Centennial High School cross country coach Rhonda Reese couldn't be happier about the number of runners in her program this season.
The Stars have 13 boys and 16 girls this year after starting last season with only six boys and four girls. That's a 190 percent increase in participation.
"Last year, I was surprised with how low our numbers were and our girls team didn't have enough (five) runners to score as a team until we got more athletes out late in the season," Reese said. "This year, I was very surprised that we had so many kids come out for cross country. We usually have somewhere between 15 to 18 kids in our program, and this year we have 29, which is unheard of for Columbus (City Schools). I'm not sure why our numbers are up so high this year, but I'm not complaining."
Returning to lead the boys team is senior Kevin Adams, who last fall became the Stars' first state qualifier since Ryan Wilbur in 2003. Adams placed 31st (personal-record 16 minutes, 29.58 seconds) of 150 runners in the Division II state meet at National Trail Raceway after finishing 15th (16:52.75) at regional at Pickerington North and seventh (17:19.6) in the district 1 meet at Watkins Memorial.
Also competing this season are senior Glauco Fontgalland, juniors Noah Davis and Brian May, sophomores Devante Brown, Evan Manser and Callan Reese and freshman Dallas Gordon.
Last season, Centennial placed second (109 points) in the 11-team City League meet behind Whetstone (37) after winning the previous two league championships and finished ninth (221) in the 12-team Division II, district 1 meet at Watkins Memorial behind champion Granville (16).
The Stars, who are in Division I this season, opened Aug. 24 by placing 12th (294) in the 17-team Newark Catholic Invitational behind champion Liberty Union (75). Adams was their highest finisher, placing fifth (17:16.5) of 150 runners.
"Kevin is stronger than he was last year, so I'd love to see him make it to the Division I state meet this year," coach Reese said. "Of course, our biggest team goal is to win the City, and having more boys on our team will help."
Girls runners eye another league title
The girls cross country team is looking to capture its sixth consecutive City title this season.
Last season, Centennial scored 41 points to edge Whetstone (42) for first in the five-team league meet. The Stars then finished 11th (246) in the 14-team Division II district meet at Watkins Memorial behind champion Granville (41).
Centennial is in Division I this year.
"Our girls are looking to defend their City title, but we have a lot of respect for Whetstone and Northland, so it's never a given that we'll win," coach Reese said.
Junior Catherine Ryan and senior Emiyah Kelly have returned and are expected to lead the Stars. Last year, Ryan finished 10th (20:43.82) at district to qualify for the regional meet at Troy, where she placed 20th (20:02.71).
Also on the team are juniors Anna Grace Blackburn and Sarah Schoultz and freshmen Prova Hasan, Aiyanna Howard, Shelby Tour and Alexis Vance-Townsend.
"Catherine and Emiyah are really talented and we'd like to see the rest of the team run well as a pack this year," Reese said.
Volleyball team looks to defend league title
The girls volleyball team is coming off a season in which it finished 19-3 overall and won the City League-North Division but lost to Eastmoor Academy 25-27, 26-24, 25-22, 25-19 in the City championship match.
With six starters having returned, coach Brenden Pence is optimistic his team can make a run at the City title.
"We want to see how far we can take this group, with our eyes on getting back to the City championship (match) as well as hopefully notching a win or two in the (Division II district) tournament and surprising some teams," Pence said. "The City League has not received much respect in central Ohio. But with the emergence of other up-and-coming programs in the city, we hope to make a tourney run and help gain respect for the City League."
The returning starters are seniors Alyah Dean (libero), Symfhani Pitts (opposite hitter) and Maya Robertson (outside hitter) and sophomores Sierra Hawkins (middle hitter), Sam Meanor (setter) and Marissa Robertson (outside hitter).
Last season, Marissa Robertson had 179 kills, 112 digs, 68 aces and 11 blocks and was first-team all-league. Dean (203 digs, 69 aces) and Meanor (559 assists) were second-team all-league and Hawkins (76 kills, 23 blocks) and Maya Robertson (81 digs, 31 aces) were honorable mention all-league. Pitts had 71 aces a year ago.
Rounding out the roster are senior Jenna Herron (outside hitter), juniors Danelle Easley (libero) and Maddi Parker (libero) and sophomores Jada Briggs (middle hitter) and Alyssa Dean (middle hitter),
Easley had 85 digs last year.
"A difference from this year's team to last year's team is this group has more overall consistency and training," said Pence, whose team opened Aug. 27 with a league match against Mifflin. "The players are all performing different volleyball skills rather than being specialized and their volleyball intelligence has really developed.
"We had awesome seniors last year, but our new batch of seniors has stepped up wonderfully and has taken responsibility for the success of this program."
Football squad set to open season
The football team opens its season Friday, Aug. 30, at Grandview.
Centennial also opened last season against the Bobcats, losing 42-20 en route to finishing 1-9.
Grandview, which went 5-5 last year, returns four starters on offense in quarterback Nick Schopis, tight end Tim Murphy and running backs Phil Readey and Joe Pinney.
Last season, Schopis was 105-for-222 passing for 1,271 yards with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also is the top returning rusher with 291 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries.
Pinney ran for 182 yards and one touchdown on 35 carries last season, with Readey rushing for 89 yards and one score on 21 attempts and Murphy finishing with 15 catches for 225 yards.
Centennial's 3-4 base defense returns only three starters in Kenny Lambert (nose guard), Darsean Watts (linebacker) and Noah Martin (end).
Having returned seven starters, the Stars are looking to have a more balanced offense this season. Among the Stars' key players on offense are junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson and senior tight end Jirequez Fair-Harris, both of whom were honorable mention all-City-North last year.