John Harper has grown up during his time on the Canal Winchester High School boys golf team, in more ways than one.
The senior, who was the Indians' No. 2 golfer as a freshman and has been in the top spot ever since, said golf "was just a hobby" before high school and once he found out the school had a team, he dropped baseball and soccer to concentrate on the sport his father, T.J., played at New Concord John Glenn and Springboro before attending Ohio State.
Despite driving the ball about 220 yards as a 5-foot-3 freshman, Harper had yet to come into his own.
"At that time, I was a little shrimpy freshman, but I could hit the ball 220 and I could get up and down better than anyone on the team," he said. "I'm 5-10 now and I can hit the ball close to 300, and that helps a lot more with my short game. Now it's not a 5-iron hybrid (I am hitting) onto the green, it's a wedge.
"I'm a late bloomer. I'm still growing. I might get to 6-0, maybe not."
Kevin Barhorst, who has been Harper's coach the past three years, said Harper's physical growth opened the door for improvement in every area.
"When he was a freshman and a sophomore playing with a lot of kids who are No. 1's, he'd hit his drive out there and they were driving it by him by 50 to 75 yards. Now, no one is hitting it farther than him," Barhorst said. "He's hitting a hybrid off the tee on a lot of holes just to control it and keep the ball in play. His length is tremendous. He can drive the ball 270 to 290 with no problem, and he has the skills to overpower golf courses.
"From watching him play, he has to tune in his approach shots and give himself more chances for birdies and take advantage of his length to shorten holes and help his score."
Harper was averaging 81.6 per 18 holes through Sept. 9 to lead Canal Winchester, which was 9-6 in the OCC-Capital Division entering the fourth and final round of the league tournament Sept. 13, third behind leader New Albany (15-0).
His best lifetime round was a 73 on the team's home course, Westchester, last year during Bexley's Bob Darwin Memorial Invitational. Harper opened this year with a 76 in the rain Aug. 7 in the Pickerington Central Invitational at Turnberry.
"I know I can shoot lower than that," Harper said. "My short game and confidence that I have prepared for the season are my strengths. I played a lot of high-level competition. I've been in the thick of (contention) before. I know where I should be and how I can be."
Entering the week, Harper had yet to achieve his lifetime goal of shooting under par. His bigger immediate goal is to advance to the Division I district tournament Oct. 10 at Apple Valley, which he called one of his favorite courses.
The top four teams and top four individuals not on a qualifying team from each of three sectional tournaments qualify for district.
Harper hopes that a good postseason showing would ensure a chance to play in college.
"I've done the homework. I could play at any D-II or D-III school in the state," said Harper, who has talked with coaches at Shawnee State. "I want to stay in Ohio. I love Ohio, but I want to push myself. I just want to go out and play some golf."
The Indians have not been represented at district since 2013, when they finished last of 13 teams.
"(Harper) has the ability to shoot under par if he relaxes and plays his game," Barhorst said. "Advancing to the state tournament is a legitimate goal. If he plays well, there is no reason why he can't."
hitting early stride
After coach Josh Stratton made some personnel changes on offense, the football team will seek its third consecutive win Friday, Sept. 15, at Westerville North.
Quarterback Jack Beeler, a sophomore who took over for senior Stanton Smith after a 27-20, double-overtime loss to Thomas Worthington on Aug. 25, completed 13 of 21 passes for 207 yards in a 33-7 win over Teays Valley on Sept. 8. Running back Jacob Robertson rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, and Tyler Toledo added rushing touchdowns of 15 and 22 yards as the Indians improved to 2-1.
Trevor Thompson added field goals of 24 and 37 yards in the first quarter.
Smith now plays wide receiver and has 10 catches for 150 yards on the season.
"We threw the ball just enough and we definitely moved the ball well (against Teays Valley)," Stratton said. "Jack is probably the most calm 16-year-old I've ever been around. I call him 'the Iceman.' Nothing rattles him. He doesn't get overly excited. He's kind of an old soul in that respect. To take over for a senior and be that solid, it says a lot about his talent and poise."
According to Stratton, linebackers Jared Bulluck, Darren Davis and Matt Kamer and defensive lineman Angelo Hubbard each had more than 10 tackles against Teays Valley.
North is 1-2, coming off a 24-14 loss to Upper Arlington on Sept. 8.
Robert Robinson's 80-yard kickoff return in the third quarter got the Warriors on the scoreboard after they trailed 17-0, and quarterback Jacob Woods threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Harvey in the fourth quarter.
Running back Bodi Bien rushed for 105 yards on 23 carries, and linebacker Greg Shehee made 12 tackles to lead the defense.
Division I college recruit Jeremiah Burton is a two-way lineman for the Warriors.
"They'll run a lot of formations and try to outnumber you at the point of attack," Stratton said. "You never know what they're going to run because they are so multiple. They're fundamentally sound, they're good blockers and tacklers and they are aggressive."
Canal Winchester is 1-3 all-time against North, including 1-2 when both teams were in the OCC-Cardinal from 2013-15. The Indians lost to the Warriors 35-14 last year.
girls tennis team
The girls tennis team was one win better through eight matches this season than last, but coach Jill Welsh said she doesn't need a record to see her players' overall improvement.
"Our conditioning is excellent," she said. "We worked all spring and summer on conditioning and agility and we can see that paying off. I'm really pleased with their work ethic and individual play. I think that conditioning is keeping us close in close matches. Some of those matches that have gone 3-2 not in our favor were 5-0 last year. We are getting better every single match."
Canal Winchester was 5-3 overall before playing Reynoldsburg on Sept. 11 and is 2-2 in the OCC-Capital entering its league finale Thursday, Sept. 14, at Newark.
The Indians were 4-4 through eight matches a year ago and finished 10-9, setting a program record for wins.
Welsh has kept the singles lineup consistent, with Callie Tate at first singles ahead of Sara Welsh and Erin Duckworth at second and third singles, respectively.
Coach Welsh has rotated Courtney Cowgill, Makayla Neely, Ellie Stedman, Alexa Theuamthalaray and Elizabeth Welsh in doubles.
"We want to keep that stability. You want that steady three (in singles)," coach Welsh said. "We are getting more confident as the matches go on."
In league play, the Indians have wins over Groveport (4-1 on Aug. 29) and Franklin Heights (5-0 on Aug. 31) and losses to Big Walnut (4-1 on Aug. 24) and New Albany (5-0 on Sept. 5).