As Grove City High School senior cross country runner Evan Whitaker prepared for his final Division I district meet, he searched for what he hoped would be his lucky socks.
Whitaker has worn the same black socks during the district meet in his career -- and only in the district meet.
This time, his superstition worked. Whitaker earned his first regional berth by finishing ninth (16 minutes, 18.21 seconds) in the district 3 meet Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial.
The top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to the regional Saturday, Oct. 28, at Pickerington North.
"These are my district socks," Whitaker said. "I just like to wear them at district and then I don't touch them for the rest of the year until district."
At regional, the top five teams and top 20 individuals advance to state Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway.
Whitaker is hoping for another strong performance.
"It's all mental preparation," said Whitaker, who noted he will wear the socks again at regional. "You can't think too hard about it. ... I just have to run a good race and the results will come with that."
Before this season, Whitaker's best finish at district was 32nd (17:06.39) as a sophomore.
"I didn't know about the socks until (Oct. 21) when he hopped on the bus," coach Joe Dollins said. "What works for him works for me. We're proud of him that he qualified for regional. He gets to have one more week with coach Dollins and hopefully two more weeks and qualify for state in early November."
Whitaker and Dollins both credit a rigorous offseason training schedule as a key to Whitaker's improvement.
"He definitely put in the hard work over the summer," Dollins said. "This race has been circled and highlighted on his calendar all season. I dedicate it to his dedication and his focus. Cross country is almost as much mental as it is physical and he just ran a smart race, a clean race."
Dollins said Whitaker will face another challenge at regional.
"It's going to be tough," Dollins said. "Central Ohio has some of the best runners in the state, but hopefully we get in a good week of training and practice. If he runs like he raced today there's no telling what could happen. I have all the confidence that he'll qualify for state if he runs a good, clean race. I'm ecstatic as a senior he's going out on a high note."
The boys team finished 12th (308) of 16 teams at district behind champion Olentangy Liberty (49).
Adam Meister was 47th (17:17.2), followed E.J. Rondez (76th, 18:05.32), Ben Rutledge (86th, 18:33.77), Zach Elliott (93rd, 18:56.12), Nick Bruce (99th, 19:22.2) and Jared Ellis (101st, 19:39.67).
The girls team finished 14th (396) of 18 teams in district 3 behind champion Hilliard Davidson (25).
Lindsay Donaldson led Grove City, finishing 48th in 20:59.26. Sumer McWilliams was 68th (21:38.47), followed by Maylene Renninger (69th, 21:38.76), Lauren Glass (100th, 23:07.98), Ella Harris (111th, 23:42.7), Kaitlin Osterman (118th, 24:35.67) and Laney Hoyt (119th, 24:41.33).
"I'm proud of all the boys and all the girls on the way they competed and represented Grove City High School very well," Dollins said.
Girls soccer team earns dramatic win
The girls soccer team rallied to edge 17th-seeded DeSales 3-2 in overtime Oct. 19 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Sofie Galiffo's goal early in overtime advanced the 11th-seeded Greyhounds to a semifinal Oct. 24 against 10th-seeded Canal Winchester.
Erin Hartig tied the game in the final minute of regulation off a corner kick from Kayla Barnhart.
"Kayla's corner kick on Erin's tying goal was one of the most beautiful balls I've ever seen in high school soccer," coach Josh Keller said. "It was a gorgeous corner kick."
MaKenzie Swackhammer scored Grove City's first goal and goalkeeper Anna Guy had six saves.
"It tells me about the heart and the character and the leadership of the people on the field," Keller said of the win. "It's been amazing all year, the morale, the spirit from all 24 players. All 24 players bought in at the beginning of the year. They believe that the game is never over until there are zeroes on the clock."
Grove City was 13-4-1 before playing Canal Winchester, with the winner facing top-seeded Pickerington North or 20th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a district final Saturday, Oct. 28, at a neutral site to be determined.
Grove City lost to North 5-1 on Oct. 10 in an OCC-Ohio Division game. The Greyhounds defeated Scioto 1-0 on Aug. 22.
The winner advances to a regional semifinal on a date and at a neutral site to be determined.
Boys soccer team edged in first round
The boys soccer team saw its season end with a 3-2 overtime loss to 16th-seeded Hilliard Bradley on Oct. 18 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
The 14th-seeded Greyhounds finished 8-6-3 overall.
Trailing 2-1, junior defender Randy Ith scored with 4 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game. Senior midfielder Ezekiel Cajigal assisted on the goal.
Bradley pulled out the win on Ryan Kayalar's third goal of the game in overtime.
"Only one team can win the state tournament and our guys were proud of the way that they responded," coach Bryan Mulvany said. "We got a goal in the last four seconds of regulation to force overtime and it would have been really easy for our guys to not battle that hard, not battle until the last second ticked off the clock, but we needed all of them."
Junior forward Will Isaac led the Greyhounds with 20 goals, followed by senior forward Bryce Hull with 14.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Cameron Gantz (defender), Jared Lepard (defender), Logan McCrary (midfielder), Justin Swavely (forward) and Kurt Taylor (defender), sophomores Alec Bollinger (midfielder), Nathan Steinhauser (defender), Colby Ross (forward) and Connor Williams (midfielder) and freshmen Nick Isaac (forward) and Tyler Lantzy (defender).
The Greyhounds, who lose eight seniors, went 3-1-1 in the OCC-Ohio to finish second behind Pickerington North (5-0) and ahead of Gahanna (3-2), Reynoldsburg (1-2-2), Pickerington Central (1-3-1) and Lancaster (0-5).
"I told them the hard part is not getting to the top of the mountain, the hard part is staying there and they continue to push the expectations of this program," Mulvany said. "They were given a program that had sky-high expectations and they kept them there, and they ought to be proud of that."
Volleyball team closes with winning mark
The girls volleyball team finished 13-10 overall, losing at sixth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 25-20, 26-24, 24-26, 25-18 in the second round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 19.
The 16th-seeded Greyhounds won at 14th-seeded Canal Winchester 26-24, 25-19, 13-25, 25-21 in the first round Oct. 17.
Grove City went 3-7 in the OCC-Ohio to tie Lancaster for fourth behind Pickerington North (9-1), Gahanna (8-2) and Pickerington Central (6-4) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (1-9).
Right-side hitter Emily Moore, who was the Greyhounds' only senior, was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district. She finished with 144 kills.
"She's been great," coach Alan Pham said. "She provided very good leadership and is a great role model for the young (players). She loved the team and they certainly loved her back. It's been a wonderful experience to have her in the program and she'll be missed."
Pham called wins over Gahanna (25-17, 21-25, 25-21, 25-22 on Oct. 3) and Kilbourne (20-25, 25-20, 25-14 on Sept. 16 in the Worthington Invitational) highlights of the season.
Grove City played in the postseason without 6-foot-3 freshman middle hitter Emily Parrett, who was out with an injury.
Sophomore outside hitter Molly Michalak (222 kills) was second-team all-league, and junior libero Emily Scholl (35 aces) was honorable mention all-league.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Kylie Chaney (setter; 352 assists), Cierra Dunn (middle hitter; 119 kills, 52 blocks), Mya Linder (defensive specialist), Kelli Schultz (setter; 289 assists) and Maria Uhrig (defensive specialist), sophomore Lexi Bapst (outside hitter; 144 kills, 37 aces) and freshman Lauren Lucas (right-side hitter/outside hitter).