The Westland High School girls cross country team's love for the sport was evident during its first race of the season.

Competing in the New Albany Invitational on Aug. 20, the girls meet was canceled about midway through the race because of bad weather. At the time, the girls were running in the woods.

"I know our girls were really frustrated that they were halfway through the race and pulled off the course," said coach Josh Barkeloo, who is in his 12th season. "They've been putting their work in all summer and they wanted to finish the race. Unfortunately, weather got in the way. There's a desire to get out there and see what they're capable of."

With the abbreviated opening race, Westland officially opened Aug. 25 by placing second (36 points) behind Worthington Kilbourne (17) in the Run for a Dream Invitational at Columbus State's Delaware campus.

Senior Aja Nathans was fourth of 23 runners in 22 minutes, 40 seconds.

Another sign of the renewed commitment in the program is an increase in numbers. For the first time since Nathans' freshman season, the girls will have a complete team.

"I'd like to see our girls take home some more trophies," Nathans said. "We really haven't had much of a girls team. I'm just happy that we can score."

Freshman Jordyn Anderson has been the team's No. 2 runner. She finished 14th (27:42) in the Run for a Dream Invitational.

Junior Bethony Fay, who was 19th (30:07), is the other returning runner.

Sophomore Maya Suarez and freshman Allison Chapin round out the team.

"A lot of the girls are really new to running and we have a really young team, but we're pretty close," Nathans said. "It's hard being a role model to so many new runners, but I really like it."

Last season, Westland did not have enough runners for a team score in the OCC-Central Division meet. Nathans finished 38th (22:53.15) and Fay placed 40th (23:46.54).

If they remain healthy, the Cougars will record a score in the league meet Oct. 13 at Hilliard Davidson.

At district last season, Nathans was 46th (22:20.48) and Fay was 71st (25:12.53).

"We have some great senior leadership on the girls side," Barkeloo said. "We have some young girls that really want to get in there, work hard and improve."

Boys cross country team has depth

The boys cross country team has 11 runners on its roster.

Senior Kevin Reyes has been the top competitor early in the season. He finished 39th (19:58.3) of 175 runners in the New Albany Invitational while senior Billy Holland, another returnee, was 44th (20:10.8).

Westland finished eighth (237) of 10 teams behind champion New Albany (44).

The Cougars finished second (55) in the Run for a Dream Invitational behind Dublin Jerome (18). Reyes was eighth (18:45) of 114 runners, followed by sophomore newcomer Christian Placencia (18th, 19:42), sophomore Drew Hutchinson (22nd, 19:45) and Holland (23rd, 19:47).

Along with Hutchison, other returnees are senior Timmy Wotring, junior Connor Milligan and sophomores Norman Hendricks and Harrison Jones.

Other runners are freshmen Tyler Aiken, Henry Jones and Izac Medina.

"For the guys, our numbers are up, which is nice," Barkeloo said. "It's a very good mix of senior leadership and some new runners to learn from them."

Last season, Westland was sixth (189) in the OCC-Central meet behind champion Davidson (24).

At district, Reyes was 71st (18:24.44) and Holland placed 83rd (19:00.54).

Football team to play Delaware

First-year football coach Rick Rios saw several positives in his team's season-opening 34-32 loss to visiting Licking Heights on Aug. 24 and hopes to build on that effort.

The Cougars faced Marion-Franklin on Aug. 31 and play host to Delaware on Friday, Sept. 7.

Delaware played Marysville on Aug. 31 and opened with a 24-7 win at Buckeye Valley on Aug. 24.

Last year, Westland defeated Delaware 19-14 for its lone win of the season. The Pacers lead the all-time series 6-5.

Delaware also is under new leadership as Scott Wetzel has replaced Mike Golden, who retired. Wetzel was 5-15 in two seasons at Westerville North and has a career record of 137-61 in 18 seasons, winning the Division III state championship in 2007 at Big Walnut.

Senior quarterback DeShawn Evans led Westland against Licking Heights, completing 29 of 46 passes for 361 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He missed the final six games of last season with a broken right ankle.

"It was definitely good for (Evans) to get back going and being healthy," Rios said. "It was definitely a good start, a good building block for us."

Tight end/wide receiver Anthony Widen caught 12 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Peterson Iresne had 15 carries for 50 yards and two scores.

Linebacker Manuel Mickens had 18 tackles.

"I was really pleased with our effort," Rios said. "It was a typical first game as far as making some little mistakes that we can't afford to make. We got ourselves in a little bit of a hole, but I was really proud of the way our kids fought and dug ourselves out of that hole and came up just a little short."

Quarterback Blake Eiland and running back Jahi Broussard-Nash led Delaware in the opener, as each rushed for more than 100 yards.

"I know (Westland) has good athletes over there," Wetzel said. "They almost beat Licking Heights and Licking Heights has great football teams. ... Westland did beat Delaware last year and maybe they're in the same situation we are where you're trying to find your identity and trying to build your program to the next level.

"We have to go there and it's our only game playing on grass, so I'm sure they're going to play great at home."

Boys soccer team off to good start

The boys soccer team was 2-0-1 before playing Briggs on Aug. 30.

The Cougars defeated Independence 8-5 on Aug. 23 and tied Canal Winchester at 1 on Aug. 28.

Against Independence, Tei Tu Bawi scored three goals and Juan Martinez added two.

Axel Rodriguez scored against Canal Winchester and goalkeeper Trent Beach had eight saves.

"The team is improving from game to game," coach Jamie Dato said. "Take away one bad half against Independence and the team played well during the first three games. The team is coming together defensively and making it tough for opponents to get good shots. The offense is starting to get more opportunities, but needs to take advantage when it gets shots on goal."

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

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Schedules

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 20 -- New Albany Invitational

Aug. 25 -- Run for a Dream Invitational at Columbus State's Delaware campus

Aug. 29 -- Canal Winchester Invitational

Sept. 1 -- Battle of the South-West Invitational at home

Sept. 8 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial

Sept. 15 -- Galion Festival at Amann's Reservoir Park

Sept. 19 -- Arrowhead Invitational at Whetstone

Sept. 29 -- Erin L. Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club

Oct. 3 -- Backwoods Two-Miler at Thornville Sheridan

Oct. 13 -- OCC-Central meet at Hilliard Davidson

Below are the coming schedules for the Westland boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 5 -- Central Crossing at Oakhurst

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 4 -- At Grove City

Sept. 6 -- At Gahanna

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Grove City

Sept. 6 -- At Galion

GIRLS TENNIS

*Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 4 -- At Marysville

*Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman

Sept. 8 -- At Groveport

*League contest