Watterson High School cross country coach Matt McGowan suffered a heart attack on Aug. 8 and underwent an emergency surgery to unblock his circumflex artery that same day.
McGowan had to miss his teams' first three weeks of the preseason while he continued to recover.
Senior Jessica Passwater, who is one of three team captains along with seniors Olivia Britt and Carlee Merklin, said McGowan's presence has been missed, but emphasized that she and her teammates have continued to train hard as they await his return.
Watterson opened Aug. 23 by competing in the Newark Catholic Invitational.
"(McGowan's heart attack) was shocking and unexpected," Passwater said. "We've missed seeing him at practice every day. We've had some practices where we haven't had any coaches there, so the team captains have had to lead practices, warm-ups and warm-downs.
"But we all understand that we can't stop, no matter what happens to any of us. We just need to keep going and make sure we always do our best."
The girls team won the 18-team Newark Catholic Invitational, totaling 64 points as Liberty Union (83) placed second.
"It was exciting to win our first meet and we're hoping to run even better in future meets," Passwater said.
Passwater led the Eagles, placing fourth in 20 minutes, 47.9 seconds. Junior Meghan Connors (ninth, 21:17.4) was next, followed by sophomore Jeanette Pfeiffer (12th, 21:29.8), junior Claire Aman (20th, 22:05.8), freshman Kelsi Connors (21st, 22:06.6), junior Caroline Sugar (26th, 22:37.8), junior Kaleigh O'Reilly (35th, 23:14.8) and Britt (39th, 23:22.5).
"We have a lot of runners who work hard both in the classroom and in practice," McGowan said.
Passwater and Meghan Connors both qualified for the Division I regional meet last season at Pickerington North, where they finished 51st (20:33.89) and 81st (21:10.82), respectively, of 123 runners.
Competing with Passwater and Meghan Connors in the 14-team district 2 meet last year at Watkins Memorial were Aman, O'Reilly, Pfeiffer and junior Claire DiOrio, as the Eagles finished sixth (175) behind champion Gahanna (39).
Watterson finished second (53) in the CCL meet last year behind Columbus School for Girls (30).
"Our biggest goal is to make it to regional as a team," Passwater said. "We also want to win CCL, even though CSG is going to be big competition for us again."
The boys team placed sixth (225) in the 20-team Newark Catholic Invitational, behind champion Fairfield Christian (70).
Sophomore Nick Haley led the Eagles, placing fifth (17:48.6). Junior Max McClelland (ninth, 18:10.7) was next, followed by junior David Szolosi (68th, 20:18.6), junior Jake Miller (72nd, 20:23.5), junior Nick Melaragno (86th, 20:46.9), sophomore Mike Grunenwald (87th, 20:47.2), senior Elliot Taylor (124th, 22:33.4) and senior Nick Sheikh (126th, 22:41.5).
Haley, McClelland, Szolosi and sophomore John Britt competed last year in the 16-team district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial, as the Eagles finished 10th (332) behind champion Lancaster (36).
"(We want) to improve as the season progresses and run our best times at the CCL and district championships," McGowan said.
Watterson finished second (62) in the CCL meet last year behind St. Charles (17).
Volleyball team eyeing district title
The girls volleyball team is hoping to develop into a Division I district championship contender over the course of the season.
Watterson was 0-4 overall before playing in the Best of Ohio tournament Aug. 30 at Toledo St. Ursula.
The Eagles opened Aug. 23, losing in three games to both Erlanger (Ky.) St. Henry and Cincinnati McAuley in a best-of-three format. They then lost to Hartley 25-19, 25-22, 25-15 in their CCL opener Aug. 25 before falling to Dublin Coffman 17-25, 24-26, 25-16, 25-19, 15-8 on Aug. 27.
