Westland High School track and field coach Tim Eckard entered his 17th season emphasizing the goals he has instilled throughout his career with the program.
Eckard hopes his athletes can improve their times and distances while also maintaining the program's standards on and off the track.
"I always look forward to this time of the year," Eckard said. "It's always a new group of kids. We have good leadership. We have six captains and they're doing a really good job. ... Hopefully the kids get better throughout the year. Hopefully they buckle down and work harder and keep improving until the middle of May."
Westland opened March 31 in the Newark Invitational, an event Eckard called a solid test to begin the season.
The boys team again should be led by senior Trent Bott, who was the program's lone competitor in the Division I regional meet last season.
Competing in his first regional, Bott fouled on all three of his attempts in the shot put. The disappointing finish is providing motivation for this spring.
"We're working hard on not fouling in practice," Eckard said. "We're hitting that already. He's very determined to break school records. That's one of the reasons he said he's coming back."
Bott, who also has been training in the high jump and sprints, has committed to play football at Findlay. His 2017 season included establishing personal bests in the shot put (48 feet, 11 1/4 inches) and discus (142-6).
Josh Bostic owns the program record in the shot put (52-3 1/2), and Shane Watkins has the high mark in the discus (158-6).
Also back is junior Abdi Aden (hurdles, sprints, jumps), whose 2017 season included winning the 300-meter hurdles (43.2 seconds) in the Best of the South-West meet at Franklin Heights.
Junior Caleb McManaway, who specializes in the discus, said working with Bott since his freshman year has been beneficial.
"We help each other out whenever we have problems," McManaway said. "He'll ask me what he thinks he's doing wrong and I'll ask him what he thinks I'm doing wrong, so it's a joint effort."
Other key returnees include senior Levi Rains (jumps), juniors Isaiah Dukes (sprints), Kevin Reyes (distance), Timmy Wotring (jumps, distance) and Arty Washington (sprints) and sophomore Manuel Rojas (distance).
Others looking to contribute include seniors Matt Bailey (sprints) and Marcus Jones (sprints, jumps) and sophomores Junior Garcia (distance) and Kyle West (sprints).
Senior E.J. Rondez has transferred to Grove City.
"We have some talent in some areas," Eckard said of the boys and girls teams.
The Best of the South-West meet is April 13 at Central Crossing. Last season, the boys placed second with 63 points, behind Grove City (85) and ahead of Central Crossing (59) and Franklin Heights (44).
Westland also will compete in the OCC-Central Division meet May 11 at Dublin Coffman. Last season, the Cougars finished sixth (35) behind champion Coffman (160).
"The OCC is always tough," Eckard said.
Nathans, Ponce should lead girls track team
The girls track team should be led by senior Kaela Ponce and junior Aja Nathans.
Both specialize in distance events, and last season they were members of the ninth-place 3,200 relay (11:24.8) at district.
Nathans credits Eckard and assistant coach Josh Barkeloo for her success.
"(Barkeloo) coaches in a way that he's not super strict, but you know what's expected," Nathans said. "He pushes me a lot."
Other key returnees are junior Taylor Dilley (throws) and sophomores Bre Bostic (sprints), Destinee Lewis (throws), Olivia Schumacher (discus) and Jemiere Wyatt (sprints).
Junior Arryanna Redd (jumps), a transfer from Franklin Heights, should contribute.
Other key contributors should be sophomore Laura Ornelas (throws) and freshman Brenna Gilliam (sprints).
Last season, Westland finished fourth (26) in the Best of the South-West meet behind Grove City (94), Central Crossing (77) and Franklin Heights (56) and sixth (10) in the OCC-Central meet behind champion Hilliard Davidson (156).
TRACK & FIELD
March 31 -- Newark Invitational
April 3 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
April 7 -- Fairfield Union Invitational
April 10 -- at Grove City with Grandview
April 13 -- Best of the South-West at Central Crossing
April 17 -- vs. Columbus West
April 23 -- at Reynoldsburg with Dublin Jerome and Licking Heights
April 28 -- Anthony Wilson Invitational at Franklin Heights
May 11 -- OCC-Central meet at Dublin Coffman
Below are the coming schedules for the Westland baseball and softball teams:
*April 2 -- Home vs. Marysville
April 3 -- Home vs. Briggs
*April 4 -- At Marysville
April 5 -- Home vs. London
*April 6 -- At Dublin Coffman
April 7 -- At Whitehall (DH)
April 2 -- At Canal Winchester
April 7 -- At Briggs (DH)