A pack of girls sprinted around the track at Noble Stadium, the fastest becoming crystal clear the farther they ran.

Two separated from the pack: One was a decorated senior — a returning state placer — the other a promising freshman, strides long and smooth, with speed unaware of any hierarchy or pecking order.

The freshman finished first. The lone senior of the group — Destinee Howell — just smiles at the mention of it.

She knows what Ardmore has coming.

"We have a good group, probably one of the best groups I've ran with yet," Howell said. "The freshmen will really help us this year."

As a junior last season, Howell was sixth in the 800 meters in Class 5A for an Ardmore team that didn't have much experience. The Tigers get to show off their potential for the first time this season at the Ardmore Invitational today at Noble Stadium.

Even scarier for Ardmore, its other state placers that return are still underclassmen.

Last year, Christin Russell was one of only three freshmen to qualify for the Class 5A state meet in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and was the only freshman to qualify for the final in each race. Russell was a fifth-place medalist in the 200 and was seventh in the 100.

Russell, along with junior pole vaulter Kristin Benson, who transferred from Madill, give the Tigers two more legitimate threats for individual state championships.

"I feel like I know what I'm doing now," said Russell, who will run the 100, 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400. "And with coach (Brenda) McHatton, she's making us do enough to get us in shape earlier than last year, because we didn't do a lot last year.

"We have a lot of athletes out here this year that are really good that can go to state."

Benson is a two-time 4A state placer in the pole vault, finishing sixth as a sophomore and fourth as a freshman at Madill. She gives Ardmore a chance to score points in an event the Tigers haven't had production from in recent years.

"I hope I'll be able to contribute a lot to the team," Benson said. "Pole vault brings in a lot of points. We're getting more people interested in it, and hopefully we get a lot of people involved and wanting to pole vault so we can build up that program."

McHatton returns to working with the varsity girls this season after working with the middle school last year. Russell said that with McHatton at the helm, the team has come into this season more prepared and working harder.

McHatton said her familiarity with the girls since they were in middle school plays a big part in how they are training this season.

"They kind of already know what to expect out of coach (Steve) Wright and I," McHatton said. "They've been through our workouts down there as a seventh- and eighth-grader. It's not new kids coming to me that I've had to reteach."

With a year under their belts, a deep group of freshmen, and more athletes competing in more events, Ardmore's girls program is looking stronger than it has in some time.

"Our freshman group is probably our biggest group, overall probably our most competitive," McHatton said. "Hopefully in the next couple of years, we'll get back to where we need to be and get those (state championship) numbers back on the wall over there."

Young sprinters fill void for Ardmore boys

Jeff Surrell remembers the days he was the lone freshman on Ardmore's state-winning relay teams.

Now he's the lone senior on sprint teams looking to steal back the baton from other 5A schools. Surrell was a part of two years of 4x400-meter relay dominance, winning state titles in 2010 and 2011, but the Tigers fell to third in the 4x400 last year at Yukon. The Tigers also dropped in the 4x100.

Now the sage veteran of the group, Surrell is confident freshman duo Kydric Knox and O.J. Walker, and junior D'vron Roberts, can help get Ardmore back on top.

"They're not scared. They're ready to step up whenever we need them to," said Surrell of the younger runners. "It ain't really much that's coming back, but we've got young talent, so we should be able to do something."

Surrell placed sixth in the 100 as a junior, clocking in at 11.21 in the 5A state meet. In what should have been a proud moment for him, Surrell left the medal stand disappointed in what the Tigers left on the track.

Now, without 2012 Ardmoreite Track Athlete of the Year Jywayne Allen, as well as Devin Swearegin, Randy Taylor and Kenyon Gordon, Surrell's scoring becomes even more critical as the lone senior in sprints.

"I was kinda upset with the fact that we didn't get first in the 4x4, and we didn't place in the top 3 in the 4x1," Surrell said of last year. "I'm glad I had another year so I can help redeem our team, with the help of everybody else."

Follow Horne on Twitter: @ekhorneARD