As a freshman at Westland High School, Kevin Simms joined the cross country team looking for a sport to complement his baseball career.

As a freshman at Westland High School, Kevin Simms joined the cross country team looking for a sport to complement his baseball career.

Before joining the team, most of his running had been around the bases. Three years later, the senior has emerged as the Cougars' top runner.

"Kevin struggled quite a bit his freshman year, but all that hard work has really translated into some big improvement," coach Josh Barkeloo said.

Simms has been Westland's top runner in three of the team's four events,including a season-best 18 minutes, 25 seconds in theMcGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial on Sept. 6. He ran a career-best 18:21 at last season's OCC-Ohio Division meet.

"He'll definitely compete at district and depending on how we get seeded, I definitely would like to see a kid like Kevin move on to the regional," Barkeloo said. "It just all depends. He's on track to continue to improve to where we kind of want him to be, which would be right there flirting around the regional qualifying times."

Simms, who as a freshman chose cross countryover band,ran behind some talented athletes when he first joined the team. He became close friends with Mustafa Ahmed, who is considered the top runner the program had produced.Ahmed, who is attending the Ohio State-Newark, returns to Westland occasionally to assist in practices.

"Between Mustafa and coach Barkeloo, they have both made me a better person and a better runner," Simms said. "Every time I've run with Mustafa he has given me pointers for race day, what I should do and different strategies I should use."

Last season, Simms was the third runner behind Ahmed and Abdul Farah. Simms rose to the top spot after Ahmed graduated and Farah decided not to competehis senior year.

"With me being the only guy senior, I basically had to step up and fill a leadership and No. 1 role," Simms said.

Jordan Harris has been the team's No. 2 runner, finishing second to Simms in three of the four events. The junior was the No. 1 (17:56) at the Canal Winchester Invitational on Aug. 27.

Sophomore Ben Warner has been the team's third runner.

"We started off slow this year, but we're starting to drop our times, we're starting to rank up higher as a team," Simms said.

"We don't formally name captains, but Kevin is leader on the team," Barkeloo said. "All the kids look to Kevin as far as advice. If I'm not around they look to Kevin and sometimes more to him than they do to me."

Simms would like to play baseball and run cross country in college. He has received some interest from Muskingum College for cross country.

•The girls team has fielded an incomplete lineup for two of the four events, with Brooklyn Harris and Kristin Draves emerging as the team's top runners.

Harris, a freshman, has been the top runner in three of the four races, including a season-best 22:11 at the Canal Winchester event. Draves, a junior, had a season-best 22:19 at the McGowan Invitational.

The Cougars, who competed in the Erin L. Nance Fall Distance Classic last Saturday at London, will run Saturdayin the Ray Russell Invitational at Jonathan Alder.

"We're taking our lumps," Barkeloo said. "I thought that we would. We're in a very tough league, but the kids are improving. Their individual progression is where I wanted it to be."