After losing eight players from last year's team to graduation, Westland girls volleyball coach Nicole Zumpano knew she would need to revamp her lineup this season.
Despite the turnover, Westland was 2-2 before playing Grove City on Aug. 29. It opens OCC-Central Division play Tuesday, Sept. 3, at home against Marysville.
"The great thing is that because I am so in tune in what's going on with Westland and with Norton and Pleasant View (middle schools) coming into Westland, I'm aware of what girls I have coming into my program," said Zumpano, who is in her third season. "With everything that we did over the summer, the kids are really coming together, which is something I really enjoy seeing."
The Cougars are looking to improve on last year's finish of 5-18 overall and 1-9 in the OCC-Central. They defeated Harvest Prep 25-14, 25-7, 25-7 on Aug. 19 and Franklin Heights 25-9, 25-14, 25-12 on Aug. 22, and lost to Pickerington North 25-14, 25-8, 25-12 on Aug. 20 and Canal Winchester 25-14, 25-10, 28-26 on Aug. 27.
Westland returns just one player with significant varsity experience in senior defensive specialist Kalista Prak, who led the Cougars with 41 aces last season.
"This is my favorite time of the year, I'm so excited," said Prak, who also plays at the club level. "Our team is really young this year, so this is definitely my chance to step up and be that senior leader. Our key focus is talking and communication and, since our girls are young, we're learning on being smarter with our hits."
Junior Ashley DuMelle (middle hitter/outside hitter) and sophomores Kaci Roush (defensive specialist), Alaina Russell (outside hitter) and Kenadee Winters (setter) saw limited varsity time last season.
Other players are seniors Mackenzee Burk (outside hitter) and Averi Sites (outside hitter), junior Sofia Rodriguez (defensive specialist) and sophomores Rylea Bott (middle hitter), Olivia Fernandez (outside hitter/right-side hitter) and Airyana Washington (right-side hitter).
Key losses to graduation include outside hitter Hannah Walls (first-team all-league) and defensive specialist Brooklyn Granato (honorable mention all-league). Walls led Westland in kills (200) and blocks (42) last season, and Granato led in digs (291).
With defending champion Dublin Coffman losing several key players to graduation, Zumpano expects a more competitive race in the OCC-Central.
"We always look forward to league play, especially starting the league schedule with Marysville," Zumpano said. "We've always played them close the last few years, so hopefully this is the year we take one from them. I think our (league) is going to be up for grabs this year."
Boys cross country team kicks off season
The boys cross country team entered the season with 11 athletes on the roster.
Westland opened by finishing 10th (281) of 10 teams behind champion New Albany (35) in the New Albany Invitational on Aug. 19.
Junior Drew Hutchinson was 62nd of 203 runners in 20 minutes, 51.5 seconds to lead the Cougars.
"I expect Drew and junior Christian Placencia will go back and forth," said coach Josh Barkeloo, who is in his 13th season. "They're usually running neck and neck in practice, but Christian was at (career center) orientation (Aug. 19) so he didn't get to race."
Junior George Reyes was 65th (20:56.5), followed by freshman Ivan Medina (24:04.4, 134th), junior Harrison Jones (24:35.3, 145th), sophomore Izac Medina (25:49.5, 168th) and senior Conor Milligan (30:56.4, 193rd).
Other runners are senior Francisco Vinalay, junior Silvestre Galvan and sophomores Tyler Aiken and Henry Jones.
"I'm hoping that we see improvement and they start to become competitive with the race that they're in," Barkeloo said. "If you're a 17-minute guy, you have competitive race strategy with the guys you're able to race with. Never giving up in a race is a big thing we preach."
The girls team features only three runners.
Sophomore Taylor Gullion, a first-year competitor, led the Cougars at New Albany by finishing 48th (24:14.83). Sophomore Jordyn Anderson was 87th (26:55.66), and senior Bethony Fay rounds out the team.
"I knew we were going to struggle to get girls," Barkeloo said. "This is the first year that I've coached that we haven't had at least five girls on the team. We're still trying to recruit some. We only have three girls, but they're working hard. We're just focusing on getting better."
Football team to visit Marion-Franklin
The football team enters its game Friday, Sept. 6, at Marion-Franklin looking to avenge a 46-44 loss to the Red Devils last season.
After the Cougars rallied to take a 44-38 lead in the fourth quarter, the visiting Red Devils scored the final eight points.
"They're a big, fast, athletic team," said Westland coach Rick Rios, whose team opened Aug. 30 against Licking Heights. "Their team speed is always a concern. We can't afford to make big mistakes and help them."
Jeremiah Tucker has moved from receiver to quarterback for the Red Devils. He had 30 catches for 388 yards last season.
David Lakso, who served as an assistant coach at Central Crossing the past three years, is in his first season leading Marion-Franklin.
With Central Crossing and Westland being rivals in the OCC-Central, Lakso should have some familiarity with the Cougars.
"Facing them last year, I think we have a good idea on what they like to do offensively and defensively, so I'm hoping that helps," said Lakso, whose team opened Aug. 30 against Granville.
The Cougars lost to Central Crossing 31-20 last season.
Westland entered the season needing to replace 2019 graduate DeShawn Evans at quarterback, with Buddy Workman and Jason Cooper competing for the spot in the preseason.
"Westland always seems to have good size and good athletes," Lakso said. "Their receivers have great size. They're always going to run that spread attack. They come at you and they use the whole field."
Below are the coming schedules for the Westland cross country, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girl volleyball teams:
Sept. 7 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 4 -- Hilliard Darby at Darby Creek
Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Grove City
Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Briggs
Sept. 3 -- At Grove City
*Sept. 3 -- At Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Grove City
Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Central Crossing
*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Marysville
Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Marion Harding
*Sept. 5 -- At Dublin Coffman