Ryan Borland's fifth season as coach of the Westerville Central High School girls cross country team features several returning runners from last year's squad that just missed a trip to the Division I regional meet.

Ryan Borland's fifth season as coach of the Westerville Central High School girls cross country team features several returning runners from last year's squad that just missed a trip to the Division I regional meet.

The Warhawks opened Aug. 22 with a fourth-place finish (108) in the New Albany Classic behind champion Upper Arlington (38). They finished third (83) in the Lexington Invitational on Aug. 25, behind champion Lexington (21).

"I was happy with our pack time (at New Albany) and groupings throughout the team," Borland said. "I thought it was a solid start and something we can build on."

Seniors Lauren Berry, Allison Henson, Meagan Jahn and Natalie Pinney are back, as are juniors Gracie Boden and Dana Roberts.

"Dana is pretty fit right now and had a nice opening race at New Albany, finishing 11th (21:14)," Borland said. "Dana has the potential to have a great season this year and, hopefully, by the end of the year be in position to advance to the regional race."

In last year's district 2 meet at Watkins Memorial, the Warhawks finished sixth (167) behind regional-qualifiers Dublin Scioto (29), Olentangy Liberty (80), Gahanna (102), Marietta (107) and Thomas Worthington (114).

Central was fifth (125) in the OCC-Cardinal Division meet behind Scioto (34), Liberty (78), Westerville North (99) and Dublin Jerome (100) and ahead of Marysville (127), Olentangy (160) and Westerville South (218).

Borland said he saw something from last year's team that could propel it this season.

"Last year was the first season that our girls program won an invitational, which it did at Lexington," he said. "I hope this shows our returning girls and young girls coming into the program what we can expect to achieve if we continue to put in the work."

Liberty, Marysville and Olentangy have been replaced in the OCC-Cardinal by Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby and Worthington Kilbourne.

North coming off strong season

The 2011 season was expected to be something of a rebuilding one for North, but it took an unexpected turn when a group of freshmen took charge.

Third-year coach Johnny Jackson was pleasantly surprised with the results, which included competing in the Division I regional and a trip to state for now-sophomore Heather Sandvik.

"It was great," Jackson said. "They far exceeded my expectations. If you had told me a freshman was going to come in and make it to the state meet, I would've said no way.

"I had lost nearly all of my top seven from the year before. To come back and be stronger than we were was both exciting and unexpected."

The only loss to graduation from last year's team was Ashley Pavolino, but senior Rachel Jackson will concentrate on swimming this season and senior Monica Petruzzi is injured. Both were in the top seven last season.

Petruzzi could return by the end of the season.

Sandvik returns after her 63rd-place finish (19:32.07) in the state meet at National Trail Raceway.

"She ended up being the No. 1 freshman in Division I in the mile last year (in track), running a 5:02," Jackson said. "She was the first person in the past 14 to 15 years to qualify for the state meet in cross country (for North)."

Also returning are sophomore Haley Sandvik, Heather's twin, and letterwinners Sarah Koch (senior) and Jocelyn Sharpe (sophomore).

Others in the mix to compete on varsity are seniors Heidi Engelhardt and Katy Williams, junior Alex Mobley and sophomores Anna Kocak and Mary Swatzell.

Last season, the Warriors finished third in the OCC-Cardinal and then placed fifth (109) in the district 1 race at Watkins Memorial to secure the final regional-qualifying spot behind Dublin Coffman (41), Olentangy Orange (84), Watkins Memorial (95) and Hilliard Darby (102).

At regional, the Warriors finished 10th (272) behind champion Hilliard Davidson (74) as the top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to state. Heather Sandvik was 14th (19:51.14) at regional.

"I expect us to be at the top of the OCC, but Scioto, as far as I'm concerned, is still the team to beat until somebody beats them," Jackson said. "We want to be able to fight with them this year. I'm hoping we can be at least in the top three in the OCC and make regionals again. If we get lucky maybe we'll get placed in a good district and vie for a runner-up or a district title. That would be what I would like, if not this year, at least by the time the (core) group is seniors."

North opened Aug. 25 by finishing first (86) in the Bengal division of the Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North, ahead of New Albany (96). Heather Sandvik was third (19:54.4), Engelhardt was ninth (20:15.4) and Haley Sandvik was 10th (20:56.5).

South counting on Frank to lead way

Fourth-year South coach Jimmy Gaul is relying on sophomore Lauren Frank to lead the way after she was 65th (21:37.33) at regional last season.

"She also stars in varsity soccer and did all year last year as well," Gaul said. "She carried a 4.0 GPA, was a starter in soccer, a varsity swimmer and by far our best distance runner in track."

The Wildcats lost three 2012 graduates in Marissa D'Anieri, Abby Sutliff and Ana Westfall.

Seniors Keagan Richard and Hannah Abner return, while junior Victoria Husain has impressed Gaul.

"I'm very happy with the way Victoria has looked this year," Gaul said. "She's been training hard. We're looking for big things from her."

Juniors Victoria Lisman, Taylor Moore, Jada Smoot, Caryn Snide and Alexandra Whaley and sophomore Amanda Gesouras also are varsity competitors.

"I think they all have a much better idea of what needs to be done, and we'll look a whole lot stronger come championship season," Gaul said. "I can't say where we'll finish, but we will look a whole lot stronger than we did at that point last season."

Inexperience had a lot to do with the struggles last season, but that shouldn't be as much of an issue this season, according to Gaul.

"We had an inexperienced team last year and there was work to be done," he said. "It's along the lines of our boys. We know we have a frontrunner. Lauren's going to be out there doing her thing.

"That's a big bonus, so it's up to the pack to take care of things and run as a pack. We just need to keep working on ourselves and try to put things together by the end of September. We need to see what we're made of."

The Wildcats finished 24th (737) in the OHSAA Preseason Invitational on Aug. 18 at National Trail Raceway, behind champion Mason (64).

"It was nice to see the course (that will play host to the state meet)," Gaul said. "It was good for those kids to get out there and get that race. We've got a solid two weeks of training before our next race and we can learn lessons from that one."

Last season, South was eighth in the OCC-Cardinal meet and eighth (198) in district 1.