Westland Roundup: Blake Bilger caps Cougars' track and field season at regional
Leaving Pickerington North following the Division I regional meet May 26, Tim Eckard had a chance to reflect on his track and field coaching career at Westland.
His final meet saw him guide sophomore Blake Bilger to a 12th-place finish in the long jump with an effort of 20 feet, 5 ½ inches.
Eckard decided before this season — his 19th leading the Cougars — that it would be his last, but he didn’t announce his resignation until recently. He has been coaching since the early 1990s.
“That’s what I thought about most of the van ride home,” Eckard said. “I thought a lot about the last 29 years and that was probably going to be at least the last away track meet. I plan on helping out at home track meets and still being around the program.”
Bilger was the Cougars’ lone regional competitor.
“We knew it would be a long shot for him to (advance to the final),” Eckard said. “There was only one other sophomore (Licking Heights’ D.J. Fillmore), so he mostly competed against juniors and seniors, and it sounds really good for his future. He jumped his third best jump of the year, so it wasn’t like he came out and jumped 18 feet or fouled on all three attempts. We’re very pleased with how things turned out.”
Bilger earned the regional berth by finishing fourth (personal-best 20-11) in the district 2 meet that concluded May 22 at Hilliard Darby.
Sophomore Zane Gibbs-Aguon finished eighth in the 100 meters (11.27 seconds) and 200 (22.88), and Bilger, Gibbs-Aguon, junior Patricio Rebollar and sophomore Semaje Westmoreland finished eighth in the 400 relay (44.51).
Sophomore Thomas Emhuff (distance) should be another key returnee.
The girls team’s season ended in the district 2 meet as sophomore Kiera Bonds had the top finishes of sixth in the long jump (16-3 ¾) and eighth in the 100 (12.92).
Other key returnees should be junior Taylor Gullion (distance), sophomore Leea Walker (throws) and freshman Mikajalita Bailey (sprints).
“It’s a really good sophomore class, probably the best sophomore class we’ve ever had,” Eckard said. “There’s some elite talent coming back as juniors.”
Eckard’s coaching career began in 1991 when he assisted in guiding the throwers at Hilliard for one season before taking on the same role at Pleasant View Middle School in Grove City the following year. He then joined Westland as a throws coach in 1993.
He has several fond memories with the program, including helping guide hurdler Ivan Suazo, who was his last state qualifier in 2016. Suazo placed fifth in the 110 hurdles (program-record 14.44) at state as a senior.
“Coach Eckard was one of the greatest coaches to ever step foot into my life,” Suazo said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today. Coach was always hard on me, which made me go so hard on the track as well. Tim taught me leadership, how to stand above and be an example for those coming in the future.
“Tim always had a plan, was organized and found a way to encourage our team to believe and work together.”
Suazo went on to excel in the hurdles at Eastern Michigan and recently turned professional, competing for Adidas.
Eckard said other highlights during his career include 2000 graduate Iesha Gray winning the discus at regional (program-record 143-0) and finishing eighth (132-6) at state in 2000.
He said other proud moments include Westland's John Alford winning the discus and Scott Hamilton finishing first in the shot put during the league meet early in his tenure.
TRACK & FIELD
•OCC-Ohio standings: Boys — Gahanna (144), Pickerington North (133), Westerville Central (112), New Albany (92), Grove City (34), Westland (8); Girls — Gahanna (207), North (114), New Albany (81), Central (76), Grove City 44), Westland (1)
•Seniors lost: Boys — Anwar Abubakar, Colton Bogle, Drew Hutchinson, Harrison Jones, Christian Placencia, George Reyes and Jose Villanueva; Girls — Brenna Gilliam and Sofia Rodriguez
•Key returnees: Boys — Blake Bilger, Thomas Emhuff, Zane Gibbs-Aguon, Patricio Rebollar and Samaje Westmoreland; Girls — Mikajalita Bailey, Kiera Bonds, Taylor Gullion and Leea Walker
•Postseason: Boys — 13th (8) at district behind champion North (121), did not score at regional; Girls — 12th (4) at district behind champion Gahanna (153.83)