With his team having advanced to a Division I regional meet each of the past two years, Westerville Central High School girls cross country coach Ryan Borland said the team's culture is right where he wants it.

With his team having advanced to a Division I regional meet each of the past two years, Westerville Central High School girls cross country coach Ryan Borland said the team's culture is right where he wants it.

And with six of his top seven runners back from last year, Borland hopes this is the year the Warhawks return to the state meet for the first time in more than a decade.

School record-holder McKenna Fry has emerged as Central's top runner, and the program's total turnout increased from 20 to 32 before the Warhawks' season began Aug. 29 in the Mount Vernon Kiwanis John Fair Invitational.

"It's a competitive environment," said Borland, who is in his eighth season. "Getting to regionals the last couple of years, we have seen how the girls do at that stage and exactly how talented they are. It's been a steady progression the last few years. We have to build on what we've done."

Fry, a sophomore, is coming off a successful track and field season. She holds the Central record in the 1,600 meters (5 minutes, 18.03 seconds), was a regional qualifier in the 800 and also was on the regional-qualifying 3,200 relay that set a school-record time of 9:27.46 with 2015 graduate Tarike Osuobeni and sophomores Chloe Ey and Sydney Kapral.

"(Fry) wanted to know for over the summer the best ways to prepare herself for (cross country) season," Borland said. "She is great about sticking to her training and running with confidence."

Fry is joined on varsity by seniors Macy Leach and Maria Wisman, juniors Torey Kuchan and Chauntress Like and Kapral.

Kapral, who also is on the girls soccer team, is a first-time cross country runner whom Borland suspects might crack the top five at some point.

The Warhawks finished third (88 points) of eight teams at Mount Vernon behind champion Massillon Jackson (44).

Fry was third in 19:03.5. Also scoring were Like (seventh, 19:43), Kuchan (22nd, 20:55.1), Wisman (27th, 21:18.5) and senior Kelsie Potts (48th, 22:05.2).

Potts ran her freshman and sophomore seasons but did not compete in 2014.

Other potential contributors include juniors Madeline Henson, Madi McCartney and Kelly Wozniak.

The lone runner lost to graduation from Central's top seven was Osuobeni, a four-year varsity runner who now attends the University of Akron.

Central has not been represented at state since 2004, when Carly Muller advanced as an individual for the second consecutive year. The school opened in 2003.

"We are gaining more momentum with this program," Borland said. "The word got around. More girls are out and they want to compete."

Mickley expects to pace Wildcats

Seniors Kierstin Aiken, Tori Dorne, Kathryn Gaunt and Lauren Mickley and sophomore Trinity Trimble are expected to move up South's depth chart after the graduation of four-year varsity runner Lauren Frank.

However, coaches weren't assigning spots to any given runner before South began its season in the Mount Vernon Kiwanis John Fair Invitational.

"It will be an interesting unfolding to the season. Who will take advantage?" said boys coach Jimmy Gaul, who helps oversee the girls team along with first-year coach Erin Focht. "We have six open slots. In the last five years, this is maybe the most wide-open it's been. By now, we usually have an idea of what our core group will look like."

Mickley emerged as South's top runner during the preseason, after being No. 2 last year behind Frank, and No. 1 when she was away with the girls soccer team. Trimble was either second or third behind Mickley.

According to Gaul, senior Anne Parker will miss much, if not all, of the season with a broken ankle.

"Lauren's desire to be a strong distance runner knows no bounds," Gaul said. "She is meticulous about detail, right down to what she eats. She sets the tone for everyone else. I think her dedication is a testament to her as a person."

Other runners include juniors Alyssa Fogle and Gabriella Rossantelli, sophomores Terra Carr, Bella Ramirez-Dieckman and Mikayla Remington and freshman Ellie Bouton.

The Wildcats finished seventh (202) at Mount Vernon, and scoring were Mickley (32nd, 21:40.2), Gaunt (62nd, 22:39.6), Bouton (65th, 22:52.5), Aiken (67th, 23:06.7) and Rossantelli (76th, 23:42).

"We're eager to see how it all translates," Gaul said. "We have a nice freshman group and some nice sophomores ready to show what they can do. Everybody's going to be competing for spots for a while."

Warriors will be much younger team

North coach Johnny Jackson hasn't fielded a team this young since 2011, when Haley and Heather Sandvik -- who now run for Miami University -- burst onto the scene as freshmen and quickly became the Warriors' top two runners for virtually their entire careers.

This season, Jackson expects freshmen Erica Mobley and Julia Meacham to potentially hold North's first and second spots, respectively.

"We are very young," said Jackson, who is in his sixth season. "Probably the biggest thing when you have a team that's pretty young is building up the mileage gradually. You can't jump too far ahead or expect too much. You build the training as you go. It's the same thing with (weight) lifting. We are a big lifting team. You have to build their confidence first."

Mobley led North in the season-opening Pickerington Classic on Aug. 29 at Pickerington North, finishing 35th (21:58.1) to pace the Warriors to 16th (406) of 23 teams in the Bengal Division behind champion Thomas Worthington (43).

Also scoring were sophomore Emily Bueter (95th, 24:27.3), freshman Gabrielle McCrea (106th, 24:49.6), sophomore Mackie Mantenieks (119th, 25:10) and senior Taylor Bernhard (120th, 25:11.6).

"Erica was one of the runners who was here all summer, and you can tell from the times who put in that time," Jackson said. "We may end up with better pack times this year than the past couple because the girls are closer in talent. And we have to get them to buy into putting the work in during the summer and the winter."

Other contributors will include junior Claire Wetta, sophomore Riley Weaver and freshman Eva Bernhardt.

North's 2014 season ended in the Division I state meet, where Haley Sandvik finished 39th and Heather Sandvik was 50th. Heather Sandvik was a four-time state qualifier, and Haley, who defeated Heather just once in high school, competed at state three times.