Notebook: Westerville South Wildcats’ Marissa Saunders wins state title in 100 hurdles

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group
South's Marissa Saunders placed first (14.05 seconds) and Gahanna's Camden Bentley finished second (14.15) in the 100-meter hurdles in the Division I state meet June 5 at Hilliard Darby.

Sophomore Marissa Saunders already has joined elite company in the Westerville South track and field program. 

Competing in her first Division I state meet June 4 and 5 at Hilliard Darby, Saunders won the 100-meter hurdles in 14.05 seconds, breaking her own program record in the event. 

“Marissa put her best race together, her best effort together. It’s a new school record and she’s a state champion,” coach Jimmy Gaul said. “That’s something that not too many people can say. It’s a special accomplishment and I’m just so proud of everything and everyone that went into making it possible.” 

Saunders said a strong start was key to the title. She edged Gahanna sophomore and close friend Camden Bentley (14.15) at the finish line. 

“My blocks are probably the best part of my race,” she said. “I was really focusing on getting out hard and to keep using my hands. I knew if I did that, I’d have a good race.” 

Saunders also qualified for the 300 hurdles at state, finishing eighth in 46.71, as she collected 11 points to help the Wildcats tie for 19th behind champion Mentor (70) as 75 teams scored. 

She advanced to state by finishing second in the 100 hurdles (14.2) and 300 hurdles (44.4) at regional May 26 and 28 at Pickerington North. 

Saunders competed all season with a hip injury that she said would require surgery. 

“She never complained,” Gaul said. “She knew what she was dealing with and it was up to her to manage any pain it was causing and communicate that. She did a better job than you could ever expect any 15-year-old sophomore athlete, especially an elite athlete like she is, to manage all the ins and outs of getting through a season like this knowing the end game is surgery and months of rehab.” 

Gaul added that Saunders was limited in the 300 hurdles because the injury restricted her training.

The Wildcats' Jaiden Guice finished ninth in the long jump (22 feet, 3 inches) in the Division I state meet.

Senior Jaiden Guice was the only member of the boys team to qualify for state, finishing ninth in the long jump (22 feet, 3 inches). 

“The ultimate goal at the start of the season was to try to make it to state and I did that,” Guice said. “I’m really proud of myself for just doing what I set out to do. … The competition was really good, so it was a really fun experience to be part of this.” 

Guice advanced to state by finishing fourth (22-8 ½) at regional. 

“Jaiden is a special, all-around young man,” Gaul said. “The leadership, the positive energy, the level of effort that he brought to practice really raised the level and standard for all of his teammates. That goes for all of our senior boys captains this year.”

•Coach Johnny Jackson knew he would have a challenge this season with the North track teams.

Jackson said the time trials were some of the slowest during his 15-year tenure with the boys squad and his 17 years with the girls team. He believed a lot of that had to do with missing the 2020 season.

“Our time trials were the highest as a team I’ve ever had as a coach, but in the end, the kids got faster and held their own in the OCC(-Capital Division meet),” Jackson said. “Overall, we ended the season on good notes.

“I knew after time trials that our coaching staff would have to have its best coaching year. (The athletes) missed last season with COVID and they were behind in that respect and then they started the season on quarantine. But we were able to get a lot out of them.”

The Warriors did not have a state qualifier, but at the regional freshman Ben Gabelman placed sixth in the 1,600 (4:27.22) and joined seniors Ahmad Madani and Isaiah Hutcherson and sophomore Andrew Bracken on the eighth-place 3,200 relay (8:09.24).

“Ben Gabelman probably had a solid week or two of practice all year,” Jackson said. “He had COVID and then wasn’t able to have a full week of practice until the week of district. Taking that into consideration, he had a phenomenal season.”

The girls did not have a regional qualifier, but in the league meet, junior Ashley Kisor was runner-up in the 400 (1:01.6) and sophomore Amanda Cooper was second in the 800 (2:27.4).

Also in the league meet, Kisor was joined by sophomore RayNah Baker, senior Autymn Briggs and junior Erin Mayle on the runner-up 1,600 relay (4:10.22), and Cooper was on the second-place 3,200 relay (9:54.28) with Mayle, junior Emily Widman and sophomore Colleen Lynch.

“Our kids were really resilient,” Jackson said. “Whatever was thrown at them, they took it in stride and kept fighting. When you look at it like that, that’s a heck of a season.”

—Scott Hennen

•The Central boys volleyball team went 7-7 in the OCC-Ohio to tie Pickerington North for fourth behind champion Gahanna (14-0) and finished 7-10 overall. 

Sophomore Daniel Latham (outside hitter) was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-region, senior Dylan Bertelsen (outside hitter) was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-region and senior Brett Zepfel (setter) was honorable mention all-league. 

“Heading into the season, I knew it was going to be a rebuilding year,” coach Jimi Yu said. “I’m really proud of the progress that everybody made, especially when you think about the varsity team, none of them had a full year of playing on varsity prior to this season. … We laid a good foundation for the following seasons.” 

—Frank DiRenna 

•First-year South boys tennis coach Stephanie Thomas was pleased with her team’s improvement.

