Despite his teams' overall inexperience, Westland High School track and field coach Tim Eckard believes he has several boys and girls who can excel this season.
"We are really young this year, with over half the team being freshmen," Eckard said. "Our veterans have taken these young kids under their wings and have shown great leadership in teaching them what we expect. I am excited, not only to see our young kids grow into great track athletes, but to also see our veterans mature into solid leaders. I think we are in for a great season."
Back is wheelchair competitor Tim Bailey, a senior who was Westland's only state qualifier for the boys or girls teams last season.
Four wheelchair events were included at state for the first time, and Bailey competed in three, winning the 100 meters (17.28 seconds) by beating nine other competitors and placing second in both the 400 (1:01.96) and 800 (2:13.76). He did not compete in the shot put.
Eckard said Bailey, who was Westland's first state qualifier since 2002, entered this season with loftier goals.
"His goal this year is to win states in the 100, 400 and 800," Eckard said. "We're looking for big things from him. He knows what it takes now, so I don't think he'll be as nervous. He knows the numbers that he's looking at."
Westland opened April 1, with the boys team finishing third (43 points) in a tri-meet behind host Grove City (82) and Teays Valley (49).
Finishing first for the Cougars were sophomore Ivan Suazo in the 110 hurdles (16.59), senior Connor Scott in the 100 (12.06), senior Erick Martinez in the 400 (55.01) and the 400 relay of Scott, Martinez and seniors Dashon Marshall and Giann Martinez (45.97).
Bailey placed second (2:20) in the 800 competing against able-bodied runners.
According to Eckard, others expected to be key contributors for the boys team include seniors Kurt Guffey (distance), Steven Lewis (throws) and Matt Medich (shot put), juniors Andrew Choate (distance) and Bryce Long (distance), sophomore James Pack (jumps/throws) and freshmen Abdul Diallo (sprints) and Siyat Mohamed (middle distance/distance).
Two key contributors for the boys team last season who did not return are Seth Farmer and Isaiah Henn. Both no longer attend Westland.
Last year as a sophomore, Farmer became the program's first Division I regional qualifier since 2010. He finished 12th (9:57.01) in the 3,200 at regional after placing second (personal-best 9:48.86) in the district 3 meet.
Henn finished fifth in long jump (20 feet, 2 1/4 inches) at district, falling one spot shy of advancing to regional.
The girls team finished second (35) in the opening tri-meet behind Grove City (110) and ahead of Teays Valley (30).
Westland won two events, with junior Shelby Walls finishing first in the 300 hurdles (57.87) and sophomore Donna Mayhew finishing first in the 800 (2:44).
Both are key returnees for the Cougars, who did not have any regional qualifiers and failed to score in the 16-team district 3 meet last year.
According to Eckard, other key returnees are seniors Sasha Bouaroy (hurdles) and Aleeyah Vanek (sprints) and juniors Kelly Draves (middle distance/distance) and Heidi Paxson (distance).
Eckard also expects key contributions from sophomores Johnay Florence (sprints), Kourtnie Hill (throws) and Chey Shelton (throws) and freshmen Sherise Johnson (sprints), Mya McClure (sprints), Avery Mills (jumps) and Brittany Rodgers (throws).
Boys tennis team has experience
The boys tennis team returns six players from last season, when it finished 4-15 overall and placed eighth (0, 0-7) in the OCC-Central Division behind champion Upper Arlington (81, 7-0).
"We have some guys back that played last year, so we have some guys who have a year of experience and some (who have) a couple years (of experience) with me," 43rd-year coach Dan Witteman said. "I have a good group of juniors."
Witteman said that juniors Grant Bare, Peer Brendler, Jonathan Marshall, Bryan Moreno and Zack Prak are competing for the singles positions. All but Brendler, who is an exchange student from Germany, are returnees.
Also back are senior Jordan Bare and sophomore Roman Novikov, both of whom are vying for spots on the doubles teams.
Other players are senior Liudeli Torres and junior Tyler Staten.
"I told the guys the lineup is not etched in stone," said Witteman, whose team opened with a 5-0 win over Ready on April 2. "I'm still trying to see where things shake out and where we have the best chance to possibly win some courts and maybe win a match or two."
Westland did not have any Division I district qualifiers last season. The doubles team of Grant Bare and Marshall went 2-1 in the Reynoldsburg sectional, falling one win shy of advancing to district.