Westerville South cross country runner Donovan Slattery relied on hard work to develop into the boys team's top competitor by his senior season.
Slattery's season came to an end in the Division I regional meet Oct. 26 at Pickerington North, as he finished 34th of 125 runners in 16 minutes, 50.8 seconds.
The top 20 individuals advanced to state Saturday, Nov. 2, at National Trial Raceway.
"I enjoyed myself. It was a lot of fun," Slattery said. "It was a fast race. It was a lot of guys wanting to go to state. There was a lot more drive. It was a fast, competitive race. I was hoping to maybe do a little bit better, but I was pretty happy with the result.
"I definitely think I've left my mark on the program. It was a great experience and I owe it all to my coaches and teammates."
Coach Jimmy Gaul was pleased with Slattery's effort and his progression throughout his career.
"It was a great race," Gaul said. "It was probably his best race of his life, not time-wise, but given all the circumstances: The biggest race of his career, the rainy conditions, the sloppy course and the best competition you've ever raced against. To hold his own like that was awesome to see."
As a freshman, Slattery's first time was 21:35, and he fell short of the varsity lineup. In his final postseason, he turned in a career-best 16:37.7 while placing 11th of 121 runners in the district 2 meet Oct. 19 at Hilliard Darby to earn his first regional berth.
"Donovan will be somebody I get to talk about for a long time," Gaul said. "Sometimes you get guys like Donovan who have talent, but as they grow and mature and get stronger and continue training season after season, they're able to tap into something that they really didn't know was there when they began their high school cross country journey. He's definitely worked his tail off to have the season that he had."
Slattery was one of eight seniors on the boys team. He also led South in the OCC-Buckeye Division meet Oct. 12 at Hilliard Davidson, placing seventh of 59 runners in 16:38.4 to earn first-team all-league honors.
Key runners eligible to return are juniors Liam Allbritton, Caedin Bouton, Paul Braskett and Isaac Weaver, sophomores Chase Jackson, William Livingston and Teague Svendsen and freshmen Gabriel Combs and Andrew McCracken.
Junior Taylor Hughes and sophomore Emily Ellsworth both were third-team all-league for the girls team.
Other key runners eligible to return are sophomores Elise Bennett, Abigail Cumming-Vukovic and Emma Henderson and freshman Annalyssa Earl.
"It's exciting for (girls coach) Erin (Focht) to have the season that they had, and for a lot of those girls to really start training and racing with the confidence that they do have the talent, they do belong in the front of the race," Gaul said. "Their eyes opened to what they can achieve if they train with a little more focus and race with a little more belief in themselves."
Boys soccer coach expects improvement
Boys soccer coach Wynleux Henderson is confident his team will improve on its finish of 2-12-3 overall and 1-3-1 in the OCC-Buckeye.
The 31st-seeded Wildcats lost at 30th-seeded Licking Heights 3-1 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 15.
"This season definitely didn't go the way we were hoping at the beginning of the year," Henderson said. "We just have a really young team that lacked a lot of varsity-level experience. We're hoping that next year maybe we can head back in the right direction."
Junior forward Nick Lovell was first-team all-league, senior midfielder Anthony Vilardo was second-team all-league, senior defender Aidan Braxton was special mention all-league and sophomore goalkeeper Ethan Gary was honorable mention all-league.
In league play, the Wildcats defeated Westerville North 1-0 on Aug. 16 and tied Olentangy 1 on Sept. 10.
South defeated Marysville 3-2 on Aug. 29 and tied Columbus Academy at 3 on Sept. 19. Academy won a Division II district title.
Other players eligible to return are juniors Tate Marcelain (midfielder/forward), Milo McNabb (defender) and Thomas Stathulis (midfielder/defender), sophomores Caden Carfagna (defender), Henry Hutchinson (midfielder), Jackson Miller (defender) and Marcos Ortega (defender/midfielder/forward) and freshmen Sayid Ahmed (midfielder), Landon Beckwith (defender/midfielder/forward), Johnathan Cheruiyot (defender), Avery Parker (defender) and Aidan Sutherland (defender/midfielder/forward).