Given that his boys and girls teams return all but one runner from last year, including both Division I regional qualifiers, Groveport Madison High School cross country coach Vincent Gay is not shy about sharing his expectations.
"Not only did we return almost everybody, but we gained a lot of kids," the second-year coach said. "I'm really excited to see how these teams explode. I think they can. So far, I like what I've seen."
Senior Peyton Baker of the boys team returns after finishing 16th at district and 43rd at regional last season, and junior Melanie Torres of the girls team is back after placing 14th at district and 70th at regional.
Baker, who ran a program-record 16 minutes, 31.4 seconds at district last year, began this season by finishing fourth (18:21.3) in the New Albany Classic on Aug. 20. Torres did not run in either of the Cruisers' first two meets because she was out of the country, according to Gay.
"Peyton went to the Cross Country in the Hills camp in Wooster this summer and got a lot of distance work in overall," Gay said. "He's become a better leader, too. He improves from race day to race day. He is dedicated to getting better and helping make the rest of the team better."
According to Gay, junior Illyaas Haji and sophomore Kaleb Wilson are expected to be key additions to the boys squad. Both ran around the 10-minute mark in the 3,200 meters in track last spring.
Other boys runners include seniors Chad Kunz and Demani Lane, juniors Rafael Soler and Jacob Williams, sophomores Kahari Davis, Eli Jackson, Chad Johnson, David Neal and Jason Pinkston and freshman Nevin Montgomery.
The boys finished sixth (148 points) of 10 teams in the New Albany Classic behind the host and OCC-Capital Division rival Eagles (44).
The girls race that day was called about 13 minutes in because of lightning, so the Cruisers' first official competition was the Panther Classic at Pickerington North on Aug. 25. That day, Groveport finished 23rd (595) of 27 teams in the Bengal Division behind champion Olentangy Berlin (102).
Sophomore Gracia Musa was 107th (24:17.8) to lead the Cruisers.
Other top runners include seniors Aubrey Trissel, Victoria Williams and Toni Woods, junior Brianna Chan and sophomore Crystal Russell.
The boys finished 13th (357) in the 24-team Bengal Division at North behind champion Mount Gilead (25).
Both the boys and girls teams finished last in the OCC-Capital meet last year. The boys finished fifth (121) behind champion Newark (31), and the girls were fifth (126) behind champion New Albany (40).
In the 16-team Canal Winchester Invitational on Aug. 29, Haji's fifth-place finish (17:45.4) led the boys team to 145 points and fourth place as New Albany won (69). The girls were ninth (27) behind champion Bexley (40), led by Torres' 25th-place finish (22:12.1).
The Cruisers' rigorous early-season schedule continued Sept. 1 with the Westerville North Classic and Sept. 4 at Licking Heights' Hornet Invitational. By the time Groveport runs the McGowan Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 8, at Watkins Memorial, the Cruisers will have competed in six invitationals in 20 days.
According to Gay, that is by design.
"I like my teams to run several meets early to get experience and understand how to manage a (3.1-mile) race," he said. "We'll back off later and get some quality practices. I want to make sure they are in the best shape they can be for the postseason."
Volleyball team off to solid start
With seven players returning for fourth-year coach Matt White, the girls volleyball team needed just five matches to get halfway to last year's win total.
Groveport was 4-3 before beginning OCC-Capital play Sept. 4 against Franklin Heights, and two of those losses came against Division I district runners-up from a year ago in Pickerington Central (25-16, 25-23, 25-20 on Aug. 21) and Pickerington North (25-14, 25-12, 25-13 on Aug. 28).
The other loss came at Lancaster, 25-15, 25-12, 25-20 on Aug. 30.
Returning from last year, when the Cruisers went 8-15, are seniors Kiara Brinkley (setter), Skilyn Jacks (libero), Reina Rhone (right-side hitter) and Madison Young (outside hitter) and juniors Makenzie Maddy (defensive specialist), Lizarely Martinez (outside hitter) and Macie Sporleder (right-side hitter).