"We're playing the toughest schedule, by far, of any team in this part of the state, because we want to be pushed to get better," second-year coach Max Miller said. "I've been in situations where my teams have finished under .500 and then went on to win district championships back when I coached at Hartley, and I think our team has that kind of potential because we will be tested and used to playing at a high level by the end of the season."
Last season, Watterson finished 10-14 overall, losing to Hilliard Davidson 25-18, 25-17, 25-20 in the second round of the district tournament. The Eagles went 3-5 in the CCL to tie Ready for third, behind DeSales (8-0) and Hartley (6-2).
"Hartley's definitely the front-runner to win the CCL this season, but I think DeSales and us can challenge them for first place," Miller said.
The Eagles have returned four starters from a year ago in senior Mary Patton (opposite hitter) and juniors Elena DeJaco (outside hitter), Caroline Leitch (middle hitter) and Mallory Rabe (setter).
Seniors Jenna Gaffer (libero) and Maggie Hamrock (defensive specialist) and junior Anna Nikolai (outside hitter) also are expected to get significant playing time.
Rounding out the roster are senior Abby Malone (opposite hitter), juniors Jillian Fountain (defensive specialist), Julie Warren (middle hitter) and Natalie Weirtz (setter) and sophomore Michelle Lehman (middle hitter).
"This is my second year at Watterson and I'm still working on changing the competitive nature and work ethic of our program," Miller said. "Our record hasn't shown it yet because of who we've played early on, but we're getting better."
Football team preps for rematch with Mason
The football team's 24-7 loss at Mason last season started a stretch in which it lost six of seven games.
Watterson's offensive struggles against the Comets were a sign of things to come, as the Eagles would be held to seven points or fewer three more times on their way to finishing 3-7.
Watterson, which played Mason for the first time a year ago, will look to reverse that trend when it plays host to the Comets on Friday, Sept. 5.
On Aug. 29, the Eagles opened against Walnut Ridge and Mason played Springboro.
Mason, which finished 3-7 last year and allowed an average of 31.7 points, faces an Eagles offense that returns seniors Sam Maglicic (QB), Ben Kaminski (RB), Tyler Bair (WR) and Alex Loscko (WR).
Last season, Maglicic passed for 458 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for three scores and Loscko tied for the team lead in receptions with 11.
Back to lead the Comets' defense is senior linebacker Andy Whitney (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), who had four sacks and two interceptions last season.
Senior safety Dalton Rogers (5-9, 170) and senior lineman Hayden Bruser (5-11, 212) were among the team's leading tacklers a year ago.
Watterson is led defensively by senior lineman John Pirrmann and senior linebacker Jack Haley.
Mason has a new quarterback in senior Tyler Krabbe (6-1, 200), but its leading rusher from a year ago, senior Lucas Edwards (6-1, 200), ran for 586 yards and six touchdowns and had one touchdown reception.
Junior running back Avery Abraham (6-0, 170) is another key returnee to the Comets' offense.
Aug. 23 -- Newark Catholic Invitational
Sept. 6 -- Northland Invitational at Woodward Park
Sept. 17 -- Arrowhead Invitational at Park of Roses
Sept. 27 -- Panther Invitational at Pickerington North
Oct. 11 -- CCL meet at Westerville Recreation Center
Aug. 23 -- at Erlanger (Ky.) St. Henry with Cincinnati McAuley
*Aug. 25 -- at Hartley
Aug. 27 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
Aug. 30 -- Best of Ohio tournament at Toledo St. Ursula
Sept. 6 -- at Cincinnati Mother of Mercy
*Sept. 9 -- vs. Ready
Sept. 12-13 -- Louisville Invitational at Louisville (Ky.) Assumption
*Sept. 16 -- vs. DeSales
*Sept. 17 -- at Columbus School for Girls
Sept. 22 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*Sept. 25 -- at Ready
*Sept. 30 -- vs. Hartley
*Oct. 2 -- at DeSales
Oct. 4 -- at Cincinnati Ursuline Academy
*Oct. 7 -- vs. Columbus School for Girls