Whitehall-Yearling Roundup Leka ready to guide boys team
Geral Leka developed a passion for Whitehall-Yearling when he was a student at the school.
A 2008 graduate, Leka returned to his alma mater in 2015 as an assistant boys soccer coach and became a social studies teacher in 2017.
He's embracing his latest challenge, having replaced T.J. Mohammed as the Rams' head coach. Mohammad led the team for three seasons, compiling a 12-19-14 overall record and a 4-5-6 mark in the MSL-Ohio Division.
"With coach T.J., he let me have a lot of input on the team with formations and what players play where so I always felt involved," Leka said. "This year it's my program. It's more official now."
Leka was successful in his debut as the Rams defeated defending Division III state champion Wellington 1-0 on Sept. 2 in an MSL-Ohio Division game.
The Rams' three scrimmages and then two regular-season games were canceled amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. A league game against Bexley was postponed.
Last season, Whitehall finished 5-6-5 overall and went 1-2-3 in the league to finish fifth behind co-champions Wellington and Worthington Christian (4-0-2).
"(Contending for a league title is) one of the consistent goals for the last few years," Leka said. "We've been close. We've been there heading into the last games of the season. That goal does not change. We're hoping to contend and we feel confident that we'll be able to contend."
A key returnee is senior midfielder Jefferson Martinez, who was second-team all-league last season.
"It's definitely different from what we were doing last year," Martinez said of the coaching change. "We're hoping just to have good communication as a team and trying to have good chemistry, so we're always knowing what we're doing on and off the field. We have to stay together."
Also back are seniors Ebrima Jorbateh (midfielder) and Yared Yesuf (forward). They were honorable mention all-league.
Other returnees are seniors Jose Alvarado (midfielder), Adonay Estifanos (defender), Miguel Godinez (defender), Jonathan Guijosa (defender), Edwin Gutierrez (goalie), Daba Hordofe (defender) and Haben Woldemelak (forward), juniors Jordan Burchnell (defender) and Jesus Yanez (forward) and sophomores Danny Arriola Gonzales (midfielder) and Endi Martinez (forward).
Yanez scored the game-winning goal against Wellington with 42 seconds remaining.
"We have a strong group of returning players," Leka said. "We have a lot of seniors on this team. Many of them have been a part of the varsity program for a few years now, so collectively we are an experienced group. It's been fun witnessing some of the competition for the starting 11."
Others looking to contribute are seniors Jose Arias (forward) and Kirubel Amare (midfielder), junior Jonathan Alvarez (defender), sophomore Carlos Sandoval (forward/goalie) and freshman Biniyam Beyene (forward).
Girls soccer team led by two coaches
Maria Shipe and Tim Darling are sharing coaching duties for the girls soccer team.
Shipe coached the team last season. She announced in February that she was stepping down because of other commitments, but she recently returned.
It is the first coaching assignment for Darling, who is 32.
"It's been a little difficult," he said. "We lost 10 seniors, so it's getting the girls to come in and practice. Across the board with COVID, it's been a weird year to get started and work through this, but everyone has been kind. It's been a great learning experience for me."
The Rams, whose scrimmages were canceled, opened Sept. 2 against Buckeye Valley in an MSL-Ohio game.
Last season, Whitehall finished 3-12-1 overall and 0-8 in the league.
Junior forward Brooklynn Greer led the Rams last season with a program-record nine goals and three assists.
Senior forward Ryyair Smith had four goals.
Junior Abril Garcia (goalie/forward) also returns and should start in goal.
Other returnees are senior Fatmata Jalloh (midfielder), juniors Dalia Matute (defender) and Jessica Revadelo (midfielder/defender) and sophomores Dayana Martinez (midfielder), Teresa Munoz (forward) and Cynthia Rivas (defender).
Also looking to contribute are seniors Dami Juarez Vazquez (defender), Brenda Pineda Cuevar (defender) and Cristal Vazquez (midfielder), sophomores Autum Coulson (midfielder) and Diana Vazquez (midfielder) and freshman Jennifer Martinez-Paredes (midfielder).
"The goal is to get some games in and get some experience," Darling said.
"We lost 10 girls so we need a lot of people to step up. There's a lot of sophomores who are stepping up and I really need that. It's more of a team spirit, team philosophy. Let's figure out what we can do and what we're made of."
At a glance
*Coach: Geral Leka, first season
*Top players: Ebrima Jorbateh, Jefferson Martinez and Yared Yesuf
*Key losses: Jared Alvarez, Cesar Artica, Casey Hernandez and Alex Herrera
*Last season: 5-6-5 overall
*2019 MSL-Ohio standings: Wellington and Worthington Christian (both 4-0-2), Columbus Academy (2-1-3), Grandview (2-3-1), Whitehall (1-2-3), Bexley (1-3-2), Buckeye Valley (0-5-1)
*2019 postseason: Defeated Chillicothe 2-1 (OT); lost to Groveport 1-0 in the second round of Division I district tournament
*Coaches: Maria Shipe, second season; Tim Darling, first season
*Top players: Abril Garcia, Brooklynn Greer, Dina Matute and Ryyair Smith
*Key losses: Selamawit Alebachew and Yabesera Tadesse
*Last season: 3-12-1 overall
*2019 MSL-Ohio standings: Academy (8-0), Bexley and Grandview (both 6-2), Buckeye Valley and Worthington Christian (both 4-3-1), Zanesville Rosecrans (2-4-2), Columbus School for Girls and Wellington (both 2-6), Whitehall (0-8)
*2019 postseason: Lost to Bloom-Carroll 8-0 in second round of Division II district tournament