Canal Winchester High School cross country coach John Bender knows the boys and girls teams may not beat Teays Valley in the MSL-Buckeye Division meet Saturday, Oct. 13, at Fairfield Union even if all of his runners turn in season-best times.
But even if both of his squads fall short of winning the league championship, he believes competing against Teays Valley will help his runners prepare for the postseason, which starts Oct. 20 with the Division I district meets at Watkins Memorial.
"Teays Valley is the favorite to win the MSL-Buckeye races for both boys and girls," Bender said. "Right now, they're way better than us and it isn't even close, so we'd need to run our best race and Teays Valley probably would have to not run very well for us to catch them.
"But our main objective is to keep getting better each week, and if our boys and girls do their best, I'll be happy regardless of where we finish."
Last season on its home course, the girls team won its fifth consecutive league title, scoring 41 points in the MSL-Buckeye meet to finish ahead of Teays Valley (52), Circleville (55), Logan Elm (84) and Hamilton Township (143).
"Teays Valley has an outstanding girls team and they're close to being able to go to the state meet based on the times they're running right now," Bender said. "Circleville also is very good and we're probably favored to come in third behind them, but we're getting better and I think we could catch Circleville if we have a good day.
"To compete for the title, we'd need to move our fifth runner up quite a bit because we've had about a minute gap between our fourth and fifth runners."
On Oct. 6, Canal Winchester scored 38 points to finish second in the six-team Johnstown Invitational behind Gahanna (22).
Megan Tamasovich led the Indians, placing second in 21 minutes, 6.31 seconds. Also competing were Chloe Palmer (sixth, 22:01.53), Cassidy Long (seventh, 22:10.97), Elizabeth Kifer (10th, 22:25.47), Taryn Meidl (13th, 22:41.56), Julia Cook (15th, 22:47) and Julie Tennison (19th, 23:08.69).
"We're young but our freshmen are doing a great job of helping keep us competitive," Bender said. "Our top three girls are all ninth-graders and they're all getting better."
Last season, the boys team captured its second consecutive league championship, scoring 23 points in the MSL-Buckeye meet to finish ahead of Teays Valley (50), Fairfield Union (91), Circleville (114), Logan Elm (143), Bloom-Carroll (149) and Hamilton Township (151).
"It looks like our boys team should be competitive with Hamilton Township for second place this year," Bender said. "Hamilton Township has four good runners, but I'm hoping that our depth will make a difference for us."
On Oct. 6, the Indians scored 34 points to win the six-team Johnstown Invitational ahead of runner-up Westerville South (48).
Wyatt Gardner led the way by finishing first in 18:01.74. Also competing were Jason Appel (third, 18:19.88), Bryce Carroll (sixth, 19:08.64), Robert Moore (11th, 19:23.31), Riley Collins (13th, 19:26.47), Jamihran Jackson (19th, 19:39.62) and Imani Daniels (22nd, 19:55.77).
"Our boys team has outstanding freshmen, too, and Wyatt Gardner is the fastest ninth-grader I've ever coached," Bender said. "Our times may not look that good because we've run on a lot of hilly courses this season, but we're getting better."
Football team set to face Logan Elm
The football team will be looking for its fifth consecutive victory when it plays host to Logan Elm on Friday, Oct. 12, in an MSL-Buckeye game.
The Indians improved to 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the MSL-Buckeye with a 28-7 road win over Hamilton Township on Oct. 5. The loss dropped the Rangers to 5-2 and 2-2.
Canal Winchester's defense limited Hamilton Township to 85 total yards in the first half and forced four turnovers, including an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jaquan Ransome that gave the Indians a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, an interception by defensive back William Totten set up a 13-play, 89-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 5-yard run by John Franklin, giving the Indians a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Ransome scored on 17-yard run in the third quarter and an interception by defensive back Khari Golden set up a 28-yard touchdown run by Ransome to put Canal Winchester ahead 28-0 heading into the fourth quarter.
Ransome rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, Franklin ran for 86 yards and a score on 24 carries and quarterback Isaac Pifer completed three of four passes for 62 yards.
Coach Shawn Hinkle would like to have a more balanced offense against Logan Elm, which beat Bloom-Carroll 34-14 on Oct. 5 to improve to 4-3 and 2-2.
The Indians lost to Logan Elm 36-10 last year.
"I'd like to see improvement in our passing game so that we're more of a dual threat," Hinkle said. "We turned the ball over six times at Logan Elm last year, so obviously we've got to do a better job of limiting our mistakes."
Logan Elm gained 210 of its 304 total yards against Bloom-Carroll on the ground, with slotback Cory Heeter rushing for 130 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.
Also against Bloom-Carroll, quarterback Casey Tyler scored on a 12-yard run, Skylar Zeller returned an interception 78 yards for a score and Logan Elm's defense limited the Bulldogs to 89 yards rushing on 34 carries.
"Logan Elm is still running a spread offense and Heeter is a very good athlete," Hinkle said. "Our defense as a whole has continued to get better and our goal is always to stop the run first, and we'll try to do that once again."
Leading the Indians' defense against Hamilton Township were linebackers Nick Toledo (9 tackles), Lamont Martin (7 tackles, 1 interception) and Ian Jones (8 tackles) and lineman DeOntaye Cosby (8 tackles).
"Hamilton Township is the best team we've beaten thus far," Hinkle said. "Our defense stepped up and played extremely well. They are a big-play offense and we didn't give up many big plays.
"Our offensive line did a great job and we ran the football pretty well."