A entire summer of pounding mile after mile begins to pay off for area distance runners.
Another season of prep cross country heads to the starting line this coming week and a strong area contingent of teams should make the upcoming season one to keep an eye on.
Actually, some schools and teams get things under way today in the inaugural OHSAA Pre-Season Meet, which is being held in Hebron at the National Trail Speedway ... the site of the OHSAA State Cross Country Championship.
The season begins in earnest on Monday when the OVCCL kicks off its competitions and the first invitationals are slated for next weekend.
While the early-season meets are nice to get a feel for the 3.1 mile jaunt and just to get a competition going, it's the end of the season when coaches hope to have their athletes and teams ready to run their best times.
The 'real' season gets going on Oct. 6 when the entire OVAC converges on Meadowbrook High School for the conference meet. Following the OVCCL Championship Meet on Oct. 13, the quest for a return trip to National Trail begins on Oct. 20.
The Eastern District meet is once again slated for Cambridge High School. The regional meet will be held at Pickerington North on Oct. 27, which is the final step toward the Nov. 3 state meet.
Here's a capsule look at the teams, which returned their information:
BARNESVILLE - Youth will certainly be served for the Lady Shamrocks this season as head coach Mark Brown begins his 29th season at the helm of the program he guided to the 1997 Division III State Championship.
"Our girls are young and experienced, but they've got great attitudes and are working very hard," Brown said.
The Lady Shamrocks lost three seniors from their 2011 squad, Allison Healey, Erica Kessel and Sara McGee. Going into the off-season, Brown expected to be able to build around two-time all-OVAC runner Lina Partridge.
However, she and her family moved to Massillon and she now attends Perry High School.
Thus, the only two upperclassmen on the roster are senior Nichole Burkhart and junior Carolyn Blattler.,
The lone sophomore on the team is Alexis Moore. The balance of the roster is made up of freshmen Karleigh Close, Kayla Erickson, Mariah Riley and Samantha Burkhart.
BELLAIRE - Veteran head coach Chris Arno is set to begin his 17th season at the helm and unfortunately won't be fielding a full girls' team. The Lady Big Reds had just four runners come out for the squad this season.
Despite that, it's not dampened the spirits during pre-season practice and conditioning.
"We're looking toward the future of this program, and we are very optimistic," Arno said. "The four girls we have are hardworking at practice and are top notch student-athletes. They serve as good role models for our junior high girls both on and off the course."
Leading the way for the Lady Big Reds is sophomore Danielle Stoner, who is a returning regional qualifier.
"Danielle learned a lot from her regional experience last year and we hope to build on that," Arno said. "We'll be competing in some bigger meets this year to let her gain some big-meet experience."
The balance of the Lady Reds' roster includes: sophomores Dallas Messenger and Lesley Bendekovich along with freshman Olivia Tranovich.
"Our goal is to continue to get better as the season progresses," Arno said. "We believe that over the next few months we will lay the foundation for success in years to come."
The lone Lady Big Reds' graduation loss was Haley Dyer.
Arno is assisted by his wife, Ann.
BUCKEYE LOCAL - The Lady Panthers have just four runners out for the team this season and won't be fielding a full team for the team scoring.
Sophomores Becky Lewton and Sadie Stinson are the veterans on the squad, while newcomers Katelynn and Kylee Torok will also be competing.
Gone from last year's team are Leah Figurski, Faith Jancura and Leigh Anne Lewton.
The Lady Panthers are once again being coached by the husband-wife duo of Diane and Wayne McCracken.
HARRISON CENTRAL - Veteran Huskies' head coach Scott Porter is having to take a wait-and-see approach with his youthful girls' squad this season.
"We've got good potential, but we're young," Porter said. "We're just going to have to wait and see how the season shakes out. Our girls are working hard and I think if we can get everyone healthy, we could be competitive. The biggest thing is making the commitment."
The Lady Huskies are led by junior Taylor Shaw, who was a contributing runner for Carrollton last season and moved to Harrison during the spring.
Freshman Mikenzi Edwards is expected to make a strong contribution this fall as will senior Mindi Snyder, who is a past state qualifier. She's missed time last season with an injury and is still battling her way back to 100 percent.
Senior Jessica Custer is slated for the fourth spot and senior Katie Barron, a transfer from North Canton Hoover High School, is set to battle for the fifth spot.
Freshman Megan Barcroft is battling to get into the varsity rotation.
The lone graduation loss for the Lady Huskies was Lauren Yoho, who is now running at Barton College in North Carolina.
Porter is once again being assisted by Samantha McIntosh.
MARTINS FERRY - The Lady Riders boasted three of the area's premier individuals last season, but were unable to field a complete team.
All three of the individuals are back and Coach Chrissy Lewis will have enough girls to make a push in the team standings this season as her roster includes no fewer than eight female competitors.
"We had a pretty good season last year, getting three to the regional meet and one to the state meet," Lewis said. "This should be an even better year."
Leading the way for the Lady Riders is talented senior Sunshine Wrenn, who is a two-time state qualifier in CC and also went to the state track meet in the 800 during the spring.
Jamie Truchan is expected to be the Lady Riders' number two runner this season. Close on her heels will be Lindsay Cunningham.
The fourth and fifth spots are "up for grabs" according to the Lady Riders' coach.
Sophomore Anissa Lattimore and freshman Tara Fogle have been battling during the pre-season for the nod. The balance of the roster includes: seniors Christina Lattimer, Holly Ackerman and junior Madison Reis.
"All of these girls have been putting in a good bit of mileage this summer in hopes of making this a very good team," Lewis said.
