EAST PALESTINE -- Close races are expected Saturday at the East Palestine High Rotary Cross Country Invitational, where 16 schools are entered.
A girls middle school 2-mile run begins the meet at 10 a.m., followed by the boys middle school run at 10:30. The varsity boys 5000-meter race is scheduled for 10:45 and the girls at 11.
Girard, the defending state champion in Division III, will defend its Rotary title. Boardman, which finished second last year, and Mooney, which was third, also have strong teams, as does East Liverpool.
Tom Albani of Boardman, who placed third a year ago (17 minutes, 9 seconds), has won consistently early this season and placed first (17:00) Tuesday in one of the four Suburban League meets.
Top challengers: Some of the other challengers for individual honors will be Joe Taylor of Mooney, Mark Montgomery of East Liverpool, Tony Simeone of Girard and Todd McDevitt of Lisbon.
Five of the first six finishers in last year's girls run return. Mooney is the defending champ, but Boardman and Girard will challenge.
The Cardinals' Val Zajac won (20:17) a year ago, with Lisbon's Katrina Brickner second (21:28) and Boardman's Brittany Durkin fourth (22:19).
Tuesday in a Suburban League meet, Durkin was third (21:00) as Boardman won with 41 points. Zajac was fourth (21:17) as Mooney placed second with 56 points. In another Suburban League meet, Brickner won in 22:01.
Other schools entered are Columbiana, East Palestine, Howland, Leetonia, Lordstown, Niles, Poland, Struthers, United, Warren JFK and Western Reserve.
Other meets: Austintown Fitch, South Range and McDonald are entered in the Tiffin Invitational, while West Branch will compete in the Dover Invitational. Sharon, Mercer, Reynolds and Slippery Rock will participate in the Big Red Invitational at West Middlesex.