Over the years, Marietta High has been the principal frontrunner in its lone home meet, the annual Elizabeth S. Broughton Memorial Invitational at the Broughton Nature & Wildlife Area.
Just two years ago, for instance, the Tiger harriers claimed both the boys' and girls' division crowns.
But last season, MHS slipped a little with the girls placing third and the boys finishing ninth in a 10-school field. Athens captured both the girls' and boys' team championships.
"Running across the region has improved," said veteran Marietta cross country coach Dale Leeper. "You can never write off Caldwell, and Fort Frye and Warren both look solid. There's a lot of competition out there."
MHS, Caldwell, Fort Frye and Warren are four of eight boys' schools entered in the 14th annual Broughton event, which is scheduled to run at 10 a.m. (girls) and 10:40 a.m. (boys) Saturday. The other schools will be Fairmont Senior (W.Va.), Waterford, Belpre and Meadowbrook. The girls' schools will also include Eastern.
Athens, the defending champions, will not be returning, so new team winners will be crowned this year.
"The field is down a tad, but it's a good field," Leeper said.
Leeper said he wasn't familiar with the Fairmont Senior teams.
Individually, both of the 2012 first-place winners' Jordan Anderson of Fort Frye and Jenna Furr of Caldwell are scheduled back to race the 5K Broughton course. Last year, Anderson covered the distance in 17 minutes, 30.39 seconds, while Furr did it in 21:03.65.
Furr will probably be challenged by Warren's Hannah Dugan, a third-place finisher in last year's run in 22:10.80, and others like Caldwell's Katie Saling, Fort Frye's Natalie Hart, and Marietta's own Olivia Wesel, a 13th-place finisher in 23:41.70.
"Jenna (Furr) is a very accomplished runner and an intense competitor," Leeper said. "But you never know who's going to pop out of the woodwork in this race."
Along with Wesel, the Marietta girls' team will also feature Hailey Carman, Emma Martin, Kelsey Adkins, Brittany Deskins, Josie Miracle. Jenell Betts, Katie Rauch, Madison Miller, Taylor McVicar, Nora Torbett, Viola Sullivan, Cooper Halliday, Hannah Crone, Elena Lawson, Bailey Graham, Kelsey Hall, Sydney Beaver, and Anna-Claire Myers.
"I'm looking forward to seeing who are first seven will be," Leeper said.
On the boys' side, Leeper said to also keep an eye on Warren's Parker Blain, an eighth-place finisher in last year's run in 18:34.88 , Caldwell's Jonathan Niswonger, who finished sixth in 18.29.18 and Fort Frye's Ford McElroy (11th, 18:44.12).
Marietta's team, which features no seniors, will include Jake Haught, Kody Phillips, Connor Brack, Mason Hall, Jack Halliday, Corey Hines, Tyler McKinney, Jeffrey Davis, Joel Bricker, Hayden Carman, Hunter Danford, Turner Hill, Zach Deskins, Patrick Elliott, Brandon Neville, Brenden Alkire, William Dewitt Bickham, and Thomas Bickham.
"We just want to run a team race as a wolf pack and not a lone wolf," Leeper said.
Notes: The Broughton event is unique and high tech in Ohio, because it showcases an authentic cross country course, and is electrically timed (chip timing)...After Broughton, the Marietta High varsity harriers will be competing on the road for the rest of the fall.