Confidence is possibly the biggest thing the Bexley High School girls basketball team needed at the beginning of the season.
The players started to find some during a recent three-game winning streak.
The Lions reached .500 with wins over Whitehall (49-29 on Jan. 3), Columbus Academy (47-12 on Jan. 5) and Amanda-Clearcreek (47-36 on Jan. 8). A 56-44 loss to Licking Valley on Jan. 11 dropped Bexley to 7-8 overall and 3-5 in the MSL-Ohio Division before playing Heath on Jan. 15.
"Our girls are starting to click," coach Jim Strode said. "They're starting to take things from every single game. One of the biggest things we have as a staff is to challenge our kids as to whether they get better every day.
"We wanted to try to eliminate a couple of errors per game from every single kid. If we could focus on getting rid of those things, then we could get better."
Strode has been happy with the progress he's seen in practice and in games.
"Our kids have the physical ability and skill to make layups and free throws, but we're doing our best to train them to maintain focus and know they have the competence to get the job done," he said.
Strode saw the work pay off against Amanda-Clearcreek when a 20-point lead in the second half started to dwindle.
"They came back a little bit, but we still played like that team that built the 20-point lead," he said. "We didn't go off the rails."
Bri Stewart led the way with 16 points and was averaging 11.4 through 14 games, and Lydia Lake scored 11 and was averaging 12.6.
Strode pointed to the play of Sidney Woodford at point guard as a reason for the success of his scoring duo. Centers Elise Torrence and Jackie Delap also have been key contributors.
"Sidney is probably one of the more scrappy and hard-nosed players I've coached," Strode said. "She's been alleviating the ball-handling from Lydia, but what's amazing is she's maybe 5-1, but she's sometimes leading us in rebounding.
"We've had more production from our centers. Elise and Jackie have been chipping in points for us, which is important. Their roles are as rebounders and scorers and we need to get them to continue to improve and be physical."
Boys swim squad wins Invitational
The Bexley Invitational was held Jan. 12 at St. Charles, and the Lions' boys swimming and diving team scored 405 points to win the event ahead of St. Charles (392), Wellington (124) and Eastmoor Academy (81).
Ben Hoffman won the 100-yard butterfly (59.92 seconds) and the 100 backstroke (1:04.03).
Hoffman also was part of the 200 freestyle relay that finished first in 1:42.2. Also competing on the relay were Marek Kuspan, Alex Musick and Ian Davis.
The girls finished second (393) behind Wellington (435) and ahead of Eastmoor (203).
Tyler Mansfield won the 100 fly in 1:08.2.
Boys basketball team in league title race
The boys basketball team dropped to 8-4 overall and 4-2 in the MSL-Ohio with a 54-38 loss at Columbus Academy on Jan. 12.
Entering this week, Newark Catholic led the league at 5-0, followed by Academy at 6-1, Granville at 5-1 and Bexley.
"Things are continuing to go well," coach Dave Gustin said. "We went up to Granville (on Jan. 4) and played them to a basket and had a chance to win at the end (but lost 52-50).
"We feel good about our chances when they come to our place later on (Feb. 5)."
Bexley rebounded from the Granville loss to beat Whitehall 71-58 at home Jan. 8, thanks in part to Ethan Knisley's career-high 24 points. The senior point guard was 9-for-11 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.
Junior guard/forward Sam Nolan (14) and senior forward Will Gingery (10) also scored in double figures.
The league champion will be determined by how the contenders respond the second time they play one another.
"You can't just assume that what you did the last time will be effective this time," Gustin said. "Your team changes, the other team can change. Rarely do you go into a game and say you'll do the exact same thing that you did last time."
One area the Lions will attempt to keep the same is their defense.
"That will not change," Gustin said. "Team defense is as, or more important, than team offense when you're working as a group.
"Your leading scorer isn't necessarily the most important player on the offensive side. And defensively, it does take everyone. You have to know who's covering for whom. There's a lot of work and continued drill work that sometimes becomes monotonous, but we're not big as a team, so we can't afford too many times getting beat down in the paint because we don't have someone who can change or block a shot."
Break benefited wrestling team
After competing three times from Dec. 21-Jan. 3, Bexley took a break that ended with the Licking Heights Invitational on Jan. 11 and 12. The Lions finished last (3) behind champion Whitehall (239) in a 17-team field.
"This small gap has actually helped us," coach Edward Cruz said. "We refocused how we were drilling technique.
"Previously we were going in one-to-three minute spurts on a particular move and then switching moves. We changed to drilling a specific move on the whistle, hitting the same move over and over in rapid succession. We only changed to the next moves when everyone had the previous move down."
Cruz said he saw marked improvements from the new focus and looks forward to getting junior Sam Shorr (120 pounds) and junior Dan Lee (195) back from injuries soon.