Coach Jimmy Gaul's passion for the cross country program at Westerville South is evident at the beginning of each fall season.
Gaul, who graduated from South in 1999 and was a four-year member of the program, hopes each year to transfer his love for the sport to his runners.
With another strong turnout, Gaul believes he's on track to reaching his goal.
"We have 30 runners and that's where we like to be, somewhere between 25 and 35 is a good number, so I'm happy with the group that we have out," said Gaul, who is in his 13th season.
Led by seniors Donovan Slattery and Isaac Combs, the Wildcats opened in the Pickerington Classic on Aug. 24 at Pickerington North. Slattery was 33rd of 295 runners in 18 minutes, 13.3 seconds and Combs finished 46th in 18:38.5.
Slattery ran last season behind 2019 graduate Cole Koehler, who was the No. 1 runner and capped his career by finishing 22nd (17:12.6) at district.
Sophomore Chase Jackson has emerged as the No. 3 runner after finishing 50th (18:42.1) at North.
Freshman Andrew McCracken was 51st (18:42.6), followed by junior Liam Allbritton (52nd, 18:43.9), freshman Gabriel Combs (70th, 19:05.4), senior Jaxen Swank (73rd, 19:08.1) and sophomore Teague Svendsen (79th, 19:12).
South placed 10th (227 points) of 20 teams at North behind champion McDermott Northwest (104).
Gaul said other key contributors should be juniors Caedin Bouton, Paul Braskett and Isaac Weaver and sophomore William Livingston. Gaul called senior Zachary Stofel "a valuable leader" for the underclassmen.
"I'm hoping for and anticipating a lot of competition for the guys," Gaul said. "Donovan is a tough competitor. He's a guy I've been able to count on. This will be the fourth year when the gun goes off on race day I'm getting his absolute best. People are going to have to fight like crazy to beat him. There's going to be a lot of competition for the second through seventh spot every week."
Gaul also is expecting a balanced effort from the girls team, which is led by ninth-year coach Erin Focht.
Sophomore Emily Ellsworth, who finished 74th (21:17.6) in the Division I regional meet last season to lead the Wildcats, was 14th (21:11.7) of 348 runners at North.
Junior Taylor Hughes was 27th (22:04.6) and senior Karina Deere was 48th (22:46.8), helping South finish sixth (183) of 25 teams behind champion New Albany (79).
"Every year there's always a few girls who are at the top, but this year there's a lot more competition, so our girls have really been pushing each other and putting in a lot of work," Deere said.
Sophomore Abigail Cumming-Vukovic was 49th (22:49.8) at North, followed by freshman Annalyssa Earl (53rd, 23:03.3) and sophomores Emma Henderson (59th, 23:05.9) and Elise Bennett (70th, 28:13.3).
"They're understanding the purpose of each day's workout and going out for that goal to improve," Gaul said. "They're really starting to put themselves out there and taking more risks when it comes to practice and racing to really challenge and push themselves."
Golf teams compete in league tournaments
The boys and girls golf teams recently competed in the third round of their four-round OCC-Buckeye Division tournaments.
The boys finished fifth (386) on Aug. 27 at Denison Golf Club behind first-place Olentangy Liberty (312). Michael Murray shot 87 and Logan Hunn shot 90 to lead the Wildcats. South is sixth (1-14) behind first-place Liberty (14-1) heading into the final round Wednesday, Sept. 11, at Darby Creek.
The girls finished sixth (506) on Aug. 28 at Blacklick Woods behind first-place Liberty (353). Katherine Bliss led South with a 106. The Wildcats were fifth (4-11) behind first-place Liberty (15-0) heading into the final round Sept. 4 at Royal American.
Below are the coming schedules for the South cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 7 -- Chillicothe Zane Trace Invitational
Sept. 7 -- Grove City Invitational at Hickory Hills
Sept. 10 -- Westerville Central and Westerville North at Medallion
Sept. 11 -- OCC-Buckeye at Darby Creek
Sept. 6 -- Big Walnut at Bent Tree
Sept. 5 -- At Pickerington Central
*Sept. 10 -- Home vs. Olentangy
Sept. 5 -- At Thomas Worthington
*Sept. 10 -- At Olentangy
*Sept. 5 -- At Westerville Central
Sept. 11 -- At Westland
*Sept. 5 -- At Olentangy Liberty
*Sept. 10 -- At Olentangy Orange