Westerville South High School track and field coach Jimmy Gaul loves this time of the year because of what it means to himself and, more importantly, to his athletes.

Gaul, a 1999 graduate who competed for the program, loves helping the Wildcats reach their potential.

"This is my favorite time of the year where we get underway in meets and get to see where people are at in competition," said Gaul, who is in his 11th season. "We have practice days to continue to work and fix problems that we see in competition. A lot of these kids have been working hard since December and now they have the opportunity to get out on the track and compete and see what they can accomplish."

The boys team returns a solid group, which includes senior Gideon Abimbola in the sprints and relays. Abimbola won the 100 meters (11.24 seconds) in the Panther Invitational on April 5 at Hilliard Darby.

"I want everybody to get to state," Abimbola said. "Also, I want us to win a lot of meets this year. If we can win a lot of meets this year that will be really good for the boys team."

Also back is junior Ibukunoluwa Alfred, who won the 300 hurdles (41.43) at Darby as South finished seventh (45 points) of 10 teams behind champion Olentangy Liberty (88).

Other key contributors should be seniors Austin Fickeisen (sprints, relays), Jonathan Kirk (throws), Cole Koehler (distance), Reece Marcelain (800) and Nicholas McClary (throws), juniors Isaac Combs (distance), Michael Mansaray (sprints, relays), Jaylen Norwood (sprints, relays), Aaron Powell (sprints, relays, long jump), Joseph Simms (pole vault) and Donovan Slattery (distance), sophomores Jaiden Guice (200, 400, long jump) and Tate Marcelain (200, 400, long jump) and freshman Kaden Saunders (100, 400 relay).

A key loss to graduation was Reo Ogundare, who was the program's lone state qualifier last season. Competing in the pole vault, he finished second while establishing a program record of 15 feet, 2 inches. Jared McAllister had held the previous mark of 14-9 since 1996.

Gaul and his athletes are hoping to earn state berths.

"The potential was there last year to have another all-around type of team effort and the pieces just didn't fall together as a team," he said of the boys and girls. "We were never able to put our best groups out there at the same time, so we're looking to keep everyone healthy and rebound from that. The talent is still here."

Gaul shares coaching duties with his father, Jim, who is in his 36th season.

Girls track team features solid nucleus

The girls track team also returns a solid group led by junior Josephine Appiah (high jump, sprint relays). She finished seventh in the high jump (5-1) last season at regional.

South placed fifth (31) behind champion Gahanna (153) in the eight-team Panther Invitational on April 5 at Darby as Appiah was second in the high jump (5-2) and senior Maria Hays (sprints, hurdles) was second in the 300 hurdles (49.41).

Freshman Brooke Holloway was third in the pole vault (10-0).

Another key returnee is sophomore Caroline Sheridan, who established a program record of 10-9 in the pole vault while finishing sixth at district last season. Beth Tompkins had held the previous mark of 10-3 since 2001.

Senior Meagan Christy (pole vault, sprint relays) also returns.

"I came in here thinking I'm just going to run and now I'm vaulting and I'm doing pretty well at it," Christy said. "A lot of the girls have come out here and tried and have been showing a lot of progress."

Other key contributors should be seniors Ellie Bouton (distance), Peyton Guice (hurdles, sprints, jumps), Sommer Pitzer (sprints, relays) and Alice Rice (throws), juniors Kaitlyn Ginn (pole vault), Cara Jennings (pole vault), Shae Johnson (hurdles, sprints), Melanie Kowalski (hurdles, sprints) and Makayla Roberts (throws), sophomore Taylor Hughes (distance) and freshmen Abigail Cumming-Vukovic (200, 400, 800) and Emily Ellsworth (distance).

Vilardo to lead boys tennis team

After playing first doubles most of last season, junior Anthony Vilardo is competing at first singles for the boys tennis team.

Vilardo previously played in the No. 1 spot as a freshman. Last year, Raphael Guilhem, an exchange student from France, played first singles and went 1-1 in the Division I district tournament.

"It's nothing new for Anthony. He's pretty experienced," fifth-year coach Ryan French said. "He's a great kid. He works really hard."

South, which opened OCC-Buckeye Division play April 9 against Olentangy, began the season with a 4-1 loss to Reynoldsburg on April 2. Freshman Stephen Vilardo, Anthony's brother, teamed with junior Allen Liu to win 6-4, 6-0 at first doubles.

The Wildcats lost to the Upper Arlington B team 4-1 on April 4. Junior returnee Adrian Self won 3-6, 7-5, 10-8 at second singles.

Junior Quan Phan is another returnee, and senior Colin Rannebarger is back after playing as a freshman and sophomore.

Other players are junior Leo Menchaca and freshman Max Chambers.

"We only have eight players, but my top four guys are pretty strong," French said.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the South baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis and track & field teams:

BASEBALL

*April 12 -- At Olentangy Liberty

*April 15 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange

*April 17 -- At Orange

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 11 -- At Liberty

April 13 -- Home vs. Kettering Alter

*April 16 -- At Big Walnut

*April 17 -- At New Albany

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 11 -- Home vs. Liberty

April 13 -- At Lima Senior

*April 15 -- Home vs. Big Walnut

SOFTBALL

*April 11 -- Home vs. Liberty

April 13 -- At Big Walnut (DH)

*April 15 -- Home vs. Orange

*April 17 -- At Westerville North

BOYS TENNIS

*April 11 -- Home vs. Liberty

*April 16 -- Home vs. Orange

April 17 -- Home vs. Gahanna

TRACK & FIELD

April 12 -- New Albany Invitational

April 16 -- At Gahanna

*League contest