Despite losing a pair of key athletes from last spring, the Westerville South High School boys track and field team entered the season with familiar goals.
The Wildcats are hoping to challenge in the competitive OCC-Buckeye Division while also excelling during the postseason, leading to the Division I state meet June 1 and 2 at Ohio State.
The Wildcats are looking to replace 2017 graduate Dom-inique Long, who finished third in the 400 meters (48.39 seconds) at state last season. He is playing football at Michigan State.
"The boys are looking strong," said Jimmy Gaul, who shares coaching duties with his father, Jim. "We have some pretty solid competitors in every event area and that's ultimately what it takes to achieve things as a team. Every group is working hard. I like how things are shaking out."
Back are senior Jaelen Gill (sprints), junior Bankole Abimbola (sprints) and sophomore Ibukunoluwa Alfred (sprints), who were part of the 400 relay that finished ninth (43.19) at state last season.
Gill, an Ohio State football signee, again is splitting time between track and baseball.
Senior Elton Sunnyway, another member of the 400 relay last season, is not competing this spring.
South opened March 26 by finishing third (70.97 points) behind champion Gahanna (99.96) in the seven-team Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central. Alfred, juniors Gideon Abimbola (sprints) and Padi Akrobettoe (sprints) and sophomore Michael Mansaray (sprints) won the 400 relay (44.61), and senior George-Sedgewick Patil (high jump, hurdles) won the high jump (6 feet).
South then finished fifth (67) in the eight-team Panther Invitational on April 6 at Hilliard Darby behind champion Hilliard Davidson (126). Senior Malik Powell (long jump, hurdles, sprints) won the long jump (20-9), Patil won the 300 hurdles (41.91) and Akrobettoe, Alfred, Mansaray and Powell finished first in the 400 relay (44.54).
"I'm looking forward to this season," Powell said. "Our team is doing great. We're working hard and hopefully we will have a couple people make it to state."
Other key athletes should be seniors Alexander Ayoola (sprints), Rehoboth Ogundare (pole vault), Anthony Parham (throws), Carson Pfeiffer (pole vault), Malachi Rispress (distance) and Nathan Ware (distance), juniors Jonathan Kirk (throws), Cole Koehler (distance) and Reece Marcelain (distance) and sophomore Ryan De Nijs (distance).
Last season, South finished second (117) in the league meet behind Olentangy Orange (187).
Girls track team returns solid group
The girls track team returns a solid nucleus led by senior Kayla Silva (sprints) and junior Peyton Guice (sprints, high jump, hurdles), who were part of the eighth-place 400 relay (49.22) last season at regional.
"We have a good group of girls that are working their butts off and they're excited about getting the opportunity to watch them grow throughout the course of the season," Jimmy Gaul said.
South finished fourth (54.91) in the seven-team Hammond Relays behind champion Lancaster (111.94). Guice, Silva, senior Isabelle Coan (sprints) and junior Sommer Pitzer (sprints) were second in the 400 relay (51.82), and freshman Caroline Sheridan was second in the pole vault (9-6).
The Wildcats finished eighth (13) in the eight-team Panther Invitational behind champion Darby (136) as Silva won the 100 (12.55).
Other key contributors should be seniors Mackenzie Arens (high jump, hurdles) and Bryanna Sheppard (throws), juniors Jacqueline Boadi (long jump, hurdles), Elia Bouton (distance), Maria Hays (sprints), Janai Jenkins (sprints) and Grace Livingston (sprints), sophomores Josephine Appiah (sprints, jumps), Kaitlyn Ginn (pole vault), Cara Jennings (pole vault), Shae Johnston (sprints, hurdles), Ayden Jones (sprints) and Melanie Kowalski (distance) and freshman Elizabeth Blais (sprints).
"It's very exciting to see what everyone has, where everyone is at in terms of their performances and starting piecing our lineups together, and (to) give the kids an opportunity to put all their hard work in the offseason into practice and competition," Jimmy Gaul said.
Last season, South finished fourth (59) in the league meet behind champion Orange (155.66).
A key loss to graduation was Brielle Collier, who finished fourth in the 300 hurdles (43.45) and fifth in the 100 hurdles (program-record 14.41) last season at state.
Boys volleyball team faces rebuilding
After losing all but one player from her starting lineup to graduation, fourth-year boys volleyball coach Vicki Phillips knew she would face a rebuilding process this season.
South advanced to a Division I state quarterfinal last season, losing to eventual champion Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-18, 25-19, 25-16 to finish 20-8 overall.
"We're back to very basic passing, setting, serving, all that kind of stuff," Phillips said. "It's all the fundamentals, learning them and making sure that they know what's going on. You have to get a different mindset. You have to start back at ground zero and work yourself back up."
Senior outside hitter Josh Coffey is the only returning starter, while senior middle hitter Max Perry also received playing time a year ago.
Senior setter Roberto Cardona played junior varsity last season, and senior middle hitter Adel Abdelhadi is a transfer from Westerville North.
Seniors Parker Ahlers (outside hitter), Ludwig Centeno (defensive specialist/right-side hitter), Pedro Cordero (setter) and Brayan Figueroa (defensive specialist) are new to the sport.
There is no j.v. team this season.
"I was just hoping we would have a team," Phillips said. "We only have eight (players), so that's been a struggle."
The Wildcats started 0-2, losing league matches to Olentangy 25-2, 25-14, 25-10 on April 3 and Olentangy Liberty 25-7, 25-14, 25-12 on April 5. South played Orange on April 10.
Last season, South went 8-0 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish first ahead of runner-up Olentangy (6-2).
Key losses to graduation were setter Roman Szwabinsky, who was OCC-Buckeye Player of the Year and first-team all-region, and outside hitter Deion Woodson, who was first-team all-region and all-league.
Sophomore, newcomer to lead tennis team
The boys tennis team should be led by sophomore Anthony Vilardo and junior Raphael Guilhem, an exchange student from France.
Guilhem is playing first singles and Vilardo is teaming with senior Chloe Meyers at first doubles.
Vilardo led South in a Division I sectional last season, as he came within one win from advancing to district.
Meyers missed the girls season last fall with an ankle injury and received approval from the OHSAA to compete this spring.
South opened April 5 with a 5-0 loss to Olentangy in OCC-Buckeye play. The Wildcats' match against Gahanna was postponed April 9 because of bad weather and will be played May 4. They played Liberty on April 10 in a league match.
Also back are sophomores Allen Liu and Quan Phan.
Freshman Adrian Self teamed with Liu to play second doubles against Olentangy.
"We have a little more experience even though we don't have a lot of guys," fourth-year coach Ryan French said. "We have a foreign-exchange student from France who is our No. 1 player, so hopefully he'll have a good season. Anthony will be playing singles and doubles."
*April 5 -- vs. Olentangy
April 9 -- vs. Gahanna
*April 10 -- at Olentangy Liberty
April 11 -- vs. Newark
*April 12 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 17 -- vs. Westerville North
*April 19 -- at Westerville Central
April 20 -- Grandview at McKinley Park
April 23 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
May 1 -- vs. Watkins Memorial
May 2 -- vs. Groveport
May 4 -- vs. Gahanna
TRACK & FIELD
March 26 -- Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central
April 6 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby
April 10 -- vs. Centennial and Oakstone Academy
April 14 -- Hank Smith Invitational at Heath
April 17 -- at Gahanna
April 20 -- Wildcat Invitational at home
April 24 -- at Newark
April 27 -- Marion Harding Night Invitational
May 1 -- vs. Westerville North
May 3 -- Debbie Merriman meet at home
May 10, 12 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Olentangy Orange
*April 3 -- vs. Olentangy
*April 5 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*April 10 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 12 -- vs. Westerville North
*April 17 -- at Westerville Central
*April 19 -- at Olentangy
*April 24 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
*April 26 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
April 28 -- at Whetstone with Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph
April 30 -- at Thomas Worthington
*May 1 -- at Westerville North
*May 3- vs. Westerville Central
May 8 -- vs. New Albany
May 10 -- vs. Delaware
May 15 -- at Hilliard Darby
Below are the coming schedules for the South baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse and softball teams:
*April 13 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 16 -- Home vs. Westerville North
April 17 -- Home vs. Northland
*April 18 -- At North
*April 12 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
April 18 -- Home vs. Johnstown
*April 12 -- At Liberty
April 17 -- At Big Walnut
*April 12 -- At Liberty
April 13 -- At Pickerington North
April 17 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson