Members of the Groveport Madison High School wrestling team have had extra practice time this season.
A victim of a levy failure last spring, the program is not a school-funded sport this school year and, consequently, its meet schedule is lighter than usual.
The Cruisers are scheduled to compete in only five meets, excluding their OCC-Ohio Division dual matches, and one those events was the Kevin Cleveland Tournament held Jan. 4 at Dublin Scioto.
"We were able to attend (the Kevin Cleveland Tournament) because our (junior varsity) tournament (scheduled for Jan. 4) was canceled earlier and we used those funds to take the team to Scioto," coach Pat Nieman said. "We haven't wrestled a bunch, but we did beat Newark 50-9 in our first (OCC-Ohio dual Dec. 19). I think we have the chance to finish in the top four in the league, and that's exciting given our lack of depth."
Groveport scored 71 points in the 14-team Kevin Cleveland Tournament to finish ninth behind champion Gnadenhutten Indian Valley (190).
The Cruisers were led by Shakur Laney, who finished first at 120 pounds. Also placing in the top six were Dayrell Billingsly at 152 (third), Malcolm Solack at 220 (fifth) and Matt Miller at 106 (sixth).
Laney finished fourth in the Division I state tournament last season at 106.
"Those guys have been wrestling well," Nieman said. "Shakur competed as an individual in the Medina Invitational (Dec. 27 and 28) and placed fourth there in his first big competition this season. Solack looks like the district qualifier he was last season and I'm excited about what Matt Miller has shown already this season. He could go deep into the district tournament."
In the Medina Invitational, Laney lost 3-1 in overtime to eventual champion L.J. Bentley of Lakewood St. Edward in a semifinal and then lost the third-place match 6-3 to Dustin Warner of Uhrichsville Claymont.
"He wrestled very well against Bentley," Nieman said. "But Bentley and Warner had both competed in the Ironman Tournament (Dec. 14 at Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit), so they had at least one big-meet atmosphere under their belts and Shakur didn't.
"But the key for all of us is to recognize that the season is a marathon and not a sprint. We want to peak for the postseason."
Boys team takes 'big step' forward
The boys basketball team was 8-3 overall at the midway point of the regular season and had won three consecutive games and was 2-3 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Pickerington Central on Jan. 7.
Groveport already has surpassed its win total from last season and entered its game against Central needing only one victory to surpass its win total in league play from a year ago. The Cruisers finished 6-17 overall and 2-12 in the league last season.
After losing to Newark 51-43 on Dec. 20 in an OCC-Ohio contest, Groveport beat Central Crossing 80-61 on Dec. 28, Pickerington North 53-45 in a league game Jan. 3 and Whitehall 81-76 on Jan. 4.
"We put in quite a bit of stuff during practices over the holidays," coach Ryan Grashel said. "They were our best practices of the year so far. The boys are focused and bringing energy into the gymnasium on a daily basis. We're still young, but we're maturing, growing and learning.
"We still have lots of work to do. We have to get better at defensive rebounding, especially as we reach the meat of our league schedule. We also have to focus on taking better care of the ball to limit our turnovers."
Ten players scored for Groveport against Whitehall, including nine who six points or more. Tyus Ferguson led the way with 14 points, with Tyrone Cherry (13) and Markel Davis (11) also scoring in double figures.
Groveport trailed North 19-9 after the first quarter, but outscored the Panthers 35-14 in the second and third quarters combined. Carmearl Thomas had a team-high 12 points, with Ferguson scoring 10.
Tyrell Carter had a game-high 28 points, making five of his six 3-point attempts, to lead the way as 11 players scored against Central Crossing. Ferguson added 12 points.
C.J. Crowder had a team-high 21 points against Newark.
"What I'm thrilled about with this team is the way they're becoming unselfish players," Grashel said. "They're willing to share the ball and the spotlight and that is truly a big step for a young team that hasn't had much recent success.
"We're getting contributions from everyone. Thomas, Jake Seipel and Tory Stephens-Davis have combined to give us very solid minutes in the post."