The Wildcats finished 5-5 overall and went 3-4 in the OCC-Capital to tie Delaware for fifth behind champion Dublin Scioto (7-0). 

Thomas likes the future of the program with the development of freshman Samson Gurgiolo (first singles) and sophomore Nikita Kitaev (second singles).

“The progress was good,” Thomas said. “We have some athletes who are able to compete at a high level. I’m excited to see them grow with the program.” 

—Frank DiRenna 

•After the South boys volleyball season was canceled in 2019 because the Wildcats did not have a coach and last season because of COVID-19, coach Chris Bielby was happy that his players could return to the court this spring. 

“The guys were so glad just to be able to field a team this year and play the sport,” Bielby said. “The word is spreading about how much fun the guys had and they’re recruiting their friends to sign up for next year.” 

Sophomore setter Nathan Bielby was honorable mention all-league for the Wildcats, who finished 2-20 overall and 0-14 in the OCC-Ohio. 

—Frank DiRenna 

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CENTRAL BOYS VOLLEYBALL 

Record: 7-10 overall   

OCC-Ohio standings: Gahanna (14-0), New Albany (12-2), Pickerington Central (10-4), Pickerington North and Westerville Central (both 7-7), Reynoldsburg (3-11), Delaware (3-11), Westerville South (0-14)  

Seniors lost: Dylan Bertelsen, Luke Burky, Brian Draginsky, Nicholas Jones and Brett Zepfel 

Key returnees: Daniel Latham, John Marple and Nicholas Pieroni 

Postseason: Lost to Dublin Jerome 25-14, 25-9, 25-21 in second round of Division I East Region tournament

SOUTH BOYS VOLLEYBALL 

Record: 2-20 overall   

Seniors lost: Owen Curran, Ian Chuah and Charles Williams 

Key returnees: Nathan Bielby and Michael Murray 

Postseason: Lost to Mount Vernon 25-12, 25-16, 25-21 in first round of Division I East Region tournament

NORTH TRACK & FIELD

OCC-Capital standings: Boys — Canal Winchester (174), Big Walnut (142.5), South (99), Dublin Scioto (70), Worthington Kilbourne (62.5), Westerville North (60), Delaware (49), Franklin Heights (4); Girls — Big Walnut (144.4), South (142), Delaware (87.4), North (78.5), Canal Winchester (73.5), Kilbourne (71.2), Scioto (61), Franklin Heights (3)

Seniors lost: Boys — Shafin Alam, Kyle Augsberger, Sylvester Bockarie, Evan Boyd, Seth Derstine, Isaiah Hutcherson, Evan Keller, Gabe Lorton, Ahmed Mdani, Malcolm McCown, Andrew Owusu and Reuben Simyu; Girls — Autymn Briggs, Kellie Koch and Chrissy Widman

Key returnees: Boys — Bryce Abston, Okiki Adeniyi, Howard Baumann, Andrew Bracken, Chris Campbell, Ben Gabelman, Alex Hendon and Koltyn Scarantine; Girls — RayNah Baker, Amanda Cooper, Grace Freeman, Lauren Hilderbrand, Hannah Hutto, Ashley Kisor, Colleen Lynch, Erin Mayle, Paige Miracle and Emily Widman

Postseason: Boys — Tied for 12th (22) at district behind champion Canal Winchester (114), 32nd (4) at regional behind champion Hilliard Darby (68); Girls — 17th (12) at district behind champion Pickerington Central (85)

SOUTH TRACK & FIELD 

Seniors lost: Boys — Caedin Bouton, Paul Braskett, Shamar Brittman, Mikhai Brown, Jaiden Guice, Cole Holbrook, Kahli Horton-Campbell, Jack Kielmeyer and Tate Marcelain; Girls — Taylor Hughes, Marley Jackson, Izzy Krieg, Angel Long, Inioluwa Oyewusi, Josie Patil, Gracie Pillow and Caroline Sheridan 

Key returnees: Boys — Gabe Combs, Chase Jackson, Andrew McCracken, Godfred Nyafre and Reign Winston; Girls — Abby Cumming-Vukovic, Gia Golden, Emma Henderson, Brooke Holloway, Anne Keir, Sarah Marinov, Aubrey Paes, Marissa Saunders, Lauryn Swanson and Tiara Takyi 

Postseason: Boys — Seventh (53) at district behind champion Pickerington Central (104), 27th (7) at regional behind champion Darby (68), did not score at state; Girls — Eighth (34) at district behind champion Central (85), tied for 13th (19) at regional behind champion Gahanna (84), tied for 19th (11) at state behind champion Mentor (70)

SOUTH BOYS TENNIS 

Record: 5-5 overall 

OCC-Capital standings: Dublin Scioto (7-0), North and Kilbourne (5-2), Big Walnut (4-3), Delaware and South (3-4), Canal Winchester (1-6), Franklin Heights (0-7) 

Seniors lost: Max Chambers, Daniel Murray, Emmanuel Okyere, Ethan Quimba, Adrian Self and Henry Tran 

Key returnees: Samson Gurgiolo and Nikita Kitaev