Newcomers boost girls runners
Watterson High School cross country coach Matt McGowan didn't pick up many first-year runners who made a big impact on his girls team during his first 24 seasons leading the program.
That trend appears to be over, however, as five newcomers in junior Abbie McClelland, sophomore Jessica Passwater and freshmen Claire Aman, Claire DiOrio and Kaleigh O'Reilly are expected to help the Eagles improve on last season.
The Eagles opened Aug. 25 by scoring 116 points to finish third in the 17-team Newark Catholic Invitational, behind Columbus Academy (90) and Columbus School for Girls (103).
Passwater led Watterson, placing eighth in 21 minutes, 30.9 seconds. Senior Heidi Hetterscheidt (15th, 22:14.2) was next, followed by senior Alisa Noll (23rd, 22:36.5), junior Hanna Merklin (40th, 23:27.2), McClelland (45th, 23:44.8), senior Rachel Riendeau (58th, 24:33.8) and senior Sara Restuccio (64th, 25:08.6).
O'Reilly (23:11.3), Aman (24:23.6) and DiOrio (24:39.5) finished first through third, respectively, in the reserve race, with times that were better than some of the Eagles' varsity runners.
"Unlike a lot of the other schools in our area, we don't have a middle school feeder program in cross country, so we don't have experienced runners showing up at our doorstep," McGowan said. "To have five first-year runners make our top eight is something that hasn't happened here in a long time, if ever. Mixed in with our veterans, these new girls have given us a lot more depth.
"Based on this first performance, I think we're going to be an improved team this year."
Last season, Watterson finished third (74) in the CCL meet behind Ready (42, won tiebreaker based on sixth runner's finish) and Columbus School for Girls (42) and ahead of Hartley (93) and DeSales (102).
The Eagles then finished 10th (273) in the 15-team Division I, district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial behind champion Hilliard Davidson (43) as the top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to regional at Pickerington North.
Hetterscheidt was the Eagles' top finisher at district, finishing 38th (21:47.58).
"In the CCL, CSG already beat us at Newark Catholic and they are going to be tough," McGowan said. "DeSales is going to be better this year and Hartley has some good athletes. Our girls team hopes to move up in the CCL and we hope to get some individuals through to regional. We took the top 20 spots in the reserve race at Newark Catholic, so I'm hoping some of those girls will move up and score for our varsity team in the future. If we keep improving, we'll have an outside shot at going to regional as a team."
Boys runners looking to move up in CCL
The boys cross country team opened by finishing sixth (148) in the 14-team Newark Catholic Invitational behind champion Newark (55).
Senior Alex Pratt led the Eagles, finishing 12th in 18:08. Senior Sam Kayuha (17th, 18:20.8) was next, followed by junior Mark Guza (27th, 18:49.9), senior Jordan Lucki (43rd, 19:29), senior Eddie Passen (60th, 20:08.7), junior Joey DiOrio (68th, 20:42.1) and senior Mark Widerschein (80th, 21:13.1).
"The nice thing is we have some boys who are veterans and some new ones who are helping us, too," McGowan said. "Alex Pratt's a soccer player who is running cross country for the first time, and he ran great for us in our first meet. We've got a freshman, Max McClelland, who is going to battle for a top seven spot, too."
Last season, the Eagles finished third (57) in the CCL meet behind St. Charles (25) and DeSales (49) and ahead of Hartley (128) and Ready (135).
Watterson then finished fifth (109) in the 11-team Division II, district 2 meet at Watkins Memorial behind champion Lakewood (58) as the top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to regional at Troy.
Kayuha placed third (17:33.38) and Widerschein finished 16th (18:31.1) to qualify for regional, where they finished 42nd (17:41.9) and 79th (18:23.04), respectively. The top 16 individuals advanced to the state meet at National Trail Raceway.
"St. Charles is a tough Division I team, so it would be nice if we can finish second behind them in the CCL meet," McGowan said. "The key for us is getting Sam Kayuha and Mark Widerschein back into shape so we have a shot at getting them to state as individuals and maybe even getting to state as a team."