Westland Roundup: Cougars tuning up for opener at Groveport

FRANK DIRENNA
fdirenna@thisweeknews.com
Two-way lineman Payton Hayes is among the top returnees for the Westland football team, which will travel to Groveport for the opener on Friday, Aug. 28.

As Westland football coach Rick Rios awaited the state's order approving contact sports, he made sure his team was getting ready to play.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced that approval Aug. 18, giving football, field hockey and soccer teams throughout the state the opportunity to compete.

The Cougars will kick off an abbreviated six-game regular season when they visit Groveport on Friday, Aug. 28.

Following the regular season, all teams are eligible to compete in the postseason.

"The biggest thing now is we're a little relieved because you never knew what was going to happen," Rios said. "We had heard a lot of things throughout the last four or five weeks that we thought things were trending in the right direction and to finally get the green light is a good thing."

With the shortened schedule, Rios said a good start is crucial.

"It's always important for us to get out of the gate fast," he said. "Right now, I'm pleased with the way things are going, but we have a long way to go."

Westland is coming off three consecutive 1-9 seasons after having a 0-10 record in 2016. The Cougars have had 12 consecutive losing seasons and last qualified for the playoffs in 2006.

Meanwhile, Groveport is coming off a season in which it reached the Division I, Region 3 final before losing to eventual state champion Pickerington Central 23-7 to finish 10-3. It was a program record for victories and the Cruisers' first postseason appearance since 2007.

Groveport was coming off a 5-5 record in 2018 and 0-10 finish in 2017.

Junior quarterback Jovaan Cooper had a strong preseason, according to Rios, and is expected to begin the season as the starter for Westland.

The Cougars have big voids to fill in the backfield with the graduation of Peterson Iresne and Johnny Douglas. Iresne led the team in rushing last season with 984 yards and 11 touchdowns on 187 carries, and Douglas added 269 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries.

Junior Tim Smith is expected to start at tailback.

Rios calls the receivers a strength of the team. Juniors Mason Bailey, Jack Little, Janell Matia and Jayson Slaughter and sophomore Zane Gibbs-Aguon should be key contributors in the team's spread offense.

Junior Jakob Hurley should help lead the defense at linebacker.

Groveport is led by first-year coach Mitch Westcamp after Bryan Schoonover stepped down. Schoonover coached the Cruisers for seven years and was named the state's Division I Coach of the Year last season.

Westcamp had been an assistant in the program since 2008.

Groveport returns a solid group led by senior fullback Jashaun McGraw, who was second-team all-OCC-Capital Division and second-team all-district last season.

Senior slotback Jalil Underdown was second-team all-league and special mention all-district.

"They were very physical, and that's a trait of a wing-T offense," Rios said. "They're a dominant running team that is going to grind on you a little bit."

After an incomplete preseason because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Westcamp hopes his team will be ready for the opener.

"(Aug. 15) was our first day of hitting, literally, because we were suspended at one point with most of the Franklin County schools," he said. "We had to stop. We couldn't start Aug. 1 when a lot of the other schools (outside the county) were able to go. Our kids were a little upset seeing the other teams practicing the whole time so why couldn't we?

"I had to remind them just to control what we can control, and we couldn't control that. We're still going to line up and play football."

Girls tennis team building for future

With just one senior on the team, girls tennis coach Shaela Hinckley is looking to the future.

Senior returnee Vanesa Benitez Hernandez is playing first singles.

Also back are sophomore Nancy Angeles Santos at second singles and sophomore Roxana Santiago Martinez at third singles.

Juniors Lisa Nguyen and Jackie Lopez Reyes are playing first doubles, and freshmen Rebecca Bicer and Avery Ryan are playing second doubles.

"This is a building year for us, but our goal is to improve every match," said Hinckley, who is in her ninth season. "It has been an interesting and difficult season with everything that is going on. However, our team is up for the challenges ahead."

Westland opened with 5-0 losses to Ready on Aug. 11 and Newark on Aug. 13.

They open OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Aug. 25, against visiting Gahanna.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

At a glance

FOOTBALL -- WEEK 1

WESTLAND at GROVEPORT

*When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28

*Last meeting: 2007, Groveport 63-8

*Top Cougars: Colton Bogle (OL), Jovaan Cooper (QB), Payton Hayes (OL/DL), Hayden Hughes (OL/DL), Jakob Hurley (LB), Jack Little (WR) and Tim Smith (RB/DB)

*Top Cruisers: Elyjah Aekins (WR/DB), Te'Ron Coleman (SB), Clarence Gossett (LB), Leland Slaven (OL), Jashaun McGraw (FB/DL), Makarius Mosley (OL/DL), John Motton (WR/DB), Isaiah Rogers (QB) and Jalil Underdown (RB)

GIRLS TENNIS

*Coach: Shaela Hinckley, ninth season

*Top players: Vanesa Benitez Hernandez, Roxana Santiago Martinez and Nancy Angeles Santos

*Key losses: Anna Ebert, Anais Fernandez, Samantha Khuon, Katie Murray and Genesis Perez

*Last season: 2-12 overall

*2019 OCC-Central standings: Upper Arlington (5-0), Dublin Coffman (4-1), Marysville (3-2), Hilliard Davidson (2-3), Central Crossing (1-4), Westland (0-5)