NORTH CANTON  Hosting the Dave Clegg Invitational was a chance for the Hoover cross country teams to see where they stood early in the season.

Based on those results and the races that have followed, the Vikings' girls are headed in a positive direction despite skewing on the young side and being short on varsity experience.

"Our course isn’t exactly the easiest course … I think it’s deceptively hard and with a big field of 16 teams and some tough teams like Jackson and St. Thomas Aquinas, it was a good field," varsity girls head coach David Neitzelt said.

The results for the Vikings underscore how young the team’s lineup is at the outset of the season. Freshman Maya Schneider topped the Hoover results on the day, placing 33rd overall in her first varsity meet with a solid time of 21:25.6. The result was encouraging for Schneider, especially considering a talk she had with her coach prior to the start of the race.

"She was our number one runner and we had a conversation before and talked about how nervous she was," Neitzelt recalled. "I reminded her that her workouts have been great and she put in a lot of time and work in the offseason."

Schneider was about 30 seconds ahead of sophomore Keeley Horning, giving Hoover two underclassmen in the top 52 in the race. Because the team is so young, the coaching staff has been preaching a group mentality to all of its runners, encouraging them to run as a pack on the course and use that approach to gain confidence as well as have support out on the trail.

The invitational was the team’s first chance to see where it stood both as a group and individually, but there weren’t many Federal League teams in the field. Aside from the Vikings, Jackson and Green were the only league teams on hand, so measuring themselves against their league rivals will have to wait for now.

Still, there were quite a few teams in the meet that will show up on the schedule again this season and according to Neitzelt, that can be a double-edged sword.

"Sometimes it kind of messes with them because they see a girl they know and think, ‘I should be ahead of this girls,’ but if they’re ahead of a girl they don’t usually beat, they can get motivation from that."

Not only were the team’s top five runners on the day underclassmen, but one of them, sophomore Grace Bergert, is a former volleyball player who decided to come out for cross country this season. Bergert placed 62nd in the meet, one spot behind teammate Jordan Pollard and one spot ahead of teammate Claire Hollon, both juniors.

The trio crossed the finish line within seconds of one another, showing the pack approach the coaching staff has been espousing.

For the Hoover boys, the day brought encouraging results as well. Its top six runners placed in the top 28, led by junior Jay Lutton, who ranked 16th. Matt Presutto, Collin Greco, Jacob Wood, Trevor Maley and Trent Napholz all slotted between 22nd and 28th, putting the Vikings third behind Jackson and Walsh Jesuit in a deep field that included top teams from Stark and Summit counties.

With more experienced veterans on the roster, the boys team is a few strides ahead of where their counterparts on the girls team stand at this point, but both teams are looking forward to a busy schedule leading up to the league meet and postseason.

One of the races the runners enjoy the most is a meet hosted by Thomas Worthington High School in Columbus, mostly because the course is flat and with the meet near the end of the season, the topography combined with being in shape from the season leads to fast times.

There is also the process of building camaraderie among members of the girls team because so many of them are new to the squad or to the varsity level.

"Our entire preseason was that, just getting used to new faces and getting girls to believe in the family they do become by the end of the season," Neitzelt said.

A few weeks into the season, that process is underway with one eye on the present and another on building for the future.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB