Despite his team's slow start, the expectations haven't changed for first-year Westland High School boys soccer coach Jamie Dato.

Despite his team's slow start, the expectations haven't changed for first-year Westland High School boys soccer coach Jamie Dato.

The Cougars are 1-3-1 entering their home game against Franklin Heights on Tuesday, Sept. 6, but Dato said there is potential for a winning season.

He had a stern message for his team after a 6-1 loss to visiting Pickerington North on Aug. 30, focusing on its commitment to improve. He challenged his players to begin using the drills he has installed in practice in game situations.

"I'm not happy," Dato said. "My expectations are high. We're not getting there quick enough. It's certain players not quite getting it. They're not improving. I don't know if that's my fault. I have to do some different things or it's just the way it is. By now, I thought we'd be maybe 2-2-1. It's not too much different, but it's just the way we've been playing."

Dato coached Grove City for six years, finishing with winning seasons in 2008 (9-6-2) and 2013 (10-7-1). Westland finished 3-10-4 last year and did not have a winning season under Dato's predecessor, Dan Heckler, who led the program for 12 years.

"Individually, the talent is pretty good, but it's not transferring to a team game," Dato said. "There's a lot of individualism and not a team effort. I don't want to lower my expectations. I want to keep them and hopefully raise them up to it."

Dato said the Cougars need to improve their play as a team before getting into OCC-Central Division play, which starts Sept. 13 at Marysville. That will be followed by league games against Dublin Coffman (Sept. 20), Upper Arlington (Sept. 27), Hilliard Davidson (Oct. 6) and Central Crossing (Oct. 14).

Last season, Davidson won the league title and finished as the Division I state runner-up to Cleveland St. Ignatius.

"We have Coffman, Davidson, Marysville and Upper Arlington," Dato said. "It's a gauntlet."

Against North, the Cougars allowed three goals in the first 16 minutes -- all by Reece Allbaugh -- before junior Mitch Burns scored on a penalty kick later in the first half to cut the deficit to 3-1. The Panthers, however, pulled away in the second half.

"We just have to work hard in practice," said Burns, who has a team-high eight goals. "(Dato) said we weren't warming up right (against North) and it showed in the game. We need to practice how you play, work hard in practice and get better results in the game."

Junior goalkeeper Armando Mendez, who has been splitting time in net with sophomore Paul Rains, had eight saves against North.

Westland's win came against Whetstone, 3-2 on Aug. 27 behind two goals from Burns. The Cougars rallied from a 2-0 halftime deficit.

Dato called a 3-all tie at Hilliard Bradley on Aug. 23 another highlight of the season thus far.

Press box named for longtime announcer

Prior to the football team's game against Licking Heights, the press box was named in memory of Dick Curtiss, who died Feb. 15 at age 75.

Curtiss had been Westland's public address announcer for football games since 1970 and also served as the p.a. announcer for boys basketball home games. He has been replaced in both sports by former athletics director Greg Burke.

A plaque honoring Curtiss will be hung in the renovated press box when it is completed next year. Also, the graduating class of 1986 donated a bench in memory of Curtiss, located near the main gate.

"I don't look at them as being big shoes to fill," Burke said. "I look at it as being I like his footsteps, so I will follow in his footsteps. I like the way he did things."

Epling turns in strong effort for golfers

The boys golf team continues to compete without a full lineup, but Eli Epling has been a bright spot, according to coach Brad Kramer.

Epling shot a personal-best 49 for nine holes and had the first birdie of his career Aug. 24 against Central Crossing and Franklin Heights on hole No. 7 at Oakhurst.

Garrett Lawson, who Kramer calls a team leader, shot 46.

Westland competed in the third round of the OCC-Central tournament Aug. 31 at Clover Valley. The final round is Sept. 14 at Darby Creek.