With the return of its senior core — from left, Arianna Miller, Ellie Hall and Ani Henderson — among other leading runners, Marietta’s girls cross country team is set up well in its pursuit of defending the Class AAAAAAA state title.

MARIETTA — The chances of the Marietta girls cross country teams defending its state title are looking good.

The Lady Blue Devils returned six of their seven top runners from last year’s championship team, and those six are already showing they are a few seconds faster than they stood on the podium as state champs.

“It’s a great feeling to have them all back,” Marietta coach Jack Coleman said. “We’re excited, hoping to come back, give it another shot and get better than we were last year and improve on where we were last year at the end of the season.”

Senior Ellie Hall, who won the individual Area 2AAAAAAA title in 18 minutes, 6 seconds) and came in fourth overall in the Class AAAAAAA state meet, is coming off a stellar track season where Marietta also brought home a championship.

Hall broke 11 minutes in the 3,200-meter run, and Coleman said she had broken 18 on the track for the 5K.

Both Hall and fellow senior Ani Henderson expect to push one another once again, as they did last year. Henderson also had a productive track season — particularly in the 1,600, where Coleman said she chopped nearly 20 seconds off her time and finished third in the state (5:01.64).

Coleman does not expect Hall, Henderson and the rest of the team to peak early in the season. Just like a year ago, he is challenging the Lady Blue Devils to drop time gradually, so they can be in top form for the area meet in late October and the state meet in Carrollton.

“We try to build strength early on in the season, and our hope is, as we get to the big meets, our speed will be coming around and hopefully peaking at the right time, which will be November,” Coleman said, “with the goals being a good finish at area, good finish at state and a good finish at Nike (regionals).”

Senior Arianna Miller is also expected to have a strong year following a solid season on the track. Coleman said has made strides and is focused on dropping time, which she did after a year or two of staying status quo.

Marietta’s other three starters made a splash at state last year -- all finishing in the top 20 -- and Coleman expects big things from them in 2018. Sophomore Betsy Gordon is looking to build on her seventh-place finish, junior June Mwaniki was 12th overall and sophomore Hattie Rydinsky was 19th.

For Coleman, What is just as important as winning a state championship is seeing his team improve each week.

“That’s what we do here,” he said. “We try to take it step by step and just keep improving. That’s my goal for every member of the team, from the top to the bottom.”

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