Shakur Laney of the Groveport Madison High School wrestling team had heard about what it was like to compete in the Division I state tournament.
Now he knows firsthand.
The sophomore went 3-2 in the tournament held Feb. 28-March 2 at Ohio State and placed fourth at 106 pounds. He finished 33-8 on the season.
"Everyone told me how scary it was coming down the tunnel to enter the floor," Laney said. "When I went out for my first match, I said, 'When am I supposed to get scared?' Nothing was scary. I wasn't worried about the crowd, the arena or anything. I was focused and just wanted to get out on the mat and get to it."
Laney lost to Brecksville-Broadview Heights' Austin Assad 5-4 in a semifinal and lost to Brunswick's Josh Heil 4-2 in the third-place match. Assad went on to place second, losing to Massillon Perry's Jose Rodriguez 6-5 in the final.
"Shakur kind of flew under the radar all season, but he just kept improving and working hard," coach Mark Niemann said. "There's no disappointment about being fourth, especially against that level of wrestlers. Assad was ranked third in the nation and Rodriguez was ranked sixth.
"Shakur proved he's a state-caliber kid and we'll work with him the next two years to get him on top of the podium. I seriously believe that he'll be back here next year and be disappointed if he doesn't win the whole thing."
Assad and Rodriguez also are sophomores.
"It was a very pleasant experience and one I'll learn from," Laney said. "It'll make me better for next season and prepare me for the offseason. I have to get better on top. My goal is to be a state champion and I'll start preparing for that in two weeks."
Laney defeated Macedonia Nordonia's Tony DeCesare 6-5 in his opening match and beat Eastlake North's Kenny Hobernay 9-5 before losing to Assad. He rebounded to beat DeCesare again, 8-3, to reach the third-place match.
Laney got the first takedown on Assad but trailed 3-2 after the first period and 4-2 after the second period. He got another takedown to tie the score at 4 and was looking to get a third takedown, only to have Assad escape his hold with about 30 seconds left.
"(Laney) was in position to do it, but Assad wrestled from his knees from there, much like Payton Gutierrez of Pickerington North does," Niemann said. "We knew that and had a plan, but (Laney) just couldn't pull it off in the end.
"Against Heil, well that kid was long with a good reach, but Shakur wrestled better from his first match at state up to the last one. I'm so proud of him."
Laney, who was Groveport's lone state qualifier, scored 12 points, as the Cruisers tied for 39th behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (117) as 89 teams scored.
Laney won his weight class in the district tournament held Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Darby, beating Olentangy Liberty's Jonathan Furnas 6-2 in the final. He had lost to Furnas 5-3 in the third-place match in the 10-team sectional Feb. 16 at Pickerington North.
His most dramatic match at district came in a semifinal, when he beat Teays Valley's Luke Nace 14-12 in sudden victory after trailing by five with 45 seconds left in the third period and trailing 12-10 with 8 seconds remaining. He got a takedown to tie the match at 12 and got another takedown 15 seconds into overtime to get the win.
The top four placers in each weight class at district qualified for state.
Also competing at district was sophomore Malcolm Solack (195), who went 1-2 and finished 11-6. The Cruisers scored 26 points to place 22nd behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored.
Solack placed second at sectional, losing to Mount Vernon's Matthew Lybarger 22-9 in the final, as the top four finishers in each weight class advanced.
Also competing at sectional were sophomore Kyle Stover, who placed sixth at 145, and freshmen Eli Schleret (113), Marshall Buck (160) and Nate Brookman (182), each of whom went 0-2. Senior Sam Lovings (138) and juniors Zander Wright (132) and Thomas Thornton (152) failed to make weight.
The Cruisers finished eighth (37) at sectional behind champion Darby (212.5).
"As young as we were, we made a lot of progress," Niemann said. "The three kids who placed at sectional were sophomores and we expect big things from them in the offeseason and next season, as we do with Zander and Thornton."
The Cruisers went 1-6 in OCC-Ohio Division duals to place seventh, behind co-champions Pickerington Central (6-1) and Pickerington North (6-1), Gahanna (5-2), Lancaster (5-2), Grove City (3-4) and Reynoldsburg (2-5) and ahead of Newark (0-7).
Groveport was seeded eighth in Region 6-A of the inaugural Division I state team tournament and lost to top-seeded Hilliard Davidson 63-9 in the first round Jan. 23.
Boys basketball team shows improvement
The boys basketball team achieved its goal of making progress this season under first-year coach Ryan Grashel.
Groveport finished 6-17 overall and went 2-12 in the OCC-Ohio to place seventh. Grove City, Newark, Pickerington Central and Reynoldsburg tied for first at 10-4, with Gahanna (9-5) and Pickerington North (4-10) rounding out the top six. Lancaster (1-13) was eighth.
The Cruisers finished 1-20 and 0-14 last season.
"We're moving forward and I think we accomplished what we set out to do this year," Grashel said. "Our motto was progress. Now we've got to change that.
"We need a different focus. We've got to get these kids into the weight room, work on skill development and begin striving for wins instead of competitiveness. ... We should be able to go out and represent our school and community with a vengeance next year."
The Cruisers, who were seeded 31st of 42 teams in the Division I district tournament and lost to 12th-seeded Westerville South 82-53 in the first round Feb. 23, lose two seniors in forwards Dareyl Hamlet and Mark Johnson-Reed.
Johnson-Reed averaged 6.0 rebounds. Hamlet had a breakout game in a 57-50 league win over Lancaster on Jan. 29, scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Groveport's other league win came against Pickerington North, 62-47 on Jan. 4.
The Cruisers expect to return seven players who either were regular starters or saw significant playing time in juniors C.J. Crowder (guard), Jake Seipel (forward) and DeShawn Sowell (forward), sophomores Tyrone Cherry (guard), Markel Davis (post player) and Carmearl Thomas (post player) and freshman Ty Ferguson (point guard).
Ferguson averaged 10.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.1 steals and was named special-mention all-league. Crowder averaged 10.1 points and 3.9 assists and was honorable mention.
"I think we have a special group coming back and we're hoping it translates into more wins, especially in the league," Grashel said. "We want to get this program to be competitive game in and game out, whether it's in our league or against other top teams in the district.
"We've got a sophomore shooting guard, Raymond Rhone, who I think is going to develop very well and could be a lethal combination with Ferguson. I'd like to see them be interchangeable at guards, but we definitely need to get better defensively. That's what is holding us back more than anything else right now."