Winding down his first season as Westland High School football coach, Rick Rios already is looking forward to 2019.
Despite a disappointing season record-wise, Rios has seen several positives.
The Cougars close the season by playing the top two teams in the OCC-Central Division. They faced Dublin Coffman on Oct. 19 and visit Hilliard Davidson on Friday, Oct. 26.
"That's the one thing this year, in trying to change the culture and establish a new identity here, there are always a lot of teachable moments and it seems like we've had a ton of those," Rios said. "It will benefit our young guys down the road, but it was nice having our seniors for it."
Westland, which recognized its 21 seniors before the Coffman game, entered the contest at 1-7 overall and 0-3 in the league.
"It's always a special night (and) being our first (senior class) adds a little special meaning," Rios said.
Coffman was 7-1 overall and 2-1 in the league as it looked to bounce back from a 24-7 loss to Davidson on Oct. 12.
Davidson was 7-1 overall and 3-0 in the league before playing Marysville on Oct. 19.
"This is the barometer. This is the measuring stick to see how far the program has come in a year," Rios said. "We'll find out and we'll see how much and how well our kids compete. Our biggest selling point for us this year is our kids have fought their butts off and they have played hard for four quarters every night regardless of the result."
Davidson coach Brian White has been impressed with the Westland coaching staff's commitment during a difficult season.
"Any coach who undertakes such a monumental task of trying to get that program turned around and headed in the right direction earns the respect of all coaches, let alone one who has obviously done such a good job of getting them headed in the right direction in such a short time," White said.
Westland lost to Central Crossing 31-20 on Oct. 12 as a late comeback fell short. The Cougars trailed 21-0 after one quarter, but outscored the Comets 14-0 in the fourth.
Peterson Iresne (17 yards) and Manuel Mickens (4) had touchdown runs and Isaiah Dukes added a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown. Iresne rushed for 94 yards on 19 carries and Mickens added 61 yards on 10 carries.
DeShawn Evans completed seven of 17 passes for 122 yards and two interceptions and Robert Clark had three catches for 72 yards.
Mickens led the defense with 10 tackles.
"It's the same old story. We really have not started well this whole season and one of the things that we really have not gotten our thumb on is why we are starting out so slow," Rios said. "We dug ourselves a big hole in the first six minutes of the game and it looked like we had never played football before and then all of a sudden the light bulb came on and we started playing."
One of the bright spots has been the play of Evans, who had completed 144 of 262 passes for 1,649 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions through eight games.
Iresne had rushed for 622 yards and six touchdowns on 124 carries. Anthony Widen had 40 receptions for 531 yards and six touchdowns, Clark had 55 catches for 496 yards and three scores and Dukes had 18 receptions for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
Dukes, a senior, likes the direction of the program under Rios.
"They understand us and they get hard on us, but get hard on us in a positive way and not a negative way," Dukes said. "I'm disappointed with our losses, but in our effort, I love it."
Cross country teams compete at district
The boys and girls cross country teams competed in the Division I district meet Oct. 20 at Hilliard Darby.
The boys ran in district 2 and the girls were in district 1. The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to regional Saturday, Oct. 27, at Pickerington North, where the top five teams and top 20 individuals advance to state Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway.
The Cougars prepared for the postseason by competing in the OCC-Central meet Oct. 13 at Davidson.
The girls finished fifth (163) behind Davidson (20), Coffman (59), Upper Arlington (76) and Marysville (84) and ahead of Central Crossing (172). Aja Nathans was 36th (21 minutes, 58.4 seconds), followed by Jordyn Anderson (38th, 23:42.3), Bethony Fay (39th, 24:51.9), Allison Chapin (41st, 25:57.3) and Maya Suarez (44th, 27:22.2).
The boys finished sixth (177) behind Davidson (23), UA (46), Coffman (82), Marysville (93) and Central Crossing (151). Christian Placencia was 39th (18:31.7), followed by Kevin Reyes (46th, 18:59.5), Billy Holland (47th, 19:08.8), Drew Hutchinson (49th, 19:25.2), Tyler Aiken (50th, 19:32.5), Jacob Carpenter (51st, 19:34.8), Norman Hendricks (52nd, 19:52.1) and Timmy Wotring (53rd, 20:07.4).
Girls volleyball team earns split with rival
The girls volleyball team earned a season split with Central Crossing by beating the Comets 25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 25-22 on Oct. 11.
Westland lost to Central Crossing 26-24, 25-23, 25-12 on Sept. 25.
"It was a great win for us going into the tournament," coach Nicole Zumpano said. "The girls have worked hard all season and to win in front of a packed house was fantastic."
The 46th-seeded Cougars were 5-17 before playing fifth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in the second round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 18. The winner plays 18th-seeded Logan or 19th-seeded Pickerington North in a district semifinal Wednesday, Oct. 24, at Franklin Heights, and that winner advances to a district final Saturday, Oct. 27, at Franklin Heights.
Through 22 matches, Hannah Walls led Westland with a career-high 200 kills, followed by Carlie Henry with 87.
Cameron Phaunef had a career-high 454 assists and Brooklyn Granato had a career-high 291 digs.
Kalista Prak had 41 aces and Henry had 22 blocks.
Girls soccer team opens postseason
The 44th-seeded girls soccer team was 1-14-1 before playing 12th-seeded Darby in the second round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 18.
The winner plays ninth-seeded UA or 43rd-seeded Mifflin in a district semifinal Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the home of the better seed. The district final is Saturday, Oct. 27, at a neutral site to be determined.
The Cougars lost to UA 12-1 on Sept. 25.
Westland closed the regular season with a 1-0 loss to Franklin Heights on Oct. 11.
Boys soccer team closes season
The boys soccer team saw its season end with a 3-0 loss at 24th-seeded Groveport in the first round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 17.
The 34th-seeded Cougars finished 5-11-1.
Westland closed the regular season with 2-1 losses to Pickerington Central on Oct. 11 and Jonathan Alder on Oct. 13.