Darren Avery has returned to the Canal Winchester High School track and field program as coach of the girls team, and it didn't take long for him to see how much of an impact his predecessor, John Bender, had on the athletes.
Bender, who coached the Indians the past 21 years, died of complications related to leukemia and congestive heart failure Sept. 14 at age 71.
"We keep John in our mind at all times and it's pretty clear what an influence he had on the kids by watching all of the little details they take care of because of the way John coached them," said Avery, who coached the Teays Valley boys team from 2007-12 after serving as an assistant for the Canal Winchester boys team from 2003-05 and the Logan boys squad in 2001.
"I've coached at a lot of places and have seen how a lot of different athletes behave and carry themselves, and this group has a lot of class, which John had a hand in. Now, we're trying to honor him by doing the best we can this season."
Canal Winchester opened March 31, placing third (71 points) in the six-team Hammond Relays behind Gahanna (126) and host Pickerington Central (74). It then beat Lancaster 91-44 on April 2 before finishing third (74) in the 15-team Newark Invitational on April 5 behind Westerville Central (92.83) and Dublin Scioto (89).
Two Division I state qualifiers have returned for the Indians in seniors Jocselyn Powell and Gretchen Rosch.
At state last year, Powell placed second in the 100-meter hurdles (14.52 seconds) after setting a program record (14.21) in the preliminaries and Rosch finished 11th in the pole vault, clearing 11 feet to tie the program mark.
Rosch broke the program record by clearing 11-3 in the Hammond Relays.
The Indians feature a deep distance and middle-distance corps, led by seniors Natalie Tennison and Nicole Tennison and sophomores Chloe Palmer, Megan Tamasovich and Joelle Zuberi.
Powell, Rosch and senior Ashley Mavis are Canal Winchester's top sprinters and hurdlers. The team leaders in the field events are sophomore Julia Blum in the long jump, Tamasovich in the high jump and juniors Abigail Brinker and Rosa Lusignolo in the discus and shot put.
"We have a really talented team," Avery said.
The Indians will compete in the OCC-Cardinal Division for the first time this season. The league also includes Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.
Last season, Canal Winchester won the MSL-Buckeye title, scoring 159.5 points to finish well ahead of runner-up Teays Valley (114).
Powell, who won the 60 hurdles (8.62) in the indoor state meet March 8 at the University of Akron, won league titles last season in the 100 hurdles (12.69), 300 hurdles (46.27), 100 (14.81) and 200 (25.82) to score 40 points for the Indians.
"I think we can be competitive right away in the OCC because we have top-end athletes and a lot of hard workers who will add to our depth," Avery said.
Powell leading way for boys track team
The boys track team has returned its only Division I state qualifier from last season in senior Jermil Powell, who tied for ninth in the high jump (6-5).
Powell finished sixth (6-5) in the event in the indoor state meet March 8 and set the program record by clearing 6-7 in the five-team Hammond Relays on March 31, as the Indians placed fourth (52) behind champion Pickerington North (116).
Canal Winchester then lost to Lancaster 84-58 on April 2 before finishing second (60.75) in the 18-team Newark Invitational on April 5 behind Westerville Central (104.5).
Other key athletes include junior Trae Johnson in the hurdles and long jump, senior Willy Totten in the throws, seniors Edosa Omoruyi and Caleb Ward and sophomore Robert Moore in the sprints, senior Nick Sweeney and junior Jason Appel in the distance and middle-distance events and junior Elijah Miller in the pole vault.
Johnson finished 13th in the 110 hurdles (15.85) at regional last year.
"I don't know that this is a difference from our teams in the past, but this team seems to be a very cohesive unit," second-year coach Kurtis Robinson said. "They work very well together and seem to really like being around one another.
"I feel like we as a team have more depth in the short sprints and throwing events than we have had in the past."
Robinson is anxious to see how his team fares in the OCC-Cardinal meet next month after finishing second (113) in the MSL-Buckeye meet last year behind Hamilton Township (165).
"With this being our first year competing in the OCC, we are striving to be competitive in every event," Robinson said. "I'm not really sure how we will finish in the OCC meet. ... We are in a very strong division (and) not a single team is weak."