With numerous returnees -- including a strong contingent of sprinters -- along with several potentially talented first-year participants, the Whitehall-Yearling High School boys track and field team entered the season with high hopes.

The Rams opened on a positive note, winning the 11-team Booster Invitational on March 27 at Hamilton Township with 107.5 points, ahead of runner-up Watterson (95.5).

"Overall, we just wanted to see what we have," said second-year coach Aaron Johnson, whose team also won the meet last season. "We have a lot of new faces. We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we have a lot of new people. We mixed some things up, gave some people opportunities to show us something and we had some positive results."

Junior Christopher Ceasar led Whitehall, winning the 110-meter hurdles (15.29 seconds) and finishing third in the 300 hurdles (42.04). He also joined seniors J.T. Wellman (400) and O.C. Wellman (sprints, hurdles) and sophomore Christian Gordon (sprints, long jump) on the first-place 800 relay (1:34.84).

"It was a strong start," Ceasar said. "When it gets later in the season, it's going to be great. We have to get these (young) guys coached up and mentored up, so we can get our handoffs much stronger."

Gordon, O.C. Wellman, senior Joachim Bailey (sprints) and junior Raashad Strickland (sprints) won the 400 relay (44.94).

"We have some new faces in our relays but they really stepped up, so I'm looking for improvement from them and to see what they can do," Johnson said. "Our hurdles are going to be strong this year. We have new faces in the field events, but we really have some talent there."

The Rams then finished eighth (45) of 17 teams in the Newark Invitational on March 31 behind champion Big Walnut (99). Ceasar won the 110 hurdles (15.0) and teamed with J.T. Wellman, O.C. Wellman and junior Kaylyn Anderson (hurdles, high jump) to win the 800 relay (1:33.19).

Gordon, O.C. Wellman, Anderson and juniors Chris Charles (distance) and Keon Freeman (throws) are in their first season with the team.

Also back are senior Mikel Wilson (distance, middle distance), juniors Raymell Byrd (sprints, high jump), Zach Franklin (sprints), D'Andre Layne (middle distance) and Alex Rodriguez (distance) and sophomores Stephaun Ellis (throws), Carter Paddock (800) and Alexander Summers (hurdles).

"Coach Johnson is a great coach and a great mentor to us," Caesar said. "What he's doing here is really going to help us later in the season."

The Rams qualified five athletes for the Division I regional meet last season and did not score, but with the strong returning group, Johnson expects better performances this season.

"I'm trying to implement more of my philosophies as we come into the new year," Johnson said. "They're responding. It takes time like anything else does, but we have a great group of kids. They listen well. They take my ideas and they understand it's going to help them later down the road. Track is a process."

The Rams finished third (100.5) in the MSL-Ohio Division meet last season behind champion Grandview (146), and Johnson hopes they can improve on that effort this spring.

"If we keep progressing, we can really make some strides," he said. "We finished third last year, so obviously the goal is to win the league. We have the talent and the hard work and the number (of athletes) to do that this year."

Girls team to rely on underclassmen

Third-year girls track coach Stephanie Wilcox expects a talented group of underclassmen to help lead the team.

The Rams opened by finishing seventh (39) of 12 teams in the Booster Invitational at Hamilton Township behind champion Watterson (165).

Sophomore Liana Betts was second in the discus (99 feet, 9 inches) and seventh in the shot put (29-8).

Senior Paula Wilson (distance) and sophomores Selamawit Alebachew (distance), Pashience Sellers (distance) and Shamya Wilson (distance) were fourth in the 3,200 relay (11:28.36).

Other key returnees are juniors Milan Atkins (hurdles), Deja King (sprints), Kashell King (hurdles) and Tyrianna Stewart (sprints, hurdles) and sophomores Janatie Alvarez (sprints), Hannah Rubio (throws) and Izzy Simmons (sprints).

Wilcox said Alvarez should anchor the 400 and 800 relays.

Freshmen Saunge Sellers (sprints) and Ryyair Smith (sprints) also should contribute.

Last season, Whitehall was sixth (46) in the MSL-Ohio meet behind champion Grandview (144) and did not have any regional qualifiers.

"We should be closer to the top of the pack (in the league), but meets just started, so I haven't seen what everyone is doing yet," Wilcox said. "We don't have a lot of field events people. We need high jumpers and long jumpers, so I need to make some of those happen somewhere."

The Rams did not score in the Newark Invitational.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

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Schedules

TRACK & FIELD

March 27 – Invitational at Hamilton Township

March 31 – Newark Invitational

April 3 – at Grove City with Canal Winchester

April 6 – Diller Invitational at Buckeye Valley

April 10 – vs. Bexley and Licking Heights

April 13 – Boys: Hartley Invitational; Girls: Bexley Relays

April 18 – Gahanna Relays

April 20 – Pat McMillan Invitational at home

April 24 – at Columbus School for Girls with Amanda-Clearcreek, Madison Christian and Cristo Rey

April 28 – Gary Smith Invitational at Thomas Worthington

May 1 – vs. Buckeye Valley

May 8, 11 – MSL-Ohio meet at London

Below are the coming schedules for the Whitehall-Yearling baseball, softball and boys tennis teams:

BASEBALL

April 5 – Home vs. Briggs

April 7 – Home vs. Westland (DH)

*April 9 – At London

*April 11 – Home vs. London

SOFTBALL

April 5 – At Big Walnut

April 7 – At Licking Valley (DH)

*April 9 – At London

*April 11 – Home vs. London

BOYS TENNIS

*April 5 – Home vs. Grandview

*League contest