DeSales: Stallions stay focused during season of uncertainty

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Jason Velazquez II celebrates in the waning moments of DeSales' 24-21 win over Hartley on Sept. 11. Velazquez has tried to set a good example this season by following COVID-19 protocols. "As a senior and leader on this team and knowing this season almost didn’t happen, you’ve got a whole new appreciation for it," he said.

The unexpected week off it had before opening the Division III, Region 11 playoffs wasn’t exactly welcomed by the DeSales football team.

The top-seeded Stallions, who had a bye the week after beating Hartley 16-14 on Oct. 2 to wrap up the CCL championship, had been preparing to play 16th-seeded Wilmington on Oct. 16 when they found out at 2 p.m. Oct. 15 that the Hurricane had canceled the second-round game because of a COVID-19 case within the program.

DeSales faced eighth-seeded Granville on Oct. 23, with the winner playing fourth-seeded Jonathan Alder or fifth-seeded London in a regional semifinal Friday, Oct. 30, at the home field of the higher-seeded team.

The Stallions, who were 5-1 before playing the Blue Aces, have leaned on seniors such as Billy Cain IV and Jason Velazquez II during some of their toughest moments this fall, according to coach Ryan Wiggins.

“We had a normal game practice week (heading into the scheduled game against Wilmington) and I was glad we practiced,” Wiggins said. “You start worrying about the different concerns with the virus and how you practice, but we went into the week preparing for an opponent. As much as I like a little time to get healthy, football is about consistency and playing.

“The kids have been great. You go back to honestly to June, everything’s unknown, but even now nobody knows. They haven’t asked a lot of questions and have just done what they’ve been asked. I think our kids have handled everything well.”

Velazquez starts at linebacker and also has seen action at H-back, while Cain starts at guard and on the defensive line.

According to Cain, all of his teammates have “bought in to what we have to do" on and off the field.

Left tackle Will Hast and center Owen Kirk have helped Cain anchor the offensive line.

“When coaches tell us we have to run with our masks on or when we have to wear them in general, you don’t hear any of us complaining because we have bought in to what we have to do,” Cain said. “On the weekends and when we don’t have practice, no one is hanging out with people we aren’t supposed to. We’re very careful of what we do to make sure we can finish our season on the field.

“In terms of on the field, I love the way we battled through adversity during the regular season. We won three games by less than one touchdown.”

Staying positive has helped the Stallions make it through such a “crazy and strange season,” according to Velazquez.

“We’ve been able to focus throughout the entire past couple of months,” he said. “As one of the leaders of the team this year, it’s different from just the football stuff that leaders do for their teams. This year, equally important is I’m making sure that guys always see me following all of the rules in place. I make sure guys see me wearing my mask, make sure they’re wearing their mask, talking to the guys about how important it is to sacrifice their social life during the season so we don’t take a chance of exposing ourselves to COVID. As a senior and leader on this team and knowing this season almost didn’t happen, you’ve got a whole new appreciation for it.”

Cross country teams

sweep league meet 

The boys and girls cross country teams finished the regular season in unprecedented fashion Oct. 17, sweeping the CCL meet for the first time in program history. 

Freshman Mary McAllister’s win in 20 minutes, 21 seconds — .7 of a second ahead of runner-up Lucy Ragiel of Watterson — led the girls team to 33 points and first place ahead of the Eagles by a point. Hartley was third (59) and Ready finished fourth (113). 

Gracey Wilson was fourth (20:42.4), followed by Josie Dages (fifth, 20:54.1), Audrey Callahan (eighth, 21:15.2) and Monica Sullivan (15th, 22:11.5) as the Stallions won their first league championship since 2017. 

Five runners in the top 11, including four in a row, paced the boys to 44 points, first place by one point ahead of Watterson (45) and their first league title since 2006. St. Charles was third with 56 points, followed by Hartley (94) and Ready (140). 

Adam Weithman was sixth (17:28) to lead DeSales. Also scoring were Aidan Shannon (eighth, 17:33), Luke Aaron (ninth, 17:36.6), Owen Eckstein (10th, 17:37.3) and Neal Ritchie (11th, 17:43.6). 

“We ran against the other CCL teams at various times in the season, so we knew that it was possible, but quite a few things needed to happen. Our runners all stepped up,” coach Amy Schockling said. “It shows how crucial each runner is to the team’s success. They knew going into it that every point mattered and that’s how they ran.” 

Both teams competed in district meets Oct. 24 at Hilliard Darby, with the boys in Division II, district 2 and the girls in Division I, district 1. In the boys race, the top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to regional Saturday, Oct. 31, at Pickerington North, and on the girls side the top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced. 

—Dave Purpura 

DeSales' Ryan Gustafson (left) and Watterson's Sean Nyhus go up for a header during the Stallions' 2-1 win Sept. 15. DeSales went 4-1-1 in its final six games entering the postseason.

Boys soccer team

hitting stride 

Boys soccer coach Domenic Romanelli told his team in late September that “season two” was about to begin after a 3-7 start, and the Stallions responded to that change in focus by going 4-1-1 in their final six regular-season games and earning the third seed in the Division II district tournament. 

The Stallions then defeated visiting and 16th-seeded Heath 7-0 in a first-round game Oct. 21 to improve to 8-8-1.

“The hardest thing is not to look at your record. We’re a lot better than it shows on paper,” Romanelli said earlier this month, citing injuries to expected key players Nick Kennedy and Ethan Lusenhop that kept them out for most of the regular season. “One good thing is that we’ve been able to look at other guys and bring them along.” 

Andrew Shaffer’s 12 goals and 25 points led DeSales in the regular season. Kennedy added three goals and four other players scored two each. 

The Stallions were ranked 12th in last week’s state poll. Top-seeded Granville was ranked fifth and Bloom-Carroll, the second seed that DeSales potentially could play in a district final Saturday, Oct. 31, was unranked. 

DeSales played seventh-seeded Buckeye Valley or 11th-seeded Jonathan Alder in a district semifinal Oct. 27. The winner will face Bloom-Carroll or sixth-seeded Watterson in the district final.

The district champion will advance to a regional semifinal Wednesday, Nov. 4. 

The Stallions defeated Watterson 2-1 on Sept. 15. 

—Dave Purpura 

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