Veteran Westland High School track and field coach Tim Eckard considers Aja Nathans and Caleb McManaway to be ideal student-athletes.
Both not only excel in athletics but also in the classroom, where each boasts a GPA over 4.0.
The seniors are preparing for their final postseason, which begins with the Division I, district 2 meet Tuesday, May 14, Wednesday, May 15, and Saturday, May 18, at Hilliard Darby. The top four finishers in each event will advance to regional May 22 and 24 at Pickerington North.
"Their careers are exactly how they should have been handled," said Eckard, who is in his 18th season. "Inside and outside of the classroom, they've been great leaders. They've been captains. They've worked their tails off. They never miss practice. They're nice to other kids, but they push when they need to push. They are perfect role models for what we want out of our Cougar track athletes."
McManaway and Nathans both are seeking their first regional berth, and they might be reaching their peak performances at the perfect time.
Nathans, a distance specialist, established personal bests in the 1,600 meters (6 minutes, 5.2 seconds) and 3,200 (13:17.3) while finishing second in both in the Tiger Invitational on May 3 at Columbus East.
The girls finished seventh (40 points) of 15 teams behind champion Hamilton Township (89).
Rylea Bott was second in the discus (100 feet, 6 inches), and Jordyn Anderson was third in the 1,600 (6:15.52) and 3,200 (13:30.07).
Last season at district, Nathans was part of the 3,200 relay that finished seventh (11:15.35) to account for the team's two points. She was 16th in the 3,200 (13:43.21) and 21st in the 800 (6:13.97).
After turning in career-best performances at East, Nathans hopes to improve on both efforts this season.
"I'm getting more aggressive in that kick at the end," said Nathans, who credits distance and cross country coach Josh Barkeloo for her development. "He's passed on his passion for running. I probably wouldn't have continued if it wasn't for him."
Nathans was introduced to the sport while attending Norton Middle School, where she first began competing in the shot put and discus.
Eckard recalls meeting with Nathans and her father, David, before her freshman year and her father asking the coaches to help mold his daughter into a track athlete.
"Her dad wanted her to run and showed up at a cross country practice four years ago and said, 'here's my daughter, make her run,'" Eckard said. "She just started running and loved it. It just stuck and she forgot throwing."
That request has developed into a strong running career.
"In middle school I didn't get a lot of experience in distance because I was a thrower," Nathans said. "I got into the 400 and that's how I decided I wanted to do cross country because I wanted to do more running. I was into endurance."
Nathans capped her cross country career by finishing 45th (22:05.4) at district last fall.
She will attend Bowling Green and is considering joining the school's club track team.
McManaway, who competes in the discus, turned in a career-best 121-2 at the Anthony Wilson Invitational on April 27 at Franklin Heights. His previous best was 120-0 during his sophomore season.
"Based on what I've been doing recently, I've been peaking at the right time, which is something that's always been a problem because I always peak halfway through the season and I can never maintain that peak," he said.
At East, Abdi Aden finished second in the 300 hurdles (42.27) and long jump (20-5 1/4), McManaway was third in the discus (118-11) and Bakar Dabo was third in the shot put (41-3).
The boys finished ninth (35) of 16 teams behind champion Whetstone (76).
Competing at district for the first time last season, McManaway placed 18th in the discus (116-9).
"Having the ability to see all kinds of different techniques helped me grow as a thrower," McManaway said. "I could see what other people were doing in order for me to get better. I could see what they were doing to make them more elite."
McManaway will attend Muskingum, where he will throw the discus and hammer, although he added he will be training and competing in the hammer for the first time.
"I've been really close with Caleb because I've been with him since the seventh grade," Eckard said. "We've done a lot of stuff over the summer. He's certainly close to me and one of those kids that really makes an impact on your life. He's just such a really good kid and he's a good young man."
Westland prepared for district by competing in the OCC-Central Division meet May 9 and 11 at Hilliard Davidson.
"They're hitting their peaks at a perfect time," Eckard said of Nathan and McManaway. "Josh and I are both very intentional about when we push them. We have the same philosophy. You push them from the beginning to middle and after you have a lot of throws or miles on their legs then you scale back, and at end you pick it up again to get them back in that groove."
Softball team earns tournament win
The softball team earned its first Division I district tournament win since 2016 by defeating 36th-seeded Northland 10-5 on May 6.
The 37th-seeded Cougars finished 7-15 with a 15-2 five-inning loss at fifth-seeded Marysville on May 8. Bella Garner singled twice and Melina Morley and Mallory Merth each singled.
Against Northland, Reagan Walters doubled twice and singled, Sydnee Avila singled twice and doubled and Morley doubled and singled. Winning pitcher Kayla Miller scored three runs and had two RBI.
"We hadn't won a tournament game in my time here," third-year coach Sarah Shellenbarger said. "It feels great to get a win. They were excited. I'm excited too, because I do it for them. It's not about me, it's for them. They're happy to hit a milestone."
The Cougars defeated Centennial 11-6 in the first round in 2016.
Baseball team to face Grove City
The 38th-seeded baseball team visits 16th-seeded Grove City in the first round of the Division I district tournament Monday, May 13.
The winner plays at 15th-seeded Central Crossing in the second round Wednesday, May 15, with that winner playing fifth-seeded Gahanna, 37th-seeded Thomas Worthington or 44th-seeded Franklin Heights in a district semifinal May 20.
The Cougars were 9-15 overall before playing Grandview on May 9 and 1-13 in the OCC-Central before playing Central Crossing on May 10. They lost to the Comets 15-5 in five innings April 29 and 2-1 on April 30.
Westland lost to visiting Davidson 10-0 in six innings May 8.