Groveport opened Aug. 18 by sweeping a tri-match at Whitehall, defeating Eastmoor Academy 25-14, 25-20 and the host Rams 25-16, 25-10. After losing to Central, the Cruisers bounced back to defeat Central Crossing 20-25, 25-20, 26-24, 25-18 in their home opener Aug. 23 and Whetstone 25-19, 25-22, 25-20 on Aug. 25.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Taylor Hill (defensive specialist) and Jade Morant (outside hitter), juniors Michela Ayers (middle hitter) and Alexandria Maddy (setter) and sophomore Sydney Morant (middle hitter).
Groveport went 2-8 in the league last year, with both wins coming against Franklin Heights, to finish fifth behind champion Big Walnut (10-0).
Boys golfer Nanthavong having strong season
Preston Nanthavong of the boys golf team shot a 74 in the third round of the OCC-Capital tournament Aug. 29 at Turnberry to remain in first place individually with one round to go.
Nanthavong is averaging 75.67 through three rounds, having shot a 73 in the second round Aug. 13 at Darby Creek and an 80 in the first round Aug. 7 at Denison Golf Club.
New Albany's Logan Spiess is second with a 77.0 average, followed by the Eagles' Griffin Green (77.67).
The fourth and final round of the league tournament is Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Apple Valley.
Nanthavong was Groveport's only golfer Aug. 29. The Cruisers have not scored as a team in any round of the league tournament.
Price Cooper shot a 123 and Rickie Cooper a 125 in the second round, but neither of the brothers competed in the first or third rounds.
Groveport enters the final round at 1-14, sixth behind New Albany (15-0), Big Walnut (12-3), Canal Winchester (9-6), Newark (6-9) and Franklin Heights (2-13).
Football team snaps long losing streak
With its 28-14 victory over Hamilton Township in the Obetz Bowl on Aug. 30 at Fortress Obetz, the football team laid to rest a 12-game losing streak dating to Week 9 of the 2016 season.
The Cruisers also proved that their run defense could be one of their strengths going forward.
Jasiyah Robinson forced a fumble that was picked up by Darrell Smoot with 3 minutes, 9 seconds remaining to complement a defensive unit that had two tackles for loss by Keimare Burnett and numerous other tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Groveport, which improved to 1-1, figures to be tested more on the ground Friday, Sept. 7, when it plays host to Worthington Kilbourne.
"(The defense is) playing lights out, and we've got a big test (this) week against Kilbourne," coach Bryan Schoon-over said. "We'll enjoy this one. It's been a long time."
The Cruisers, who opened with a 10-7 loss to Westerville North on Aug. 24, limited the Rangers to 19 yards of offense in the second half.
Hamilton Township quarterback Erek Larimer completed 18 of 32 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns as his team built a 14-0 lead, but a punt return for a 44-yard touchdown by Naseem Bowers cut the deficit to seven points and helped spark Groveport's comeback.
"They grew up a little bit (Aug. 30)," Schoonover said. "Those guys played their tails off."
Kilbourne opened with a 27-26 loss to Olentangy Orange on Aug. 24 and played Westerville South on Aug. 31. The Wolves scored to cut their deficit to one point late in the fourth quarter but elected to go for two points instead of attempting a game-tying extra point, and their run on the two-point conversion attempt failed.
The performance, though, was a step in the right direction for the Wolves, who lost their final four games last season to finish 3-7.
"The biggest thing was how proud I was that they kept competing and kept fighting," Kilbourne coach Vince Trombetti said. "Last year if we got down, we were done. We were down 14-0 at the half (against Orange) and were able to put up a touchdown to make it a ballgame."
Running back Elijah Young rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Grayson Timms threw for two touchdowns against Orange.
The Pioneers, however, produced 300 yards of offense, including 242 on the ground.