Kiflu, Hailu pace boys runners
The Whitehall-Yearling High School boys cross country team is attempting to rekindle some of last year's magic.
Leading the way again have been senior Abiel Kiflu and junior Nahom Hailu.
Last season, Kiflu qualified for the Division II state meet and finished 65th (17 minutes, 13.17 seconds) of 146 runners at National Trail Raceway.
He has been limited this season because of a right-ankle sprain, but coach Robert Taylor expects him to be ready for the postseason.
"Abiel is still struggling with his ankle," Taylor said. "If he can get back to full strength, he and Nahom are going to be right together, but his ankle has really held him back."
Both runners competed in the regional meet last season at Pickerington North, with Kiflu earning his state-qualifying berth by finishing 16th (17:30.15) of 129 runners. The top four teams and individuals not on a qualifying team who finished in the top 16 advanced to state.
Hailu was 58th (18:38.42) at regional.
Both were first-year runners last season.
This season, the Rams are looking for a team berth to a Division II regional. The meets will be held Oct. 27 at Pickerington North and Troy.
The state meet will be held Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway, and the district meets are Oct. 20 at Watkins Memorial.
The Rams will compete in the Erin Nance Fall Distance Classic on Saturday, Sept. 29, at London Country Club. Last season, Whitehall was seventh (175) in the 12-team Division II meet behind champion Granville (41), and Hailu was fifth (18:11.65).
The Rams were eighth (187) in the 13-team Newark Invitational on Sept. 15 behind champion Newark (39). Hailu was seventh (17:01.5) and senior Samson Edessa was 27th (18:20.5). Kiflu missed the meet because of the ankle injury.
Whitehall was fourth (114) in the 19-team Arrowhead Invitational on Sept. 19 at Whetstone behind champion Bexley (68). Hailu was third (17:00), Kiflu was 12th (17:42) and Edessa was 16th (17:48).
"We did real well at Whetstone," Taylor said. "I felt real positive."
Whitehall was 11th (288) in the 22-team Division II meet of the Bob Reall Invitational on Sept. 22 at Lancaster behind champion Peninsula Woodridge (62). Hailu was 22nd (17:27.9) and Edessa was 46th (18:18.2).
Kiflu again missed the meet because of the ankle injury.
With Hailu, Kiflu, Edessa and freshman Ana Abduljelil maintaining the top four positions, Taylor has been looking to fill the fifth spot.
Seniors Keith Lees and Noah Young and juniors Ashden Gibson and Anthony Spaulding have been competing for that position, according to Taylor.
"We're looking for someone to step up and give us a good, strong fifth runner then I have some high hopes for district," Taylor said. "Our top four are very strong and competitive right now and there's a bit of a gap between our fourth place and fifth. You have to close gaps."
The girls team did not have enough runners for a team score in the Bob Reall Invitational, as junior Ashley Hatfield was 83rd (23:30.1).
Hatfield bettered the 23-minute mark for the first time when she finished 32nd (22:22) in the Arrowhead Invitational.
"Ashley has been our top runner and she's our captain," Taylor said. "She's competing harder and she's gaining confidence. I'm really looking forward to her senior season next year, but this year if we can get her down to 21s, she'll be able to be very competitive (in the) league (meet) and give us our strongest girls finisher in a long time."
Juniors Sarah Euman, Katheryne Ortiz and Hailey Reed, sophomore Kacee Utterback and freshman Leticia Njojiep also have been competing.
"It's kind of a growing process with the girls," Taylor said.
Volleyball team set for Newark Catholic
The girls volleyball team returns to action Thursday, Sept. 27, when it visits Newark Catholic for an MSL-Ohio match.
Newark Catholic defeated the Rams 25-18, 25-11, 25-21 on Sept. 5.
Whitehall split a pair of league matches last week, defeating Bexley 25-22, 26-24, 25-22 on Sept. 18 and losing to Granville 20-25, 25-18, 25-16, 26-24 on Sept. 20.
"The girls have been working really hard in practice and that is starting to show in the games," coach Danielle Smith said. "They continue to hustle and never give up on plays. We are digging up balls that teams aren't expecting us to get to. Our defense is keeping us in games. We just need to work on the mental toughness of putting a game away when it's close."
Tennis team defeats Falcons
The girls tennis team continues to improve, according to coach Chris Kondracke, as it defeated Franklin Heights 4-1 on Sept. 19 for its first victory.
"The girls have made tremendous progress this year in their personal play," Kondracke said. "We all are having fun. We said at the beginning of the year that we did not care as much about our team record as much as are we getting better individually and are we having fun, and we are. We have had so many close team matches that the girls now are thinking of the overall team and want to get better over the offseason. This group of girls is very fun to coach."
Football team to face Granville
The football team will look to bounce back from a 36-19 loss to Heath on Sept. 21 when it visits Granville on Friday, Sept. 28.
The Rams are 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the MSL-Ohio.
Heath (2-3, 1-1) scored 22 points in the second quarter on its way to the win.
Granville fell to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the league by losing to Licking Valley 19-14 on Sept. 21.
Last season, Granville defeated Whitehall 52-28 on its way to the league title at 7-0.
"We are going to have to tighten up our defense and obtain and control the ball on offense," coach Jake Kuhner said. "They have a good quarterback (David Fraley) with plenty of wide receivers to get the ball to."