Elliott Cook has entered what Dublin Jerome High School boys cross country coach Dave Wadenstierna calls the "best-runner-in-the-state conversation."

After making back-to-back appearances at the Division I state meet as an individual qualifier, the junior ran a personal-best 15 minutes, 26.9 seconds in winning the Celtic Clash on Sept. 22.

That also is central Ohio's unofficial best time this season.

"My summer was really focused," Cook said. "I could really tell a difference in my strength from last year to this year. Around August, I could really notice my workouts were tougher and more designed for my kind of running, and I was succeeding in the different workouts my coaches were giving me. Last year, I wasn't taking care of the little things like I am this year."

Cook burst onto the area scene as a freshman, finishing 46th in 16:07.5 at the Division I state meet, and followed with a 43rd-place finish (16:19.9) at state last fall.

One area of improvement he's focused on is how to not lose early momentum during the second mile of a race.

"My biggest challenge would be the middle of the race when my competition is trying to drop me," Cook said. "They try to take advantage of my weak spot and try to run away from me so that by the end I have no kick left. The workouts and training I've done have been designed to help me in the middle. I've done a lot of 1K runs and then my coaches will throw in a gasser, which is one rep where I'll go significantly faster than the others to simulate a surge."

Cook ran 15:34.59 on Sept. 1 to win the Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson.

Of the 11 runners from central Ohio who finished ahead of Cook at last year's state meet, seven graduated, including his former teammate in Kellen Posacki, who placed 26th (16:06.3).

Cook placed fifth at the 1,600 in the state track and field meet last spring.

"The coaches had a feeling this would be Elliott's breakout year after two consecutive solid showings at the state meet," Wadenstierna said. "He's such a gifted athlete. The scary thing is that Elliott still has plenty of room for growth. The coaching staff is focused on helping him get a little better every day and reaching his potential this season.

"The coaches are really encouraged by the growth of our team, many of whom are gaining their first varsity experience."

At the 11-team Celtic Clash, Jerome scored 64 points to finish third behind Jonathan Alder (53) and Hilliard Davidson (64), which won the second-place tiebreaker.

Cook was followed by Arjun Dhankani (fourth, 16:27.8), Kyle Von Cannon (10th, 16:45), Andrew McPherson (21st, 17:17.3), Andrew Bartsch (28th, 17:32.7), Carson Smith (32nd, 17:42.1) and Travis Cline (34th, 17:43.4).

Cook, who went on a significant growth spurt just before going into eighth grade and is about 6-foot-1, was encouraged by his uncle, Aaron Rowe, to come out for running when he was in middle school.

Rowe is an assistant coach at Jerome.

Cook's sister, freshman Audrey Cook, is one of the top runners on the girls team. She placed 13th (20:24) in the Celtic Clash to finish as the team's No. 2 runner behind Madison Weigle (eighth, 20:03.1), as Jerome placed fourth (91) of nine teams, behind champion Jonathan Alder (49).

"If I had one thing I'd like to do this season, it would probably be to go to NIKE Nationals (after the season), but that's a stretch," Elliott Cook said. "I'm going to have to train hard and pull the season together. More of a realistic goal is to get in the top five or 10 at state. I've been checking the rankings and different races, and I see some of the guys I'll definitely be racing against. Definitely staying healthy (is key). Now is the time to be getting the miles in and putting hard workouts in."

Girls soccer team in hunt for OCC title

The girls soccer team was 8-3 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before facing Hilliard Bradley on Sept. 25.

The Jaguars entered the game 5-3-2 overall and 3-0-1 in the league.

The Celtics had won six games in a row, including beating Coffman 1-0 on Sept. 11, before falling 4-1 to Upper Arlington on Sept. 18.

Then on Sept. 20, Jerome scored three second-half goals to beat Hilliard Darby 5-3 in a league contest.

The Celtics have OCC-Cardinal games remaining Tuesday, Oct. 2, at home against Delaware and Oct. 9 at Scioto. The Irish were 2-1-1 in the league before playing Thomas Worthington on Sept. 25, while Delaware was 0-3-1 in the league before facing Worthington Kilbourne on Sept. 25.

"We started out a little rough with some competitive teams and some losses, but the goal is always to do better each game and progress throughout the season," coach Kelly Brothers said.

Riley Mullady, who scored the only goal against Coffman, and Emma Sears have led the offense.

Sophie Magilligan, who joins Mullady and Sears at forward, is among the most improved players in the program and senior Sam Poptic has led the defense, according to Brothers.

Field hockey team making progress

First-year field hockey coach Cara Wolfgram Evans is pleased with the improvements she's been seeing from her team during the season's first half.

The Celtics' biggest highlights include a 4-2 win over Scioto on Sept. 10 and a 5-0 win over Coffman on Sept. 12, with Jaqueline McCully scoring three goals against the Shamrocks.

Jerome was 5-5 overall and 2-3 in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League-West Division before playing Olentangy on Sept. 25 and UA on Sept. 26.

"The team is progressing exactly as I would want them to be," Wolfgram Evans said. "Every game the team is getting stronger and working better with each other. After each game, the team will talk about what they can learn from the experience and how they can change for the next game. This allows the team to grow and bond with every game we play. I would like to see the team continue to grow with their passing, communication on the field and attack corners."

Through 10 games, McCully (forward) had seven goals, Katelyn Root (midfielder) had three goals and Brynna Pope (forward) had two goals. Audrey Evans (defender), Olivia Brooks (midfielder) and Aleyah Bonaventura (defender) have been among the other standouts, according to Wolfgram Evans.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

Schedules

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

FIELD HOCKEY

Oct. 1 -- Home vs. Columbus School for Girls

Oct. 3 -- At Bexley

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 29 -- Jerome Honorary Invitational at Hickory Hills

Oct. 2 -- Division I sectional at Denison Golf Club. Top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 9 at Apple Valley.

GIRLS GOLF

Oct. 2 -- Division I sectional at Royal American. Top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 9 at Cooks Creek.

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 27 -- Home vs. New Albany

*Oct. 2 -- At Delaware

GIRLS SOCCER

*Oct. 2 -- Home vs. Delaware

GIRLS TENNIS

Sept. 28 -- Home vs. Pickerington North

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 27 -- At Berlin. The Celtics beat the Bears 25-18, 20-25, 25-14, 25-10 on Aug. 28.

*Oct. 2 -- Home vs. Darby. The Celtics beat the Panthers 30-28, 26-24, 27-29, 25-21 on Aug. 30.

*League contest