now in the OCC-Ohio, along with Gahanna, Grove City, Groveport, Lancaster and Newark.
"I've told the girls, 'You're probably in one of the toughest conferences in the state for girls track," Hammond said. "It's going to be a very tough league, so we've got to try to fill all of the events and have some depth."
•Boys coach Jason Roach called having 111 athletes a "good problem to have."
Considering that quantity is highlighted by a group of returnees which includes seniors Michael Beal, Evan Betts, Ron Burgess, Josh Stevens and Joe Taranto and junior Malcolm Pannell, the Tigers believe they have plenty of reasons for optimism.
Central won the OCC-Cardinal (133) and was sixth (52) behind champion Reynoldsburg (126) in the district 3 meet last year before tying for 13th (16) behind first-place Gahanna (77) in the regional. The Tigers did not score at state.
"With the numbers we've got, we should have better depth," Roach said. "There are still going to be a lot of young kids in the lineup. We were fortunate to have some young, good sprinters last year, and I think we're going to still be young but we'll be OK."
Burgess should lead the way after placing eighth (53.19) in the preliminaries of the 400 and running a leg of the 800 relay which finished eighth in its heat (1:30.55) at state.
Also back after competing at state is junior Malcolm Pannell, who also ran on the 800 relay. Patrick White and Jamie Wood, who joined Burgess and Pannell on the 800 relay at state, were juniors last year but enrolled early in college after earning football scholarships, White to Michigan State and Wood to Ohio State.
Taranto, who will compete next year at Rio Grande, is back to lead the distance corps after finishing third in the 1,600 (4:28.95) and sixth in the 3,200 (10:15.3) at district. He is joined by Beal, who runs the 800 and 1,600.
Betts and junior Jaysen Arzadon should be the top hurdlers and Pannell and sophomore Michael Brown will be the top sprinters.
In the field events, top scorers are expected to include seniors Connor Reed (discus), Dominic Royal (long jump), Josh Stevens (high jump) and Troy Thompson (discus) and sophomore Grant Hammond (pole vault).
"The league by far is the best it's been since I've been the coach," Roach said. "Gahanna is probably the best team in central Ohio. This team we have is probably the best we've had in my six years, but we could get third in the league."
At a glance
•Coach: Boys -- Jason Roach, sixth season; Girls -- Robb Hammond, second season
•Opener: Saturday in home Hammond Relays
•Key athletes: Boys -- Michael Beal, Evan Betts, Ron Burgess, Grant Hammond, Malcolm Pannell, Dominic Royal, Josh Stevens and Joe Taranto; Girls -- Abena Boamah-Acheampong, Christina Gagliardo, Tionne Goodson, Jasmine Green, Jalisa Jarrett, Kaitlyn Meyer, Kaitlin Peters and Jordan Robinson