Westland High School cross country coach Josh Barkeloo expects a rebuilding season after losing standout Mustafa Ahmed to graduation.

Westland High School cross country coach Josh Barkeloo expects a rebuilding season after losing standout Mustafa Ahmed to graduation.

The Cougars, who opened last Saturday at the Pickerington Cross Country Classic, will run Wednesday in the Canal Winchester Invitational, looking for ways to replace what Ahmed brought to the team.

"We're going to be rebuilding this year," Barkeloo said. "Mustafa is going to be real hard to replace."

Last fall, Ahmed advanced to the Division I state meet and finished 46th (16 minutes, 18.29 seconds) in a field of 150 runners. He had gone undefeated during the regular season, winning six meets. Ahmed then was second (15:43) at the OCC-Ohio Division meet, second (15:49.27) at district and sixth (16:13) at the regional.

The Cougars were fifth with 116 points at the OCC-Ohio meet and 15th (368) at district.

Despite the key loss, Barkeloo said it's time to move forward.

"It's a cycle," Barkeloo said. "You come in as a freshman and you're a little wet behind the ears and then by the time you become a senior you really know what you're doing and then you can set an example for those young ones on the team and then they know what they need to do by the time they're a senior."

Leading the charge should be Kevin Simms, the lone senior on the boys team.

"Kevin has really improved a lot," Barkeloo said. "As a freshman, his best time was around 22 minutes. He really came on at the end of last season and was down in the low 18s. He is ahead of the pace that we had set for him this year."

Other runners with experience are juniors Jordan Harris, Kody Hazlett and Tom Boyce and sophomores Caimen Lewis and Cory Wirtz. Junior James Eblin and sophomores Ben Warner and Andrew Paquin are first-year runners.

The girls team returns several runners with experience.

Junior Kristin Draves, who was the team's top runner last season, is back. Last year, she was 17th (20:35) in the OCC-Ohio meet. Also back are seniors Aarika Harris, Monica Christian and Dara Paxson.

"This is the time where their experience will pay off," Barkeloo said. "They're definitely going to fulfill a leadership role on our team."

Junior Angela Stevens is a first-year runner. Freshman Brooklyn Harris, the younger sister of Jordan and Aarika, is expected to contribute as well.

"Brooklyn has a tremendous upside," Barkeloo said. "She has a lot of potential."

Last season, Westland finished sixth (156) at the OCC-Ohio meet and 15th (461) at the district meet.

Westland now is in the OCC-Central with Central Crossing, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Darby, Hilliard Davidson, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington and Worthington Kilbourne.

"You could say that we got thrown into the wolves," Barkeloo said. "It's probably one of the toughest leagues.

"We're trying to achieve our individual goals, bring along the younger people on the team and continue to make Westland cross country something fun that people want to do."

At a glance

Coach: Josh Barkeloo, third season

Next meet: Wednesday at Canal Winchester Invitational

Key runners: Boys -- Jordan Harris, Kody Hazlett and Kevin Simms; Girls -- Monica Christian, Kristen Draves, Aarika Harris and Dara Paxson