The Westerville South High School boys soccer team enjoyed a breakthrough season, highlighted by defeating Olentangy Liberty 2-1 in a shootout in a Division I district final Oct. 28 at Dublin Jerome.
South finished 11-5-4 overall, losing 4-2 to Jerome in a regional semifinal Nov. 1 at Westerville Central.
The Wildcats erased a 2-0 deficit on goals by seniors Malani Lungu (midfielder) and Mo Abusaiid (midfielder/forward) before the Celtics' Zach Ziolo scored twice to secure his team's win.
Jerome lost to Dublin Coffman 5-0 in a regional final Nov. 4.
"We talked about it all year, they tried to put us in position to be competitive and they got to that position," coach Wynleux Henderson said. "Unfortunately, Jerome's game plan was better tonight than our game plan."
After a first-round bye in district play, the sixth-seeded Wildcats defeated 21st-seeded Logan 2-1 in overtime Oct. 21 and 15th-seeded Canal Winchester 3-0 in a semifinal Oct. 25 before upsetting top-seeded Liberty for their first district title since 1993.
"I know they're disappointed about not advancing (past a regional semifinal), but there's a lot of positives the seniors can walk away with and the underclassmen can look forward to going into next year," Henderson said.
Lungu and Abusaiid were named first-team all-league, and seniors Chandler Cordell (defender) and Brayan Figueroa (defender) and junior Desmond Williams (midfielder) were second-team all-league.
Senior midfielder/forward Chris Lytus was special mention all-league, and senior midfielder/forward Isaac Opoku was honorable mention all-league.
"The season was great," Lytus said. "Everyone put in so much work and it paid off. The season came to an unfortunate end, but being the first team since 1993 to win a district title is a big honor. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end my senior year."
Other players eligible to return are juniors Brandon Garcia (defender/midfielder), Dylan Gary (midfielder/forward), Truman Hutchinson (defen-der/midfielder), Oliver Jones (defen-der), Desmond Koranteng (mid-fielder/forward), Jack Lovell (defen-der), Reece Marcelain (defender/midfielder), Chip McGrew (midfielder/forward), Russell Montemarano (goalkeeper), Wes Rancher (defender/midfielder), Asher Rose (goalie) and Desmond Williams (midfielder), sophomore Anthony Vilardo (midfielder) and freshman Nick Lovell (defender).
South went 2-2-1 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish third behind Liberty (4-0-1) and Central (2-0-3) and ahead of Olentangy (1-1-3), Olentangy Orange (1-2-2) and Westerville North (0-5).
Seniors set tone for boys runners
For cross country coach Jimmy Gaul, saying goodbye to this season's seniors was especially difficult.
The group was part of major milestones for Gaul, including his marriage to Andrea in 2016 and the birth of the couple's first child, Timothy James, in August.
"This group has seen me through a lot in my life, some major life changes," Gaul said. "It's a group that I will always remember for that. ... They've all become tremendous leaders, role models and teammates in unique and individual ways and really have affected the program and affected their teammates in an incredibly positive fashion."
Senior Nathan Ware led the boys team, reaching the Division I regional meet Oct. 28 at Pickerington North and finishing 57th of 129 runners in 17 minutes, 8.37 seconds.
His regional appearance made up for last year's disappointment of missing the latter part of the season with ankle and Achilles injuries.
Ware earned the regional berth by finishing 11th of 119 runners in 16:22.9 in the district 2 meet Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial. South was eighth (208) of 17 teams behind champion North (56).
Junior Cole Koehler was 33rd (17:07.19), followed by senior Malachi Rispress (45th, 17:24.64), sophomores Vilardo (57th, 17:44.47) and Donovan Slattery (62nd, 17:51.46), freshman Liam Allbritton (67th, 17:55.02) and sophomore Isaac Combs (74th, 18:05.27).
"We put our heart and soul into every race and every workout all the way to the end," Koehler said. "We were working towards a pretty high team goal of going to regionals, but we came up short. However, district brought out some amazing performances from a lot of people this season and that's all you can really ask for."
South finished third (84) in the OCC-Buckeye meet Oct. 14 at Hilliard Darby, behind Liberty (31) and Orange (46) and ahead of Olentangy (103), Westerville Central (115) and Westerville North (172).
Ware was seventh of 59 runners in 16:58.12.
"In my four years of running this has been the best team that I have been a part of," Ware said. "Unlike any previous year, we were able to complete a summer of dedicated training and as a team it showed greatly in our fall races."
Sophomore Ryan de Nijs is another runner eligible to return.
"I'm very excited about what the future holds with the group that is coming back and the experience that those young guys got this year," Gaul said.
Junior Ellie Bouton led the girls team by finishing 45th (21:18.4) of 116 runners in the district 2 meet as South was 12th (360) of 16 teams behind champion Granville (43).
Freshman Izzy Kotik was 67th (22:12.85).
South finished sixth (174) in the league meet behind Liberty (36), Orange (56), Olentangy (62), Central (83) and North (134). Bouton was 29th of 56 runners in 21:53.46, followed by Kotik (38th, 22:39.04) and freshman Taylor Hughes (43rd, 23:03.81).
Other key runners eligible to return include junior Tasha Carr, sophomore Karina Deere and freshmen Marley Jackson and Abigail Williams.