After failing to qualify for the Division II state meet last year, Abiel Kiflu had three main goals entering this season for the Whitehall-Yearling High School boys track and field team.
First, he was hoping to break the program record in the 800 meters, which was held by assistant coach Dan Reid, and did so during the MSL-Ohio Division meet.
The other two goals involved the state meet, which was held June 7 and 8 at Ohio State.
Kiflu was hoping to atone for last season by qualifying in the 800 and then placing at state. The senior accomplished those goals, as he finished sixth in the 800 in 1 minute, 55.88 seconds, matching his personal-best and program-record time.
Versailles' Sam Prakel won the race in 1:52.32.
"It was a really good accomplishment," Kiflu said. "First of all, I made it to states -- that's a big one -- and I got top eight (to reach the podium). That's a really good accomplishment and I'm really proud of myself."
Kiflu's three points helped the Rams finish in an eight-way tie for 49th behind champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (49) as 73 teams scored.
"We were real happy that he could do that again and get up on the podium," coach Zach Wright said of Kiflu matching his program record. "We knew it was going to be really tough to finish in the top three, but finishing sixth is good. It's fantastic."
Kiflu challenged for the lead early on, as he was fourth at the midway point.
"I think I had a chance to run a little faster, but this meet was so competitive," he said. "It looks like you're fighting each other. That not an excuse. I did my best and tried to be top eight and I was top eight."
"He actually ran exactly as we set up for him because we knew he was in lane one and we needed him to get out as fast as he could so when the kids broke in after the second turn he didn't get boxed in," Wright said.
Kiflu, who was one of 11 seniors, first set the program record in the 800 while placing second in the MSL-Ohio meet, which was held May 14 and 17 at Heath. Reid's previous record of 1:57.6 was set in 1969.
Last season, Kiflu's bid for a state berth in the 800 ended at regional when he was tripped by a competitor and finished ninth (2:01.83) as the top four advanced
This season at regional, Kiflu finished second (1:57.89) to Prakel (1:53.47).
"I felt like I gave some help to Whitehall this year to get to place (at state)," Kiflu said. "Next year I'm expecting at least my friend, Nahom (Hailu), and all of them to come here and place. I feel like I gave them some encouragement (and) hope, because last year I fell down and this year I came back and did it."
At regional May 30 and June 1 at Welcome Stadium in Dayton, Whitehall tied Cincinnati Deer Park and Eaton for 17th (11) behind co-champions Versailles and Dayton Dunbar (66) as 47 teams scored.
Kiflu, seniors Jaleel Morgan and Samson Edessa and Hailu were sixth in the 3,200 relay (8:23.28). Hailu, a junior, also was ninth in the 3,200 (10:36.61). Seniors Mohamed Toure and Isaiah Turner and juniors Chanse James-McDuffie and Khilil Tolbert were 10th in the 800 relay (1:33.33).
Kiflu and Hailu also qualified for regional in the 1,600, but opted to not compete so they could prepare for their other events.
The Rams finished fourth (61) in the 13-team district 2 meet May 21, 22 and 25 at Westerville South behind champion Caledonia River Valley (128).
Kiflu, who was named the team's Most Valuable Athlete, won the 800 (1:58.62) and rallied the 3,200 relay to second (8:19.39), and Hailu won the 3,200 (10:23.82).
Senior Ifa Abduljelil was making a bid for a return trip to state in the 110 hurdles, but those hopes ended when he finished 13th (17.76) at district. The Ohio Wesleyan recruit strained his left hamstring during the final of the 110 hurdles in the Hilliard Bradley Invitational on May 11 and did not compete again until district. He said he never returned to full strength.
Last season, Abduljelil competed at state in the 110 hurdles, but was disqualified because of a false start. He has the program record in the event (14.64).
"I have some great memories," Abduljelil said. "I'm real proud of what I did, and my coaches, my parents, everybody said they were real proud of me.
"I still have a little disappointment in myself and I feel others are disappointed because they expected so much out of me."
Whitehall was fifth (74) in the league meet behind Granville (166), Columbus Academy (117), Licking Valley (92) and Heath (78) and ahead of Lakewood (68), Bexley (37) and Newark Catholic (31).
"The boys finished strong," Wright said. "At the league meet, they ran probably as good as they could. They placed in every event."
Others expected to return include juniors Shaquille Alexander, Dylan Rice and Nic Thacker, sophomore Dassan Jefferson and freshman Brandon Copley.
Ware leads girls team
Senior Marissa Ware, a two-time regional qualifier, led the girls team again this season.
Ware, who hopes to be a walk-on at the University of Akron, was the Rams' only regional qualifier. She finished 13th in the 100 hurdles (17.7).
The Rams were not among the 38 teams that scored at regional, which was won by Eastmoor Academy (82).
"I'm happy with my year because I got my times down," said Ware, who was named the team's Most Valuable Athlete. "I have a lot of memories, especially with my teammates, just having fun and pushing each other."
Last season, Ware was 12th in the 100 hurdles (17.82) at regional.
This season in the 13-team district 2 meet, the girls finished 11th (12) behind champion Eastmoor (144) as Ware was fourth in the 100 hurdles (17.06) and seventh in the 300 hurdles (49.25).
In the league meet, Whitehall was sixth (39) behind Granville (172.5), Columbus Academy (119), Heath (111.5), Bexley (86) and Licking Valley (65) and ahead of Newark Catholic (37) and Lakewood (24).
Ware was the only senior to finish the season.
Those expected to return include juniors Madeleine Camara, Tierra Copley, Sarah Euman, Ashley Hatfield and Kayla Williams and freshmen Ana Hammock, Whitney DeClouet and Alexis Kefauver.
"We had a lot of young girls stepping up and getting things done," Wright said.