Standing on the podium at last year's Division I state meet, Daniella Santos of the Hilliard Darby girls cross country team felt disappointment.
Poor course conditions caused the meet to be postponed a week, but the conditions weren't significantly better when Santos finished 18th out of 176 runners in 18 minutes, 56.8 seconds to earn first-team all-state honors.
"(The state meet) just wasn't her day," coach Jon Agriesti said. "She got out, kind of got caught in the mud and drifted a couple of places the first time through and drifted back a couple of more places the second time through. It was not indicative and she wants to do better."
A two-time state qualifier, Santos raced a day later, finishing 10th (17:55.4) out of 353 runners at the NXR Midwest Regional in Terre Haute, Indiana.
"So, it was there. It just wasn't at states," Agriesti said. "So, we're hoping for better weather."
Santos increased her mileage during the offseason after battling a foot injury early in the summer.
"I think everyone responds to training differently," she said. "For me, higher mileage is better. I've increased my mileage over the years to get comfortable with running a faster pace. Over the years, I've been able to build up my endurance."
Santos is coming off a 12th-place finish out of 253 runners at Saturday Night Lights on Sept. 21 at Centerville. She ran the course in 18:09.2 to lead the Panthers, who finished 23rd (545 points) out of 25 teams.
"She's pretty humble, she's pretty soft-spoken," Agriesti said. "She leads by example. She's a good teammate and she's caring and she's concerned with how everybody's doing. She's going to help the team with a low stick, but she also wants to see the rest of the girls do well, too. Wherever she ends up next year in college, she's going to be a quality teammate."
Also this season, Santos finished eighth (18:37.6) out of 356 runners at the Mason Invitational on Sept. 7, came in second (18:16.5) out of 73 runners at Davidson's Hot Summer Bash on Aug. 31 and finished first (19:39.8) out of 145 runners in the New Albany Invitational on Aug. 19 to open the season.
"It wasn't the time that I was hoping to start at," Santos said of the New Albany Invitational. "But I ran the whole race by myself. Normally, that's pretty hard for a lot of people, including myself. But it was good start."
Santos had won the Hot Summer Bash last year, but improved on her time by over 30 seconds.
"I feel like that's the main point of running for a lot of people -- competing with yourself and being better than you were last race or last season," she said. "(My time) was better than it was last year, so it's an improvement."
Boys runners getting ready for postseason
Boys cross country coach John Fox is using every race to prepare for the postseason.
"We're going to have to improve from here to the (Division I) regional (meet Oct. 26) if we're going to make it to state," he said. "If I'm being honest right now, I don't think we're there yet. But that's why we practice and that's why we grow ... to hopefully compete at that level.
"I do see us as one of the teams at the regional, and if you train right ... you have a shot (to reach state)."
Darby finished last (567) of 23 teams at Saturday Night Lights. Sean Carney finished 27th (16:10.6) out of 234 runners to lead the Panthers, followed by Balaji Kurapati (144th, 17:31.9), Isaac Becker (159th, 17:42.4) and Tyler Hessenauer (183rd, 18:07.2).
"Both Centerville and Midwest Meet of Champions (on Saturday, Sept. 28, at Bradley), we're (working on) different things and getting them familiar with getting out in the races," Fox said.
Darby will compete in the OCC-Cardinal Division meet Oct. 12 before opening the postseason with a district meet Oct. 19.
"Thomas Worthington is very good in our conference," Fox said. "(Worthington) Kilbourne is good, (Dublin) Jerome is good and (Dublin) Scioto is good. Our conference is really loaded, so we're going to train to prepare ourselves for what's going to happen."
Carney has been Darby's No. 1 runner all season. He finished second (15:48.7) in the Mason Invitational, second (15:44.3) in the Hot Summer Bash and first (16:49.8) in the New Albany Invitational.
"The goal right now is to be one of the top 15 (runners) in the state in Division I," Fox said. "I think he's that level of committed to do what it takes to be there. He's done everything right so far to get on the podium (at the state meet) this year."
Volleyball team finds 'ways to improve'
Girls volleyball coach Stephanie Dietrich was looking for something to raise her team's confidence after finishing 6-17 last year and getting out to a 1-7 start this season.
The Panthers found it by winning all three matches at the Heath Invitational on Aug. 31.
"We played mostly smaller schools than us," Dietrich said. "I just think that we needed a little boost and our schedule the year before had teams that were in the top 10. It was so difficult. There was, at times, no real chance."
The Panthers extended their winning streak to five matches with OCC-Cardinal victories over Olentangy Berlin on Sept. 3 and Thomas on Sept. 5.
However, Darby lost both of its matches last week, falling to Kilbourne 25-15, 25-9, 25-17 on Sept. 17 and Scioto 25-11, 25-21, 25-13 on Sept. 19, and was 7-9 overall and 4-6 in the league before playing Jerome on Sept. 24.
Still, the Panthers already have exceeded last year's win total.
"We're getting better and better," Dietrich said. "Even though we're getting closer to the end (of the season), we're still finding ways to improve. We're getting a lot scrappier and our blocking has improved. They're just working hard."
Among the Panthers' leaders through 10 league matches were Olivia Zawadzki (68 kills, 119 assists), Nicole Logan (66 kills), Elise Neighbarger (137 assists), Sophia Iosue (170 digs) and Olivia Krumpe (20 blocks).
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 28 -- Midwest Meet of Champions at Bradley
Oct. 2 -- Darby Dash at home
Sept. 28 -- Pickerington Central Fall Invitational at Turnberry
Oct. 1 -- Division I sectional at Darby Creek. Top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.
Oct. 1 -- Division I sectional at Royal American. Top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.
Sept. 26 -- At Grove City
Oct. 1 -- At St. Charles
Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Grove City
Oct. 1 -- At Olentangy
Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Central Crossing
Oct. 1 -- Home vs. Grove City
*Sept. 26 -- At Olentangy Berlin. The Panthers defeated the Bears 25-16, 25-17, 25-21 on Sept. 3.
Oct. 1 -- Home vs. Central Crossing