Whether it's in cross country or boys soccer, Whitehall-Yearling High School senior Nahom Hailu loves the chance to compete for the Rams.
He has been successful in both sports even though the teams compete in the same season.
"It's tough, but you have to challenge yourself," Hailu said. "That's what I do. I have to challenge myself, and I'm loving this."
It's in cross country where Hailu likely has his best chance to excel in the postseason.
A three-year runner, he opened the season by finishing first (18 minutes, 46 seconds) in the Whitehall Invitational on Aug. 24 at Whitehall Community Park.
Hailu also finished first (17:12) in the Northland Invitational on Sept. 7, edging runner-up Hayden Palmer (17:14) of Whetstone.
Competing against several Division I runners on Sept. 14 in the Newark Invitational, Hailu finished eighth (17:27.9) of 140 competitors.
"We were fine with that," coach Robert Taylor said. "It was a competitive race. You can't compare times and courses and days.
"They're so different. He ran a very competitive race and he was in the mix. He was in the top 10 the whole race, so he ran well. He was going against some strong Division I runners."
Whitehall was eighth (200) behind champion Newark (65) as 13 teams scored.
Katheryne Ortiz was the lone girl to compete for the Rams at Newark, and she was 96th of 136 runners in a personal-best 25:38.5.
Last season, Hailu led the Rams in the Division II regional meet, finishing 23rd (17:20.02) of 131 runners. Whitehall finished 14th (274) behind champion Granville (44) in the 16-team field, as the top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to state.
Hailu hopes to advance to state this season even though the Rams have moved up to Division I.
"I think he has a chance," Taylor said. "It's not a guarantee by any means. I feel very confident about him getting out of district and going to regional and then we'll see what happens there. Regionals in Division I will be a new adventure for us this year. We'll see how that plays out."
Hailu's career-best time of 16:59 came in winning the Northland Invitational last season.
"I'm happy, but I still need to work on more things," he said. "My speed and my breathing, I have to work on that."
In soccer, Hailu has moved from midfielder to forward and has helped the Rams recover after losing their first three games by a combined score of 30-1.
After its 0-3 start, Whitehall tied West Jefferson at 1 on Sept. 5 and defeated Patriot Prep 6-0 on Sept. 12. The Rams were 1-5-1 overall before playing Central Crossing on Sept. 16 and are 0-1-1 in the MSL-Ohio Division.
Against West Jefferson, Hailu scored and senior goalkeeper Ethan Miller had 12 saves.
Hailu missed three games early in the season because of sprained right ankle.
"We have a good team, a solid team," Hailu said. "I'm loving it."
Coach Dan Ensign credits Hailu, a four-year player in the program, for the team's improvement.
"Nahom is a leader on the field and he's also definitely a very good cross country runner," Ensign said. "A lot of the younger kids look up to him. They have aspirations to get their game level up to his. He's a good role model and leader for everybody."
Hailu has adjusted to a new lifestyle in the United States since moving with his family from Ethiopia before entering eighth grade in Whitehall.
"I like the United States," he said. "There is a big difference in education."
He is undecided on college and whether he will compete in a sport. However, Taylor said he has received letters from colleges expressing interest in his standout runner.
"I just adore the guy," Taylor said. "He has a very sly sense of humor. He works hard in practice and he runs well in big meets. He responds to the competition. He listens to coaching."
Football team to take on Ready
Football coach Jake Kuhner realizes his team faces another challenge when it plays host to Ready on Thursday, Sept. 19.
The Rams improved to 2-1 by defeating Whetstone 32-18 on Sept. 13 at home. Whitehall trailed 12-7 at halftime.
"The offense started out pretty quick and then fell back a little bit, but the kids came out again in the second half and played their butts off," Kuhner said.
The Rams took the lead for good when B.J. Upchurch took the second-half kickoff 81 yards for a score.
Upchurch added touchdown receptions of 49 and 44 yards from quarterback Cody Koons, and finished with six receptions for 151 yards and 236 all-purpose yards.
Koons completed 11 of 20 passes for 230 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Ready improved to 3-0 with a 63-20 win over Briggs on Sept. 13, as running back Akili Taylor rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns.
"Ready is a big, disciplined team that knows football," Kuhner said. "They're really coached well. They have some kids that can play and they have 17 seniors back."
Tennis team falls to Bexley
The girls tennis team lost to Bexley 5-0 in an MSL-Ohio match Sept. 10 at home.
"We received encouraging play from our doubles teams despite the losses," coach Ben White said.
Those strong efforts included Zi Wong and Angela Li losing 6-4, 7-5 to Allison Meyer and Olivia Vaughan at second doubles.
The Rams were 0-4 overall and 0-3 in the MSL-Ohio before playing Grandview on Sept. 17.
Volleyball team loses to Bexley
The girls volleyball team took Bexley to four games before losing 25-19, 25-12, 18-25, 25-14 on Sept. 12 at home.
The Rams were 4-9 and 0-5 before playing Worthington Christian on Sept. 17.
"In the upcoming (matches) we are working on building our confidence and not dwelling on bad plays," coach Danielle Smith said. "We are working in practice on moving onto the next point if we don't score or get the side-out.
"The girls have the skill and are great volleyball players. They just need to believe it all the time and learn to finish close games."