With a veteran squad and a strong defense, the Whetstone High School football team is taking aim at its first winning season since 2013.

With a veteran squad and a strong defense, the Whetstone High School football team is taking aim at its first winning season since 2013.

"I think the experience, leadership and unity we have as seniors helps the rest of the team totally buy into what we're trying to accomplish and how we're going about it," senior quarterback Jack Staggs said.

In a 9-6 season-opening win over Watkins Memorial on Aug 26, Staggs was 8-for-11 passing for 101 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jerrimi Williams, and running back Marcus Benson rushed for 70 yards on 12 carries.

Those are pedestrian numbers for Staggs, who threw for 1,599 yards last season and 2,286 yards in 2014, but that's due to a change in the Braves' offensive philosophy. They have gone from a spread passing attack to a ball-control approach. They also are relying on their stout defense, which returned nine starters.

"It is a big change, but I believe in what the coaches are doing ad I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win," Staggs said as he and his teammates prepared to play Buckeye Valley on Sept. 2. "You don't play football for personal glory. You play to do anything you can do to win and share that with your teammates."

The Braves are stressing the importance of maintaining a family atmosphere this season, which continues Friday, Sept. 9, at home against Whitehall. The Rams defeated Ready 39-25 in their opener Aug. 26 and played Northland on Sept. 2.

"We're close as a team and very close as a senior class," said linebacker Miles Poff, the son of coach Don Poff. "We're motivated to play for each other."

An example of that was when senior Bailey Waitkus kicked the extra point after Williams' touchdown. It marked the first time a Whetstone female student-athlete had scored in a football game.

"Bailey is a great athlete and excels in everything she does, from soccer to softball," Miles Poff said. "We've all known her for a long time and she's really been welcomed by the team. Personally, I think it's a really cool boundary for her to break. It's good for the school and the community."

The Braves will try to sharpen their offense in hopes of keeping their defense fresh. Many players are competing on both sides of the ball for the first time this season.

"We've had some coaching changes and (1996 Mifflin graduate) Curtese Poole is our new offensive coordinator," Miles Poff said. "My dad coached him in high school and he went to (the University of Minnesota) and transferred to Kansas. He was a quarterback and linebacker. Our coaches thought the best chance for us to win is to control the ball, limit turnovers and let our defense play.

"Our defense really became one of our strengths near midseason last year and we only lost two players from that group. We want to leave our legacy as a class and for us to do that, we have to play lights-out on defense."

Whitehall, which won last year's meeting 22-16 and went on to finish 6-4, is led on offense by running back Siraj Muhammad and quarterback DeShante Vaughn, both seniors.

Against Ready, Muhammad accounted for 188 total yards, including 113 rushing, and scored four touchdowns. Vaughn was 19-for-26 passing for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

Girls soccer team rounding into shape

The girls soccer team is rounding into shape.

"We have a number of first-year players who I don't believe thought the amount of conditioning needed to play this sport was that great," said coach Kerry Nixon, whose team was 2-2 after beating Franklin Heights 4-1 on Sept. 1. "Then we had two girls unable to compete against Reynoldsburg in the opener (a 7-0 loss on Aug. 25) and were a bit shorthanded with only 14 girls dressing.

"I think everyone took note in that game. First of all, we had to adjust the lineup and we moved Bailey Waitkus from the midfield to the back to help. We trailed 2-0 at halftime and wanted to play to get back into it and moved Bailey back out for her offense. Between our conditioning, being shorthanded and changes in the lineup, it wasn't pretty."

The Braves then lost to Westland 3-2 on Aug. 27 before beating Whitehall 9-0 on Aug. 30 behind four goals from freshman midfielder Misa Norris.

"We got healthier, got girls into their positions and have done better with conditioning, and it showed," Nixon said. "Misa is the holding midfielder we've been looking for in this program for years. She plays the role perfectly and brings a lot of energy. We've moved Callie Umbarger from forward or midfield to the back and she's been awesome.

"I think Haylee Thomas-Speigle has been excellent, along with Bailey. But we expect that from them. They're just so solid."

Girls volleyball team forced to alter lineup

The girls volleyball team was only two matches into the season when an injury forced coach Errole Rembert to alter his lineup.

Junior middle hitter Whitney Staggs, who was named first-team all-City League-North Division last season, injured an ankle during practice Aug. 22 and was still on crutches Sept. 1.

"We don't know how long she will be out yet, but now that the girls have had some time, they've made the adjustments," Rembert said. "We had girls missing matches during our summer league and we still won the league because we have a complete team."

The Braves responded by defeating East 25-5, 25-8, 25-9 on Aug. 25 and Linden-McKinley 25-9, 25-8, 25-17 on Aug. 30. They were 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the City-North after beating Northland 20-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17, 17-15 on Sept. 1.

Whetstone's first match against the defending league champion is Sept. 15 at Centennial.

"We moved Angel Bagley from the outside to replace Whitney and join Sofia McLemore as our middle hitters," Rembert said. "The twins (Allie McKeel and Sydney McKeel) are playing outside for Angel, with Allie taking over in the front row and Sydney in the back row. I'm very happy with the way all the girls have responded."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek

Schedules

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

CROSS COUNTRY

Sept. 10 -- Northland Invitational at Woodward Park

BOYS GOLF

*Sept. 8 -- Briggs and Centennial at Raymond Memorial

*Sept. 13 -- League tri-match at TBA

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 8 -- Home vs. Horizon Science Academy

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Fisher Catholic

*Sept. 13 -- At Columbus International

GIRLS TENNIS

*Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Northland

Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley

*Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Linden-McKinley

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 8 -- Home vs. Columbus International

Sept. 10 -- At Toledo Emmanuel Baptist Christian with Toledo Rogers

*Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Mifflin

*League contest