Members of the Canal Winchester High School cross country teams were devastated when coach John Bender died of complications related to leukemia and congestive heart failure Sept. 14 in the midst of his 21st season.
The Indians maintained their practice schedule the week after Bender's death but decided not to compete in the Bob Reall Invitational on Sept. 21 at Lancaster because his funeral was being held that day.
Canal Winchester returned to competition in the Don Hardin Invitational on Sept. 28 at Heath, with both the boys and girls teams winning titles. Each of the Indians' runners had "we run for Bender" written on his or her shoulders during the meet.
"Our teams are always motivated to run well this time of year, but I think it's fair to say that our runners are even more motivated to do well this season in honor of coach Bender," said Jeff Kline, who has taken over as head coach for both teams after serving as an assistant under Bender the last 14 seasons. "We took the Lancaster meet off so we could attend John's funeral service and it was a very touching experience, where a lot of John's family and members of the community spoke about how he impacted people's lives.
"But we still practiced every day, and the kids have really upped their intensity level (since Bender's death). I wasn't surprised at all to see both teams run so well at Heath because they are very motivated."
Kline isn't sure how his teams will fare in their inaugural OCC-Cardinal Division meet Saturday, Oct. 12, at Hilliard Darby, but he is confident they will both perform to the best of their abilities.
"On the girls side, Dublin Scioto is the favorite. But if we run to our potential, I think our girls could finish in the top half of the meet," Kline said. "The guys' meet is going to be tough. Dublin Jerome's the favorite to win it and, if you took the times we ran last year (in the MSL-Buckeye meet), we would have finished last in the OCC-Cardinal meet. But I feel like there's a team or two we'll be able to compete with if we run our best."
The boys team scored 46 points in the six-team Don Hardin Invitational to edge runner-up Fairfield Christian (50). Jason Appel won the meet in 17 minutes, 33 seconds, with Ethan Fusek (fourth, 18:00), Luke Shirr (ninth, 18:37), Imani Daniels (14th, 19:05) and Nick Sweeney (18th, 19:28) also scoring.
"After our weekend off, our guys ran their best meet of the year," Kline said. "We beat Fairfield Union after they beat us at the Canal Winchester Invitational (on Aug. 28), so it was a nice turnaround."
The girls team scored 28 points in the four-team Heath Invitational finish well ahead of runner-up Heath (87). Joelle Zuberi won the race in 20:53), with Cassidy Long (fifth, 22:01), Julie Tennison (sixth, 22:34), Kayla Cook (seventh, 22:34) and Megan Tamasovich (ninth, 23:08) also scoring.
"Our girls ran a little more inconsistently, but a couple of them had really good races and it was nice that we ran well enough to win," Kline said.
The Indians competed in the Les Eisenhart Invitational on Oct. 5 at Thomas Worthington.
Girls golfers place fifth at sectional
The girls golf team finished fifth (369) in the 11-team Division I sectional Oct. 1 at Westchester behind district-qualifiers Pickerington North (338), Upper Arlington (352) and Hilliard Bradley (355).
Sophomore Bailey Krueger led the Indians with an 85, followed by junior Mary Hippler (89), freshman Grace Hippler (96), sophomore Kate Mueller (99) and sophomore Monica Smith (102).
The top three teams and top three individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to district Oct. 8 at The Links at Groveport. Pickerington Central's Emma Duncan (80) secured the third and final individual district-qualifying spot.
"Sectional was bittersweet for us because we're sad that the season is over, but we feel good that the girls performed well there," coach Greg Hipp-ler said. "We faced great competition and we were just (14) shots away from advancing, so it's hard to be disappointed."
In their first season competing in the OCC-Ohio, the Indians finished fourth (16-12) in the four-round tournament behind Pickerington North (28-0), Thomas Worthington (20-8) and UA (18-10) and ahead of Hilliard Davidson (15-13), Gahanna (11-17), Lancaster (3-25) and Darby (1-27).
Mary Hippler, who had a 91.5-stroke average in the league tournament, and Krueger, who averaged 92.5, both made third-team all-league and Grace Hippler (95.5) was honorable mention all-league.
"I'm pleased that we were fourth in our first year competing in the OCC and we were only two wins away from finishing third," coach Hippler said. "We were young this season and I'm happy to know that we have everyone returning to play for us again next year."
Boys golfers end season at sectional
The boys golf team finished last (444) in the 13-team Division I sectional Oct. 1 at Darby Creek behind district-qualifiers New Albany (299), Dublin Coffman (304) and Olentangy Liberty (307).
Sophomore Joseph Bern-owski carded a 96 to lead the Indians, followed by junior Mason Lance (102), senior Cody Cowgill (121), senior Drew Miller (125) and sophomore Matthew Snyder (134).
Marysville's Morgan Tarrant shot a 76 and was the third and final individual qualifier for district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.
Canal Winchester finished last (0-28) in the four-round OCC-Cardinal tournament, behind Dublin Jerome (27-1), Westerville Central (25-3), Westerville South (18-10), Scioto (14-14), Bradley (10-18), Darby (9-19) and Westerville North (9-19).
Lance had a team-best 101.5 scoring average in league play, followed by Bernowski (104.5), Cowgill (123.5), Snyder (124.5) and Miller (129.7).
Football team getting ready to face Jaguars
The football team travels to Hilliard Bradley on Friday, Oct. 11, for an OCC-Cardinal contest. Canal Winchester lost to Hilliard Darby 44-0 on Oct. 4 to drop to 0-6 overall and 0-3 in the league.
Quarterback Nick Hammond was 6-for-12 passing for 51 yards and wide receiver Skyler Scott had two receptions for 52 yards, but the Indians rushed for only 36 yards on 24 carries against the Panthers, who improved to 5-1 and 3-0.
Darby rushed for 337 yards and four touchdowns on 59 carries. Bradley lost to Westerville Central 69-31 on Oct. 4 to fall to 3-3 and 2-1.
Quarterback Tommy Horn rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, but the Jaguars' defense allowed 738 total yards.
Girls tennis team falls short of district
No members of the girls tennis team advanced to the Division I district tournament, which will be held Friday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 12, at Hilliard Davidson.
Junior Madeline Nice-swanger came the closest, as she went 2-1 in singles in the sectional Oct. 3 and 5 at Reynoldsburg to fall one win shy of advancing.
Also competing at sectional in singles were junior Taylor Ramsey and sophomore Molly Schmitz, each of whom went 0-1.
In doubles, freshmen Athena Theumathalaray and Kamala Sweeney went 1-1 and sophomores Kim Detty and Candice Maswela went 0-1.
Canal Winchester lost to Lancaster 4-1 on Sept. 30 and defeated Westland 3-2 on Oct. 2 to finish 6-11 overall.
The Indians finished sixth (2-5) in the OCC-Cardinal behind champion Jerome (7-0) and scored five points in the sixth-place OCC tournament Sept. 28 at Newark to place fourth behind Marysville (16), Delaware (7) and Newark (7).
Niceswanger went 2-0 at first singles to place first in the sixth-place OCC tournament.