The Whetstone High School girls track and field team returns several standout athletes, but the Braves might have trouble in team competitions because they lack depth, according to fifth-year coach Kofi Owusu-Ansah.
The top returnees are senior Arionna Darling and sophomore Bianca McLemore. The Braves open Thursday, April 4, at Bexley in a tri-meet that also includes Whitehall.
"Arionna was the team MVP last season," Owusu-Ansah said. "She's a two-year letterwinner, a two-year captain, a regional qualifier, the school record-holder in both shot put and discus, and she's the hardest worker on the team."
Darling set the shot-put record (38 feet, 7 inches) while placing third in the Division I, district 1 meet last season. The top four placers advanced to the regional, where she was 10th (36-6 1/2).
Her record in the discus is 109-2, although she had a 96-6 at district to place 11th.
The Braves were 12th (17 points) of 15 teams in the district 1 meet won by Dublin Coffman (141), and they tied for 40th (1) of 43 teams scoring in the regional won by Reynoldsburg (77).
McLemore scored the point at regional, finishing eighth in the long jump (16-2 1/2) after being a district runner-up (15-8). She also competes in the 200 and 400 meters.
"Bianca McLemore was our Freshman of the Year last season, and she's the best overall athlete on the team," Owusu-Ansah said.
Sophomore Liz Khoury also is a top returnee.
"Liz is our best distance runner from last season," Owusu-Ansah said. "She's also our most versatile. She participated in the (1,600 relay), long jump, high jump, 800, (3,200 relay) and the (1,600)."
Owusu-Ansah expects juniors Julianna Hausman and Kelli Chin, sophomore Karina Spulgis and freshman Elli Schwartz to add depth in the distance events.
"We should be strong in distance, especially the 800 and (1,600)," Owusu-Ansah said. "We obviously should be strong in the shot put and discus with Arionna and in the 400 and long jump with Bianca.
"However, depth will be an issue throughout the season for us. We have only 23 girls this season and half of them are first-year competitors. My challenge will be to get the new athletes up to the level of my returning athletes before the season's end."
Whetstone, which finished sixth (46) of 13 teams in last year's City League meet behind champion Centennial (106), has higher aspirations this season.
"We want a top-four finish at the City championship meet and we want to be competitive as a team in every meet," Owusu-Ansah said. "Ideally, we'd like to get at least one competitor to the state competition this season."
The boys team is young, but 21st-year coach Joe Monda doesn't seem discouraged.
"Our strength will be distance, but I can see some potential with the sprinters," he said. "Our goal will be to contend for the City championship and to get as many events to regional as possible. Most of the team will be running track for the first time, and we have a small team so depth will be a problem."
Sophomores Ike Boatneg and Alec Waitkus will lead the distance group, with senior Kellen Kincaid and junior Hayden Palmer expected to set the pace in middle distance. Top sprinters include seniors Dezwan Polk and Da'Mon Rosemond and juniors Darius Bester and David Simmons.
Polk has signed to play football at Purdue.
Senior Joel Paige Jr., who has signed to play football at Ashland, should lead the Braves in the throwing events.
In the City meet last season, Simmons was seventh in the long jump (18-7 1/2) and Polk was eighth in the high jump (5-6) as the Braves were seventh (34.33) behind champion Eastmoor Academy (153) in a 15-team field.
The Braves were last (3) of 16 teams in the district 2 meet won by New Albany (100.5).
Boys tennis team boasts experience
The boys tennis team returns five of its top seven players from last season when it finished 14-4 overall and went 10-2 in the City League before losing to Columbus West 3-2 in the City championship match.
Returning are senior Tyler Weisent, juniors Drew Gabalski, Karshe Ali and Matthew Ray and sophomore Quentin Pruneau.
The City final wins were both at doubles, as Gabalski and Ray won at No. 1 and Ali and Pruneau won at No. 2. Weisent lost at third singles, while 2012 graduates Harley Tripp (No. 1) and Mohammad Sharif (No. 2) also lost in singles.
Ray, Gabalski, Weisent, Ali, junior Ricky Bowman and freshman Winfield Slocum all were battling for singles spots before the opener April 2 against Westland.
"We're going to play power baseline tennis at singles and I think we'll have aggressive net play and athletic court coverage in doubles," coach Bucky Walters said.
Pruneau and freshman Akeem Adesiji were looking for doubles spots, along with those who did not make the singles lineup.
"We're very balanced from No. 1 through maybe up to 10," Walters said. "We've got a lot of depth and the kids on the team enjoy each other. Plus, we've got a lot of kids out, so we have a j.v. team as well."
The Braves tied Beechcroft and Centennial for second in the City behind West (12-0) during the regular season. With the three teams having the same record, Centennial was eliminated in the first tiebreaker because it had most recently competed in the league final.
The tiebreaker between Beechcroft and Whetstone then came down to the head-to-head result, and the Braves beat the Cougars 3-2 in their league match.
The previous time Whetstone was in the City final was 2006 when it beat Briggs 3-2.
The Braves failed to advance anyone from the Division I sectional at Upper Arlington to district.
"Our goals are to improve daily, stay fit, have fun and do a little bit extra every day that other teams don't so," Walters said. "Plus, of course, win the City championship."