As was the case last season, the Watterson High School boys track and field team is being led by its distance corps.
That could pay off in a bigger way during the coming postseason considering the Eagles have moved down to Division II after being in Division I the past two seasons.
Seniors Matthew Hartel, Nick Kuraly and Patrick Monnin have returned for the Eagles, who opened March 27 by scoring 95.5 points to place second in the 11-team Hamilton Township Booster Invitational behind Whitehall (107.5).
"Our distance group will definitely be a strong point for our team this year," Kuraly said. "(Having) our top cross country runners around for track is important, and our (3,200-meter relay) will be flexible because of our distance depth."
Kuraly finished 10th in the 3,200 meters (9 minutes, 51.22 seconds) in the Division I regional meet last year and is the lone holdover from the 3,200 relay that placed 11th (8:09.09) at regional.
Kuraly was joined on the 3,200 relay last season by 2017 graduates Nick Haley and Ross Kuhn and senior Shane Merklin, who is not back with the team.
At the Booster Invitational, Kuraly won the 1,600 (4:58.88) and 3,200 (10:53.86), Monnin was runner-up in the 3,200 (10:57.3) and Hartel was runner-up in the 800 (2:06.87).
Hartel and Monnin also joined freshman Will Garey and senior Matthew Lamb on the 3,200 relay that finished first (8:50.29).
Freshman Charlie Nowinski is another strong distance runner for first-year coach Adam Kessler, a former youth assistant track coach who works in the fitness industry.
Kessler took over in the offseason as both the boys and girls track coach after Matt McGowan headed the boys program the past nine seasons and Sherry Yoakam was the girls coach the past eight seasons. Steve Taliaferro served as co-boys coach last season as well.
"I'm excited to see what we can do," Kessler said. "With our boys, we've got a lot of experience and senior depth, especially on the distance side, so we're probably going to lean on that."
Senior Tony Rogner is leading the sprint corps, with senior Yahir Sarmiento competing in both the sprints and hurdles.
Senior Holden Jones is the team's top long jumper and also runs sprints.
Senior Erik Placke returns in the shot put and discus, where he's joined by senior Drew Davis.
"We might not have quite the (participation) numbers I'd like, but I think we've got some boys that will really place high," Kessler said. "I've told the kids to have fun."
Girls track team set for strong year
Despite losing both of its Division I state competitors from a year ago, the girls track team returns several key athletes and has a group of strong newcomers as it looks to defend its CCL championship.
At the 12-team Booster Invitational, the Eagles scored 165 points to capture the title.
"The girls have some returning letterwinners, and we've got a young, potentially talented freshman class," Kessler said. "We might take our lumps this year, but the future is looking pretty good."
Finishing first in the Booster Invitational were senior Kelsi Connors in the 1,600 (5:52.9), junior Logan Paeglis in the high jump (4 feet, 8 inches), junior Emily Latshaw in the 800 (2:36.38), freshman Erin Connors in the 300 hurdles (50.01), the 1,600 relay (4:20.1) and the 3,200 relay (10:30.7).
Erin Connors and Kelsi Conners were joined in the 1,600 relay by junior Jane Porter and freshman Anna Kessler, while Latshaw and Kelsi Connors ran in the 3,200 relay along with sophomore Bridget Dougherty and freshman Brooklyn Brush.
Seniors Sarah O'Brien (distance) and Chloe Pi (sprints), sophomores Natalie Garrett (discus, shot put), Annie Silleck (hurdles, sprints) and Julia Walling (hurdles) and freshmen Kilyn McGuff (long jump) and Cailin O'Reilly (high jump, sprints) also figure to be key contributors.
The biggest losses from last year's team were 2017 graduates Michelle Lehmann and Sam Mikula. Lehmann is now competing for Ball State after placing fourth at state in the long jump (17-10 1/2), while Mikula is now competing for Cincinnati after finishing 15th in the 3,200 (11:27.24) at state.
Maggie Malone, who finished 13th at regional in the shot put (33-4 3/4), also was lost to graduation.
"I'd like to see if we can get a couple relays into the regional," coach Kessler said. "A lot depends on how well these freshmen develop. With the girls, we have potential in a lot of different events."
Youth permeates boys tennis team
The boys tennis team opened March 23 with a 5-0 victory over Reynoldsburg in the first round of the Division I Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament before losing to Wellington by the same score March 26.
The Eagles, who will face New Albany in the second round of the OTCA tournament at a date to be determined, have five freshmen among their top eight players.
Junior Chris Finissi has returned at first singles after holding that position most of last season when he reached the second round of the Division I sectional at Hilliard Davidson.
Freshmen Nick Geelan and Johnny DiOrio also are playing singles for Watterson, which is looking to improve on last season when it finished 6-6 overall and went 3-1 in the CCL to place second behind St. Charles (4-0).
"The future is looking good," second-year coach Ryan Schwieterman said.
Freshmen Adam Pavliga and Luke Ritchie have been teaming up at first doubles.
Junior returnee Jacob Devendra, junior Dylan Tucker and freshman Cole Petrilla also are doubles players.
DeVendra lost in the first round at sectional in singles a year ago.
"Finissi played a lot in the offseason," Schwieterman said. "The key is, can he get some confidence early on?
"Geelan has played a lot in tournaments, and Luke Ritchie has played in some area tournaments. Johnny has the strokes but doesn't have the experience yet. I want to see the freshmen trying to develop more of a strategy in their matches, so it's about them getting experience."
March 23 -- at Reynoldsburg
March 26 -- at Wellington
April 10 -- at Village Academy
April 11 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
April 16 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*April 17 -- at DeSales
April 18 -- vs. Bexley
April 21 -- Hilliard Davidson Doubles Classic
*April 23 -- vs. Ready
*April 24 -- vs. St. Charles
April 25 -- at Westerville Central
April 26 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
April 30 -- at Pickerington North
*May 1 -- vs. Hartley
May 2 -- at Central Crossing
May 3 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
May 7 -- vs. Whetstone
May 8 -- at Delaware
TRACK & FIELD
March 27 -- Hamilton Township Booster Invitational
April 7 -- Red Edwards Golden Eagle Relays at Big Walnut
April 10 -- at Marysville
April 13 -- Russ Owen-Bexley Relays
April 17 -- Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central
April 20 -- Wildcat Invitational at Westerville South
April 24 -- at London
April 25 -- Braves Invitational at Whetstone
April 27 -- Ranger Invitational at Hamilton Township
May 4 -- Larkin/Crosten Invitational at Upper Arlington
May 8, 10 -- CCL meet at Hartley
Below are the coming schedules for the Watterson baseball, girls lacrosse, softball and boys volleyball teams:
April 13 -- Home vs. Youngstown Ursuline
April 14 -- At Columbus Academy
*April 16 -- At Ready
April 17 -- At Johnstown
*April 18 -- At St. Charles
April 13 -- At Upper Arlington
*April 16 -- At Granville
April 13 -- Home vs. Groveport
April 14 -- At Dublin Coffman (DH)
*April 16 -- Home vs. DeSales
April 17 -- Home vs. Olentangy
April 12 -- At Briggs
*April 17 -- At St. Charles