When Eric Hughes took over as coach of the Westland High School girls volleyball team last season, he believed the program had potential.
The players continue to support his confidence.
Westland opened OCC-Central Division play Aug. 27 by beating host Marysville 25-22, 25-21, 24-26, 25-11. The Cougars were 3-3 overall before facing Thomas Worthington in a league match Aug. 29.
Last season, Westland finished 6-16 overall and 2-12 in the OCC-Central to place seventh behind champion Dublin Coffman (14-0).
"It's going to be a good year," Hughes said. "It's a great way (to start league play). Last year we split with Marysville, so getting this first one off our back is really going to be helpful."
The first three games against Marysville were close, but the Cougars pulled away in the fourth behind the play of senior defensive specialist Kaitlyn Willming and junior outside hitter Abigail McCormick, whose presence on the front line thwarted several scoring chances by the Monarchs.
McCormick is one of six returnees for Westland. The others are seniors Erika Moore (setter) and Maria Turner (libero), juniors Kyleigh Jackson (middle blocker) and Taylor Mitchell (outside hitter) and sophomore Jenna Panning (outside hitter).
Moore, who is a fourth-year starter, and Turner, who was named honorable mention all-league last season, are co-captains.
Also on the team are senior Yasmeenah Estep (defensive specialist) and juniors Erin Bower (defensive specialist), Colleen Guffey (defensive specialist) and Jackie Harris (middle blocker).
"Our seniors are doing a great job of leading and our juniors are coming in and filling up the team with a lot of height," Hughes said. "Our sophomore, Jenna, is doing a great job as well."
With Harris (6-foot-5), Panning (6-1) and Willming (6-1), Westland should have an advantage at the net against most opponents.
"I like having a lot of height," Hughes said.
Westland opened Aug. 17, losing to Reynoldsburg 27-25, 22-25, 26-24 and host Westerville North 25-17, 21-25, 25-22 in a tri-match.
The Cougars went 2-1 in the eight-team Karen Wohrer Invitational on Aug. 24 at Lancaster to place third behind Hilliard Bradley (3-0) and Lancaster (2-1). They defeated Fisher Catholic 25-23, 25-8 and Zanesville West Muskingum 25-23, 25-23 and losing to Lancaster 25-19, 25-16.
Runners 'hungrier' after opening meet
Cross country coach Josh Barkeloo liked what he saw from his boys team in the Pickerington Classic.
Westland finished eighth (223 points) in the 18-team Bengal Division of the event Aug. 24 at Pickerington North behind champion Watkins Memorial (61).
The Cougars were led by junior Seth Farmer, who finished fifth of 165 runners in 17 minutes, 47.8 seconds.
Fairfield's Michael Mangus won the race in 17:04.6.
Rounding out the scoring for Westland were junior Bryce Long (27th, 19:01.7), junior Andrew Choate (65th, 20:31.9), senior Erick Martinez (76th, 21:06.2) and junior Andrew Ritchie (82nd, 21:24.8).
Also competing were seniors Kurt Guffey (110th, 23:24.3), Connor Scott (116th, 23:44.6) and Robinson Abreu (126th, 24:27.9).
"The boys team turned out OK," Barkeloo said. "It was pretty nice to see us finish that high in the standings this early in the season. It definitely made the kids hungrier to work harder. We were six points behind the seventh-place team, (McConnelsville) Morgan (217)."
Farmer emerged as the team's top runner last season, finishing 30th (17:47.65) in the 18-team Division I, district 3 meet at Watkins Memorial, as the Cougars finished 17th (442) behind champion Dublin Jerome (51).
Also competing at district were Long (96th, 20:47), Ritchie (99th, 21:04), Choate (105th, 22:02), Scott (112th, 22:56) and Guffey (113th, 23:28).
"If they continue training like they can and if they run to the potential that I know that they have, they'll see a lot more success than we have in the last few years," Barkeloo said.
The girls team finished 11th (273) of 13 teams in the Bengal Division of the Pickerington Classic behind champion Thomas Worthington (62).
Sophomore Donna Mayhew led the Cougars, finishing 40th (22:22.7) of 202 runners.
Rounding out their scoring were junior Heidi Paxson (44th, 22:33.5), sophomore Elizabeth Finley (76th, 24:22), freshman Hannah Festog (87th, 24:42.6) and senior Kelly Draves (105th, 25:36.8).
Also competing were junior Jessie Neavill (112th, 25:45.8) and freshman Kayla Kulwicki (185th, 33:44).
Sophomores Cori Gross and Macala Schirtzinger also are on the team.
"They're young, but our top girls have trained so hard this summer," Barkeloo said. "I only have two returning girls (Paxson and Finley) on the team, but Heidi, Elizabeth and Donna have been working so hard this summer and their times are way ahead of where they should be. We definitely have a super, solid three girls that are going to continue to improve."
Last season, Westland competed in the district 3 meet but did not have enough runners for a team score. Paxson led the Cougars, finishing 62nd (23:22.58).
Football team getting ready for Punchers
The football team travels to Mifflin on Friday, Sept. 6.
Westland, which opened the season Aug. 30 against Eastmoor Academy, lost to the Punchers 53-38 last season. The Cougars were outgained in total yardage, 571-445.
"For us, if we can get some wins early, it can give us a lot of confidence and make sure the kids realize they can have success," coach Steve White said.
Mifflin, which opened Aug. 30 against Licking Heights, finished 7-3 overall last season and placed third (5-2) in the City League-North Division behind Beechcroft (7-0) and Brookhaven (6-1).
The Punchers lost their starting quarterback from a year ago, Javonte Bing, to graduation. Bing had a strong performance against the Cougars last year, throwing four touchdown passes and rushing for three scores. Marsaan Banks and Mike Bell, a transfer from Worthington Kilbourne, were competing during the preseason to replace Bing as the starter.
"Eliminating big plays (by an opponent's offense) is such a big part," White said. "If we want to change our program, that has to be a big part of it. Mifflin has a pro-style offense, a lot of off-tackle plays, a lot of play-action, a lot of isolation plays. They had such a good quarterback last year. We need to score in the scoring zone and we need to eliminate giving up big plays."