Maplewood could have one of its deepest teams in years.
It was on full display at the recent Ohio High School Athletic Association Early Season Invitational at National Trail Raceway in Hebron earlier this month.
Senior Solomon Yoder finished second behind Minster's Dominic Slonkosky, who won the boys Section A race - mostly Division III teams.
Tribune Chronicle file photo
Maplewood runner Solomon Yoder will lead the Rocket cross country team this season. Last year, Maplewood finished fourth at the Division III?state meet.
Yoder (16 minutes, 42.55 seconds), junior Derek Morrison (sixth, 17:00.73) and sophomore Tristan Dahmen (eighth, 17:07.17) paced the Rockets to the win on Aug. 17.
Sophomore Nate Kenney (18th, 17:54.10) and senior Scott Rupe (22nd, 18:04.65) rounded out Maplewood's top five.
"It should be interesting. We have a good corps of returning athletes and a large freshman class," said Maplewood coach Dave Deeter, whose team took fourth at last year's state meet. "It should be interesting to see how the freshmen improve throughout the year."
It's a program that knows about doing well - winning five state championships in its school history (1972, 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2005).
McDONALD: The last thing Chris Rupe wants to do is guilt his runners into carrying on the team's tradition.
McDonald's boys cross country team, which finished second to Seneca East at last year's Division III state meet, has won six state championships in its school history (1982, '83, '99, 2001, '04, '11).
Seniors Bobby Johnson and Allan Coviello will lead the Blue Devils, while juniors Zach Hawout, Bryce Street and David Natoli round out this year's top five.
"I think that's it, realizing we have something pretty cool going," said Rupe, whose team has went to state each year since 1999. "On one hand, there's pressure that goes with that. That is, 'I don't want to be the one who lets this program to fall short.' The other side of that is I get to be someone who can keep it going. That's they way I look at life and coaching, instead of telling everybody on the team, 'You better be worried you're going to be the one who is going to let us down. You better not let that happen.' It's more of opportunity."
BOARDMAN: The Spartans have their opportunity this year, to avenge last year's shortcoming at the Division I regional on its home course.
Boardman lost out on the fourth and final team qualifying spot by four points.
"Being three points away from going to Columbus, that's the only motivation. Knowing a lot of these guys are seniors and this is their last shot," Boardman coach John Phillips said.
The Spartans have arguably the best runner in the area in senior Mark Hadley, who won in Section E (mostly Division I schools) at the Aug. 17 OHSAA Preseason Invitational. Hadley clocked 15:34.95.
Senior Alan Burns (16:37.47), sophomore Nathan Hadley (16:58.90) and senior Justin Maroni (17:09.93) finished in the top 25.
"I'm pretty confident we'll have a season that'll be very special, based on what those guys have committed to over the summer and how they will perform on Saturdays," Phillips said.
HOWLAND: The Tigers return senior Ryan Sullivan, who qualified for last year's state meet. Sophomores Ethan Petrilla, a regional qualifier, and Connor Dotson return to round out the team's top three.
"Every race he goes out, he gets a little bit better," Howland coach Dan Libert said of Sullivan. "Every year he gets better. It doesn't look like it will be any different this year."
As for Petrilla and Dotson, they have plenty of upside, Libert said.
"They learned a lot as freshmen last year and are working much harder. I'm trying to explain to them, because they're both pretty talented kids," Libert said. "I think they both have more talent than Ryan does. They came in as freshmen, not taking this over and putting in the work that they should. They got their eyes opened. Now, these two really work their butts off."
However, Libert said fast times are a must, especially come districts in mid-October.
"I tell the kids if you're not running 18s, you're not helping the team. We hope Ryan goes in the 15s, a couple guys go in the low 16s and have the other guys go in the high 16s, low 17s. That's the only way we're going to advance," Libert said.
LAKEVIEW: The Bulldogs lost a top runner in University of Akron senior Eric Harris, but return a solid corps this season in seniors Chris Edie, Aaron Lamer, Adam Bogard and Alex Vine, along with juniors Nate Butler and Jake Tomko.
Coach Sean Voorhies said the team is looking for its ninth straight conference title, winning TAC-8 and AAC titles the past eight seasons.
Like Boardman, the Lakeview was a couple points away from a state berth.
"We're all juniors and seniors," Voorhies said. "We have a lot of experience. Three points from state. They bring back a lot of experience."
BADGER: Coach Kurt Ward is hoping for better things from his Braves.
"I don't think they will be amazing this year, but we'll be pretty solid. It'll be nice. We're due from an upswing, I think," Ward said.
The Braves haven't had a state qualifier since Jimmy Hynes in 2005.
Sophomores Owen and Cody Reeher return. Owen qualified for regionals, while Cody missed it by one place. Freshman Ty Reeher is part of a strong quartet of freshman runners for Badger. Freshman Will Miller has looked promising this offseason, Ward said.
"We could put four guys in the 17s," Ward said. "Look for Owen to drop under 17. We'll see what happens.
"As for a fifth guy, it's up in the air."
FITCH: If there's a team that's growing, it would be Austintown Fitch.
It's grown so much coach Paul Farr can't really narrow down his top five.
"I have a deep, deep team," he said.
Bryce Baker, a senior regional qualifier, last year, leads the Falcons pack. Seniors Zak Patrick and Zack Goist return as well.
However, a big boost to the Fitch pack is senior Garen Gibson, who was injured last year and is returning. He ran 18:10 at the 2011 Billy Goat Challenge in McDonald.
"I go 11 deep," Farr said. "The only problem we have is finding the really big gun. If we pack run, we'll be OK. I think I had nine to 10 guys under 11 in 2-mile test. We're really deep. With our numbers, narrowing to the top five is hard because we have a lot of good runners across the board."
CANFIELD: Like Fitch, Canfield has a deep team as well.
Senior Rollin Bresson, Alec Kennedy, Tyler Kennedy, sophomore Chase Kern and junior Bryan Kristan round out the team's top five.
They are prepared to battle with the area's Division I teams, especially Fitch and Howland in the AAC.
"We had four of five battles with Howland last year decided by one point," Canfield coach Doug Weitzman said. "They won a few, we won a few. Fitch has a great pack. Boardman is untouchable."
Getting past districts is the objective for the Cardinals.
"Nobody as a team has made regionals," Weitzman said. "Individuals have made it. That's one of their biggest goals. Winning the conference title is big for them as well. It's going to be a war."