Veteran CC coach Joe Ellis is back as Lewis' top assistant.
RIVER - The Lady Pilots are coming off another strong season in which they finished second once again in the OVAC Class A/AA meet.
However, Coach Jennifer Stephens' squad - and all of Pilots' athletics - has bumped up to Class 3A in the OVAC this season.
Gone from last year's team are steady contributors Randa Imhoff and Emily Dierkes.
Seniors Myla Smith and Laken Ramsey are set to take over the leadership roles for River this season.
A large class of five juniors - Landyn Ramsay, Becka Stewart, Gabby Goudy, Makenna Collins and Courtney Imhoff - will be battling for the third through fifth spots in the scoring column. Also in the mix is sophomore Katie Thomas.
"Despite the jump in class, our expectations are still to contend for and win the OVAC," Stephens said. "I expect great things from our seniors because they've really looked great in practice so far."
ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The Lady Red Devils have been on quite roll in cross country.
Head coach Tony Ciroli, who begins his second season of working with both the girls and boys' teams, doesn't expect much of a letup as the new season quickly approaches.
"The girls have five returning veterans and we've added five freshmen," Ciroli said. "I know how disappointed the girls were last year after finishing fifth in the regional meet and I know they want to redeem themselves this season."
The St. C. girls did come up narrowly short of reaching the state meet, but they did capture another Buckeye 8, OVAC Class 4A and district title before finishing fifth at the regional.
The Lady Red Devils' leader is senior standout Amy Castle, who qualified for the state meet last season and finished 54th in Division II.
She'll be joined near the front of the pack by classmate Julianna Madzia, who had a strong summer and won the Mumley 5K last weekend. Madzia and Castle are the last two holdovers from the Lady Red Devils' state runnerup team in 2009.
The only other senior on the roster is Shae Cenkus. Just one junior and one sophomore are on the squad. Marissa Rizzo and Joanna Vincenzo are set for their third and second years, respectively.
The freshmen class is comprised of Paige Garan, Sam Harrison, Hanna Vera, Mikayla Westlake and Liz Kirkpatrick.
Lost to graduation from last season are Melanie Hannan and Brooke Bosworth.
ST. JOHN CENTRAL - The Lady Irish program took strides last season and should continue along that path as it features the area's premier female runner.
However, the status of highly successful head coach Jeremy Midei is in limbo. He submitted his resignation to St. John Central officials earlier this month because of work-related issues, but the school has not found a replacement, so Midei is still coaching in the interim.
Whoever takes over the Irish program this season or in the future will have the luxury of working with talented sophomore Fallon Doyle. She finished third in the Division III state meet last season. She was the district and regional champion and finished third in the OVAC meet.
Junior Kaitlyn Santinoceto and senior captain Kristen Russell are penciled in at the second and third spots for the Green.
A four-member freshman class is interchangeable and could jockey themselves between places four through seven with each passing meet. They consist of Natalie Cervelli, Brooke Moore, Kylie Stauffer and Maria Ducci.
Gone from last year's team are Lindy Stauffer and Patricia Lynn.
SHADYSIDE - The Lady Tigers found themselves in search of a new head coach during the off-season after Laura Gouldsberry stepped down.
Tiger athletic officials hired long-time CC mentor Stu Rynkievich, who is entering his 20th prep season of coaching, but his first at an Ohio school. He's been a high school coach for four years, five at the middle school and worked at the collegiate level for 10 years.
"I want to continue the tradition of Shadyside cross country," Rynkievich said. "I know how deep of a history Shadyside has and we're hoping to continue to build that and compete at the top of the OVAC and Division III."
Rynkievich picked a good season to come on board with the Tigers. He's inheriting one of the most talented runners in the area in senior standout Tara Tollett, who is coming off a brilliant track season.
Tollett was a state CC qualifier and carried that success to the oval where she was regional champion and Division III state runnerup at 3200 meters.
The new Tigers' head coach is also high on three incoming freshmen, who've had brilliant junior high careers. McKayla Kinemond, whose dad Scott is one of the new Tigers' assistants, will be joined by Logen Johnson. Haley Johnson is expected to crack the top five as well.
Senior Haley Holenka will be a busy young lady this fall. She's also a member of the Lady Tigers' newly formed volleyball team.
The balance of the roster includes: junior Kiana Duncan, Alex Carney and Jade Glasser.
"With the addition of three solid freshmen and the returning upperclassmen, I feel we'll be competitive in the OVCCL and OVAC," Rynkievich said. "Our end-of-season goal is to qualify for the regional as a team."
UNION LOCAL - There is no such thing as a numbers problem in cross country for the Jets.
Second-year head coach Larry Falbo has 15 girls out for the squad, including fairly balanced numbers in all four grades.
"I am expecting big things from our seniors and they're really setting a good example for our younger kids with their work ethics," Falbo said.
The Lady Jets' senior class is led by Danica Wharton and Casey Glenn, wo Falbo expects to be the top two finishers for his team this season. Freshman Hannah Nagy has been running well and is expected to make a push for the third spot.
The fourth and fifth scoring places are expected to junior Anna Frazier and sophomore Aubrey Snider.
Senior Taylor Simonson and sophomore Leah Wharton round out the varsity competitors.
The balance of the Lady Jets' squad is comprised of juniors Katie Stoller and Kristen Eberlin; sophomores Mikayla Twarog, Christen Staten, Bethany Schaeffer and freshmen Sidney Gatten, Stephanie Moore, Journey Fitzgerald.
"I'm very fortunate from a coaching standpoint to have kids, on both the boys and girls' teams that are willing to work as hard as they have been," Falbo continued.