Girls Cross Country: Talented freshmen raise expectations for Irish

FRANK DIRENNA
fdirenna@thisweeknews.com
Senior Audrey Bannister returns to lead the Scioto girls cross country team. She is seeking her fourth consecutive trip to the Division I state meet.

Led by senior Audrey Bannister, along with the addition of several promising freshmen, the Dublin Scioto girls cross country team has high expectations.

Bannister is seeking her fourth consecutive trip to the Division I state meet, and is hoping the Irish also can qualify for the event as a team.

"(Coach Matt) Suttle has great expectations for the team this year," Bannister said. "He's really excited about it. We have some new freshmen and we have some girls running really good times in workouts. We're excited to see what we can do this season."

Bannister finished 47th of 183 runners in 19 minutes, 10.8 seconds at state last season after placing 31st (19:15.2) as a sophomore and 37th (18:51.4) as a freshman.

"My workout times have been pretty good," she said. "My start (to the season) has been a little bit rocky, but that's normally how my season starts. I feel like I'm in good shape and I'm working hard to keep my body healthy, so hopefully I can get to state and perform well there."

Freshmen Maddy Johnson and Selah White are competing for the second and third spots behind Bannister, and junior Mei Harter and sophomore Megan Hartman - a pair of returnees - also are contending for top-five positions.

Other runners expected to contribute include senior Allison Thornbloom, juniors Anya Chanda, Erika Lytle and Avery Samms and sophomore Trisha Mehra.

"We have an influx of freshmen that have definitely changed our team goals for this season," said Suttle, who is in his 18th season. "In the past, it was: 'Can we get our team to regional if we have a really good race?' Now we want to get to state as a team. We're not going to be happy with anything less than that."

Scioto, which finished sixth (161) in the OCC-Cardinal Division meet last season behind champion Thomas Worthington (51), is now competing in the OCC-Capital with Big Walnut, Canal Winchester, Delaware, Franklin Heights, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne after the latest conference realignment.

"They had a good summer," Suttle said. "We weren't sure what we were training for, but to their credit, they stuck with it. If we had a season, we were going to be ready for it."

Celtics focus on positive approach

Second-year coach Kaitlyn Willette has been stressing a positive approach during a season in which she has strong participation numbers.

"I'm pleased with how things are coming along so far," Willette said. "I'm so thankful to have a season and the team has been adaptable, supportive of each other and positive through the turbulence. We had more girls than ever coming out for summer practice and lifts and I'm proud of them. I'm excited to see how it plays out."

Jerome, which next competes Sept. 26 in the Celtic Clash at home, finished last (241) in the 10-team Hot Summer Bash on Sept. 5 at Hilliard Davidson behind the champion and host Wildcats (31). The top finisher for the Celtics was senior Anna Speeney, who placed 40th (21:22.91).

Junior Ava DiMasi is another of the team's top returnees after finishing 59th (20:29.5) at last year's Division I regional, along with senior Ella Corbin, junior Kerrie Cheng, sophomore Cecilia Martyna and freshman Ellie Speeney.

DiMasi also was 12th (20:14) in the OCC-Cardinal meet. Jerome is now joined in the OCC-Cardinal by Hilliard Darby, Marysville, Olentangy, Olentangy Berlin and defending champion Thomas.

Others expected to contribute include seniors Megan Keys, Sam Melican, Lauren Metzger and Miuka Yamauchi, junior Gwyn Lai and freshman Nadia Slauson.

"Each race should be cherished and treated like the last chance to fight for a goal," Willette said. "I'm extremely positive about what's to come as I've seen our team continue to want to support each other and improve."

--Jarrod Ulrey

Depth a strength for young Shamrocks

Of the seven runners who competed for Coffman last season when it finished seventh at the Division I regional, Emma Niswonger was the only senior.

The Shamrocks, who lost just one other contributor to graduation, again have a young lineup but one that seventh-year coach Greg King believes could be more seasoned.

"In terms of the number of kids who were running, it was a pretty typical summer," King said. "My team is deep. I know I've got a pretty clear one through four but my five through 14 are all good runners. I have nine girls who have run in a regional race."

The Shamrocks were third (64) in the OCC-Central last season behind Davidson (26) and Upper Arlington (61), and those three teams remain in the league with newcomers Hilliard Bradley, Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy Orange.

Senior Abby Scherer was sixth (19:13.3) at the OCC-Central meet and 32nd (19:54) at regional to miss advancing to state by 12 spots. Niswonger was Coffman's No. 2 runner (41st) at regional, where the top five teams advanced to state.

Scherer was seventh (19:43.4) on Sept. 5 as Coffman placed third (108) behind host Davidson (31) and Granville (47) in the 10-team Hot Summer Bash. Sophomore Olivia Oiler, who was Coffman's No. 2 runner at district, placed 13th (20:03.9) while freshman Kyley Feeney placed 19th (20:33.97).

McKenzie Vick is another freshman expected to be a mainstay in the lineup, while

sophomores Morgan Halli, Alexis Marsico and Bailey Morris also contributed last season.

Maddie Erwin, who was the team's No. 2 runner at regional in 2018, is part of a junior class that also includes McKenna Leonard, Jaela Proper, Kasey Stammen and Kendall Starr.

"Davidson is clearly No. 1 in central Ohio if you look at what they have coming back," King said. "At the (junior varsity) district meet, they won by a lot last year. We were second place and they stomped us in the j.v. district meet. They had six or seven of the top 10 and we had the rest of the top 10, so that was really good. Liberty and Orange are both really good and UA should be good."

--Jarrod Ulrey

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At a glance

DUBLIN COFFMAN

*Coach: Greg King, seventh season

*Top athletes: Kyley Feeney, Morgan Halli, Alexis Marsico, Olivia Oiler, Abby Scherer and McKenzie Vick

*Key losses: Lydia Ainsworth and Emma Niswonger

*2019 OCC-Central standings: Hilliard Davidson (15), Coffman (65), Marysville (68), Upper Arlington (95)

*2019 postseason: Fourth at district, seventh at regional

DUBLIN JEROME

*Coach: Kaitlyn Willette, second season

*Top athletes: Kerri Cheng, Ella Corbin, Ava DiMasi, Ava Kovach, Cecilia Martyna, Anna Speeney and Ellie Speeney

*Key losses: Emily Oiler, Madison Weigle and Manaka Yamauchi

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Thomas Worthington (51), Worthington Kilbourne (64), Olentangy Berlin (79), Hilliard Darby (91), Jerome (99), Scioto (161), Delaware (204), Hilliard Bradley (217)

*2019 postseason: Seventh at district

DUBLIN SCIOTO

*Coach: Matt Suttle, 18th season

*Top athletes: Audrey Bannister, Mei Harter, Maddy Johnson and Saleh White

*Key losses: Ashley Carr and Finley Paez

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Thomas (51), Kilbourne (64), Berlin (79), Darby (91), Jerome (99), Scioto (161), Delaware (204), Bradley (217)

*2019 postseason: 11th at district