That Matt Scrape and Brady Johnson would be the Pickerington High School Central boys cross country team's top two runners this year was a strong possibility before the season, and that scenario has played itself out.
The order behind Scrape, last year's Division I state runner-up, and Johnson -- who helped comprise the Tigers' top three runners last year along with 2017 graduate Jack Jaynes -- was what piqued coach Andy Fischer's curiosity.
Chase Balko, Tyler Gunderson, Brayden Harlor, Jacob Jobe, Connor McKiernan, Jordan Robertson and Anthony Taranto all have filled the Nos. 3-7 spots at some point, and Fischer wants to see their times get closer with one race remaining before the OCC-Ohio Division meet Oct. 14 at Lancaster.
Central was ranked 13th in last week's state poll.
"We had a solid top three last year, but we've had a lot of guys step up. On the one day everything comes together, from then on, we'll be a really solid team," said Jobe, who finished between second and sixth in the season's first five races. "I'm competing more than I was last year. Last year, I just went out and raced. I am going after teams this year and getting the points."
Scrape has been the Tigers' top runner in each of his four races, but he missed the Central Ohio Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 16 at Three Creeks Metro Park to take a visit to the University of Wisconsin and missed the Midwest Meet of Champions on Sept. 30 at Hilliard Bradley because of a college visit to Syracuse.
Johnson earned his first varsity win at Three Creeks in 16 minutes, 13.1 seconds. He bettered that time by a wide margin Sept. 30, finishing 10th (15:32.2) in the Race of Champions race at Bradley and leading Central to ninth place (255 points) in the 28-team field, behind champion Perrysburg (153).
Central's final tuneup for the league meet comes Saturday, Oct. 7, when it runs in the Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington.
"We're going through some hard training and our legs have been sore, but we're still hammering at it, getting ready for district and regional," Johnson said. "Bradley and Worthington are pretty flat courses, so these two meets are for everyone to get their PRs, and then we'll be focused more on placement after that."
The Les Eisenhart Invitational consisted of 24 teams last year, exactly the kind of atmosphere Fischer wants his runners to experience as the postseason nears.
"They need to learn about races with a lot of people and teams around and a lot of bumping going on," Fischer said. "I'm not exactly sure how I will split the guys up between the varsity race and the open race; I'll figure that out, but the experience is the most important thing. The league meet will only have six teams, but the district, regional and state races, those are the big atmospheres where I want our guys to know what to expect."
The girls team recently got a boost when anticipated top runner Lauren Marvin returned from a broken right foot. In her first meet back, Marvin, a junior who placed 56th in the Division I state meet last season, finished 36th (20:32) in the Galion Cross Country Festival on Sept. 16 at Amann's Reservoir Park.
Amber Hamelin has been the girls' top runner in every race this season, including a second-place finish (19:54.91) in the Pickerington Central Invitational on Sept. 23 to lead the Tigers to 67 points and first place, one point ahead of runner-up Reynoldsburg (68) in the 10-team field.
Hamelin finished 16th (18:46.9) at the Midwest Meet of Champions to lead Central. The Tigers fielded four runners and did not score as a team.
Others in the Tigers' top seven have included Brea Douglas, Sydney Hansen, Sarah Murdock, Grace Osborn, Maddie Schmidt and Grace Vega.
Tennis team steams
The girls tennis team picked up its 20th win of the season Sept. 28, beating Bexley 4-1, and was scheduled to finish its regular season earlier this week before a Division I sectional tournament at home Thursday, Oct. 5, and Saturday, Oct. 7.
Central was 21-2 and riding a 10-match winning streak before its regular-season finale Oct. 3 at Hilliard Davidson. The Tigers defeated Granville 3-2 on Oct. 2.
At sectional, Margaret Gordon and Rachel Terbovich are the top seed in doubles and Semmie Moore and Jillian Stang are seeded third. Sophie Culver, Talia DiLello and Ashleigh Gilligan are playing singles.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament Oct. 12 at Bradley and Oct. 14 at Upper Arlington.
Girls soccer team
The girls soccer team put a two-game winning streak on the line Oct. 3 when it played host to Grove City in OCC-Ohio action.
Central doubled its previous win total with victories over New Philadelphia (2-1 on Sept. 23) and Reynoldsburg (2-0 on Sept. 26) and was 4-8 overall and 1-2 in the league before playing the Greyhounds.
Lindsay Schmitt scored both of the Tigers' goals at Reynoldsburg, while Abby Augustyniak and Marissa Kanouse scored against the Quakers.
Central's earlier wins were against Johnstown (7-3 on Aug. 19) and Groveport (8-0 on Aug. 29).
Golf teams hoped
to extend season
The boys and girls golf teams competed in Division I sectionals Oct. 3, hoping to prolong their seasons into this week and beyond.
The boys team played in a sectional at their home course, Turnberry, from which the top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the district tournament Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Apple Valley.
The girls were in a sectional at Westchester, seeking a district berth for the first time since 2002. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 10 at Cooks Creek.
From both district tournaments, the top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advance to their respective state tournaments Oct. 20 and 21 at Ohio State.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 7 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 7 -- Pickerington North Fall Classic at The Links at Groveport
Oct. 5 -- Home vs. Fairbanks
*Oct. 10 -- Home vs. Gahanna
*Oct. 10 -- At Gahanna
*Oct. 5 -- Home vs. Grove City. The Tigers defeated the Greyhounds 29-27, 25-18, 25-21 on Sept. 14.
Oct. 7 -- Home vs. Mount Vernon and Thomas Worthington
*Oct. 10 -- At Gahanna. The Tigers lost to the Lions 25-15, 25-18, 25-20 on Sept. 19.