In his first season guiding the Whitehall-Yearling High School boys track and field team, Aaron Johnson was impressed with the Rams' development along with their senior leadership.
Johnson, who was a volunteer assistant last season, shared coaching duties this spring with Darryl Hammock, a longtime assistant in the program.
"It's a learning curve as a first-year head coach, but I had a lot of fun just working with the guys at practices and watching them develop," Johnson said. "It's truly been a pleasure."
Whitehall's season ended in the Division I regional meet May 24 at Pickerington North as five athletes competed.
Seniors Juwuan Hammock and Siraj Muhammad and sophomores Chris Ceasar and Raymell Byrd were 14th in the 800-meter relay (1 minute, 32.34 seconds), and Muhammad, Hammock, Byrd and senior Brandon Webber were 13th in the 400 relay (44.45).
"It seemed like a quick season," said Hammock, the coach's son. "My senior season is gone. I'm going to miss the competition and practices. Practices are always fun and challenging, and they helped a lot. They help with discipline and how to keep under control and keep everything well-focused."
The Rams did not score at regional. Hammock and Muhammad were two of 11 seniors on the team.
"We had a couple (seniors) who were here for their first or second year and a couple who were adjusted to our program because they've been here for quite some time," Johnson said. "I was fortunate to have a group of guys who were able to adjust to a different system and were a great group of guys overall, not only as athletes but as young men, so I'm very proud of them."
With Ceasar and Byrd expected to be among the key returnees, Johnson expects to return a solid nucleus next season as the Rams continue to look for their first state qualifier since returning to Division I in 2014.
The Rams' last state qualifier was 2013 graduate Abiel Kiflu, who qualified in the 800 in Division II in 2013 and finished sixth (1:55.88).
The regional-qualifying relays led Whitehall in the district 4 meet that concluded May 20 at Westerville South.
Byrd, Ceasar, Hammock and Muhammad were third in the 800 relay in a season-best 1:31.2, and Hammock, Muhammad, Byrd and Webber were third in the 400 relay (43.93).
In the MSL-Ohio Division meet May 9 and 12 at home, Whitehall finished third (100.5) behind Grandview (146) and Worthington Christian (145) and ahead of Bexley (96), Columbus Academy (92.5), London (46) and West Jefferson (19).
Byrd, Hammock, Muhammad and Webber won the 400 relay (43.88), and Byrd, Ceasar, Hammock and Muhammad finished first in the 800 relay (1:31.51).
Senior Michael Kantor won the discus (137 feet, 9 inches) despite competing with a lingering right wrist injury.
Other key athletes eligible to return include juniors Joachim Bailey (sprints), Trevor Jensen (distance, throws, long jump), Kesean Ruffin (400, 800), J.T. Wellman (400) and Mikel Wilson (distance, middle distance) and sophomores Zach Franklin (sprints), Hezekiah Freeman (long jump), D'Andre Layne (middle distance) and Alex Rodriguez (distance).
"We're very thankful and proud of our seniors who are leaving us, but we have a really explosive roster that is going to return next year and we might have some new faces," Johnson said. "We have a lot of talent leaving, but we still have a lot of talent stepping in to fill in those shoes. There are big shoes to fill, but our guys are up to the challenge."
Girls track team
ends year at district
With only two seniors on the roster, the girls track team lacked depth and experience this season.
The Rams closed their season in the Division I, district 2 meet that concluded May 20 at Hilliard Darby.
They didn't score at district. Senior Stephanie Ellis, junior Iyana Johnson, sophomore Tyrianna Stewart and freshman Janatie Alvarez were 12th in the 800 relay (1:53.41).
Ja'Nae Edwards-Newton was the other senior on the team.
Whitehall finished sixth (46) in the league meet behind Grandview (144), Academy (136.5), Bexley (134), Worthington Christian (80) and London (66) and ahead of West Jefferson (37.5).
Alvarez, Ellis, Johnson and Stewart were second in the 400 relay (53.0).
Other key athletes eligible to return include junior Paula Wilson (distance, discus), sophomores Milan Adkins (hurdles) and Ta'Tyanna Keys (hurdles) and freshmen Selamawit Alebachew (distance) and Liana Betts (throws).