Pickerington Central girls cross country coach Jacob Schimberg knows what he has in his top runner, junior Grace Osborn.
The Tigers' first-year coach is equally excited about the competition for the next several spots on varsity, which includes several freshmen, sophomores and juniors as the team seeks its first representation in the Division I state meet since 2016.
Osborn won the Bengal Division race in the season-opening Pickerington Classic on Aug. 24 at North in 19 minutes, 43.9 seconds, 13.9 seconds faster than her best time from a year ago. Central scored 115 points and finished third of 25 teams as New Albany won (79).
"Grace is so fast, so strong. We are working on moving our second, third and fourth girls closer, but they are tight together," Schimberg said. "If we can close that gap, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Also scoring Aug. 24 were freshmen Talia Mauro (18th, 21:36.5), Ashley Carter (19th, 21:39.5) and Amber Carter (20th, 21:41.8) and junior Grace Vega (64th, 23:09.5). Sophomores Emily Green (72nd, 23:19.7) and Brenna Todd (103rd, 24:19.9) were Central's sixth and seventh runners.
Others contending for varsity spots include junior Lauren Mueller and sophomores Kat Moss and Mallory Schmidt.
"(Mauro and the Carter sisters) were shoulder to shoulder almost the entire race (Aug. 24). They were working to catch up with Grace, but she is a powerhouse. She can just go," Schimberg said. "I came in pretty heavy with some hard workouts and the girls have busted it the past couple weeks. They're seeing what their training is getting them. Everybody looks good. I am so proud of them."
Schimberg replaced Hunter Nichols, who resigned this summer after eight seasons.
Schimberg, who originally is from the Akron area and has lived in Pickerington for 16 years, was an assistant coach at North last year and coached with the Lakeview Junior High track and field last spring. He is an art teacher at Lakewood.
His wife, Kristi, graduated from then-Pickerington High School and was on the 1989 state-qualifying cross country team under Jim Langenderfer, who has coached North's girls team since the school district split in 2003.
No Tiger has reached state since Lauren Marvin finished 56th as a sophomore three years ago.
Marvin and Osborn both were the team's top runner in four races last season, when Central finished third (98) in the OCC-Ohio Division meet behind champion Lancaster (42) before placing third at district and 11th at regional.
"We are training for October," Schimberg said. "We want to use each meet as a steppingstone to improve toward the postseason, not focusing on winning or place because that stuff takes care of itself. We are working hard as a unit, but to do that you have to work hard individually."
Balko, Willis among top boys runners
Junior Chase Balko and sophomore Jailen Willis began the season ready to lead the boys cross country team, which is trying to replace a three-time Division I state qualifier in 2019 graduate Brady Johnson.
Balko won the Bengal Division race of the Pickerington Classic in 16:31.2, almost 82 seconds faster than he ran at regional last year and 18 seconds better than his best time as a sophomore.
Also scoring for the Tigers, who finished third (121) of 20 teams behind champion McDermott Scioto Northwest (104), were Willis (sixth, 16:50), junior Brycen Roger (26th, 17:58.6), senior Anthony Taranto (35th, 18:15.2) and sophomore Gavin Kelly (56th, 18:50).
"For two years, (Balko) has wanted to be so much more and he is starting to come into his own," 16th-year coach Andy Fischer said. "That's a good confidence-booster for him. We've been telling him that he can run these races and now his training is catching up and it's showing.
"Chase and Jailen are getting their time and it's nice to see that progression start to pay dividends."
Johnson finished 41st last year at state after placing 40th in 2017 and 36th in 2016.
According to Fischer, other varsity contributors will include senior Gavin Wallace, junior Jacob Brown, sophomore Drew Osler and freshmen Andrew Scrape and Michael Skidmore.
"This group enjoys each other," Fischer said. "Every time I was out by the mile marker (at North), I'd see guys together in groups of two, three or four and I love seeing that because it means they are helping push each other and they care. When one guy goes, the others go with him."
Central scored 56 points at last year's OCC-Ohio meet to finish second behind Gahanna (41) and was second at district and 11th at regional.
Boys golf team maintains league lead
The boys golf team enters the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio tournament Wednesday, Sept. 11, at Turnberry in the lead for the league championship.
Central is 12-3 in the league, first ahead of Gahanna (11-4), Grove City and North (both 10-5), Lancaster (3-12) and Reynoldsburg (0-15), despite placing third in the third round Aug. 27 at Denison Golf Club.
Blake Bennett shot a 75, followed by Jaden Thompson (83), Aidan Allen (84) and Cole Crandall (88), as the Tigers shot a 330 to place behind Gahanna (321) and Grove City (327) and ahead of North (331), Lancaster (362) and Reynoldsburg (402).
The girls golf team shot a 369 in the third round of the OCC-Ohio tournament Aug. 28 at New Albany Links, 20 strokes better than in the second round 14 days earlier at Royal American.
Miriah Gabel shot a 79 to lead the Tigers, who finished third behind North (360) and Grove City (369) and ahead of Gahanna (375), Big Walnut (411) and Lancaster (555). Also scoring were Ella Drake (90), Riley Stewart (96) and Jenna Saythongphet (104).
Central was 7-8 in the league entering the final round Sept. 4 at Mentel Memorial, fourth behind Grove City (13-2), North (12-3) and Gahanna (10-5) and ahead of Big Walnut (3-12) and Lancaster (0-15).