Owen Karas has picked up where he left off with the St. Charles cross country team.
The senior, who finished 30th in last year's Division I state meet in 16 minutes, 0.8 seconds, won his first two races this season.
Karas took first in the Pickerington North Classic (16:14.8) on Aug. 29 and the Westerville North Classic (15:52.86) on Sept. 5.
"Owen's a clear-cut top five (runner) in the state," 12th-year coach Damien Brandon said. "He has a definite chance to knock some heads around and go for the individual state title this year."
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic led to the cancelation of spring sports, but Karas decided to amp up his training to be prepared should there be a season this fall.
"During coronavirus, I definitely got more mileage," he said. "I gradually raised my mileage a lot during the quarantine. Over what would have been the real summer break, I started implementing more workouts than usual.
"I had a plan to build up my workouts during the outdoor (track and field) season. I had to do a reset and I just started over. Not knowing when the next race would be or if it would even be there was kind of a pain."
At Pickerington North, the Cardinals finished seventh (140) in their nine-team race behind first-place Chillicothe Unioto (40).
St. Charles was fifth (134) in the 10-team Gold Varsity race at Westerville North behind first-place Olentangy (41).
Senior Colin Hayter (27th, 18:30.37) followed Karas at Westerville North, ahead of juniors Daniel Ferguson (28th, 18:32.58), Andrew Dunn (40th, 18:48.58), William Ferris (42nd 18:50.56) and William Cromley (52nd, 19:06.77) and senior Luke Blubaugh (62nd, 19:29.39).
"We're behind because we had to shut down two and a half weeks because of a positive (coronavirus) test," Brandon said. "We're behind the rest of the CCL and some of the other teams. You figure two and a half weeks, that's almost a month of training. We're behind the eight ball trying to catch up."
Brandon, who hopes his team will be up to speed by the first week of October, said the coronavirus also set his squad back in terms of bonding.
"Before school started, camaraderie was tough because everyone was in a mask and all spaced out," he said.
"We're normally a team that is cheering, always slapping hands and forming tunnels and playing stupid games that we can't do this year. Those are the parts that make it fun for the kids. Making it fun this year has been a difficult challenge."
Lions feature strong returnees
Bexley lost two standouts in 2020 graduates Dylan Abel and Miles Feinknopf, but coach Eric Acton is optimistic about his 33rd season because of a strong returning nucleus.
Seniors Rob Donahey, Atticus Keels, Elliot Roe and Spencer Stevenson and junior Miller MacDonald return from a team that was a Division II regional qualifier and the MSL-Ohio Division champion.
"The boys program has done well every year with what they have," Acton said. "They are always like, 'This is what we have this year. How do we reload?'
"They always work hard and get the most out of each other. They pull together as a group and work well with the younger kids."
The Lions' season was delayed by COVID-19 coronavirus protocols. Their first meet was Sept. 12 at Columbus Academy.
"Our seniors have done a great job of being leaders this year, especially in terms of work ethic," Acton said. "I've seen them go up to the freshmen on the team and help explain why we do things and how that can help them. They aren't self-centered or selfish. It's heart-warming for a guy like me, because I believe athletics teaches more than wins and losses."
Acton said he planned to have his team compete in smaller meets with a limited number of teams to help keep his athletes as safe as possible and make sure they are ready for the postseason.
"I've had to work harder this year than any other time, because as coaches we want to keep the kids safe," he said. "I want to give the kids the most risk-free environment possible. We talk as coaches seven days a week about how we can make things better for the kids."