Westland Roundup: Coach Josh Barkeloo guides runners through difficult season

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group
Senior George Reyes was among the top performers for the Westland cross country program. Coach Josh Barkeloo said he was happy his runners had a chance to compete despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic “while keeping everyone healthy and injury free.”

Both Taylor Gullion and Drew Hutchinson credit Westland cross country coach Josh Barkeloo for piquing their interest in the sport and promoting a fun atmosphere in which to compete.

In a season unlike any other because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Barkeloo tried to make things as normal as possible for the Cougars despite schedule changes, meet cancellations and pandemic-related protocols.

“I am just happy that we were able to fit it in while keeping everyone healthy and injury free,” said Barkeloo, who completed his 14th season. “I had a core group of seniors that have worked hard for the past several years and I wanted to ensure that they would have a chance to compete.”

Hutchinson, who was one of four seniors on the boys team, capped a six-year career in the sport that began in seventh grade at Norton Middle School. Hutchinson said senior Harrison Jones also competed for six years.

“Having coach the last four years has been great,” Hutchinson said. “Going into high school, I heard a lot of good things about him and coming in as a freshman he really helped me out. I didn’t know what to expect going into sports in high school. These last four years just flew by running for Barkeloo in both track and cross country. I’ve really enjoyed it and he’s helped me out a lot.”

Hutchinson turned in a personal-best time of 19 minutes in the Dan McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial last season.

“Drew really stepped up into the leadership role that I knew he could fill,” Barkeloo said.

Gullion, a junior, also turned in a career-best effort of 22:48.1 in the McGowan Invitational last season.

“Coach has been a huge support for these last two years,” said Gullion, who joined the program as a sophomore. “He always gives us our prep talks and words of encouragement. During the races he’s always there on the sidelines cheering us on.”

Both Hutchinson and Gullion are distance runners in the track and field program and will get a final chance in the spring to run for Barkeloo, who is the distance coach.

“Now attention will turn to getting some good results on the track in the spring and trying to attract new runners to the great sport of cross country at Westland,” Barkeloo said.

With only juniors Tyler Aiken and Henry Jones eligible to return for the boys, Barkeloo must find a way to replenish the roster.

Gullion and junior Allison Chapin were the only competitors for the girls team. Gullion said she's hoping to persuade some friends to join the program next fall.

“Our girls team, while not able to post a team score this year because of numbers, steadily improved and learned how to race competitively and intelligently throughout the entire race,” Barkeloo said. “Taylor was our top performer, but Allison proved to be a real fighter and kept chipping away at the lead that Taylor had on her.”

The teams competed in the realigned OCC-Ohio Division, with the boys finishing sixth (187) in the league meet Oct. 17 at Pickerington Central behind champion New Albany (35).

Hutchinson led the boys by finishing 46th in 20:03.94, and Gullion finished 40th (23:49.53) in the girls race.

Aiken (62nd, 19:09.4), senior George Reyes (65th, 19:28.4) and Hutchinson (67th, 19:34.1) were the Cougars’ top runners in the Division I, district 1 meet Oct. 24 at Hilliard Darby.

“I didn’t compete the best at district, but even though it was my last season, it really didn’t bring me down too much because I enjoyed having a season where we were all safe and healthy,” Hutchinson said.

Gullion (76th, 23:18.6) and Chapin (88th, 25:29.5) competed in the district 3 meet.

“I’m pretty satisfied with how the season went,” Gullion said. “I can’t be too mad about it because I was lucky enough to even get a season.”

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

CROSS COUNTRY

OCC-Ohio standings: Boys — New Albany (35), Pickerington North (61), Gahanna (63), Westerville Central (64), Grove City (152), Westland (187);  Girls — North (49), Gahanna (50), New Albany (55), Central (58), Grove City (150)

Seniors lost: Boys — Brandon Hernandez, Drew Hutchinson, Harrison Jones and George Reyes; Girls — None

Key returnees: Boys — Tyler Aiken and Henry Jones; Girls — Allison Chapin and Taylor Gullion

Postseason: Boys — 12th (353) at district behind champion Hilliard Davidson (27); Girls — Did not score at district