Second-year Groveport Madison High School boys basketball coach Ryan Grashel believes his program has taken a major step forward this season.
The Cruisers were 8-4 overall and 2-4 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Pickerington Central on Jan. 14 in a makeup game from Jan. 7. Last season, they finished 6-17 overall and 2-12 in the league.
"These guys have gone from hoping to win to expecting to win this season, and that was a big hurdle for the program," Grashel said. "I didn't know how long it would take us to reach this point, but now that we're here, that's the attitude that we have to maintain every time we take the floor.
"It really is a testament to the seniors, who have had three coaches and were going 1-19 in junior high school ball. We've undergone a huge mental change. One of the things we set our sights on this year was to become more competitive in the OCC-Ohio Division. We felt if we could play with the teams in our league, we can play with anyone in Central Ohio. I think we've surpassed that, too."
According to Grashel, his players' response to a 59-57 loss to host Reynoldsburg in a league game Jan. 10 was evidence that the program's culture is changing. The Raiders, who shared the OCC-Ohio championship last season with Grove City, Newark and Pickerington Central, scored the decisive points on a layup by Travis Gleason at the buzzer.
"Rather than being pleased with a moral victory, the kids were very disappointed, angry and hungry in practice (Jan. 11)," Grashel said. "They have always possessed the desire to get better, but the anger and disappointment were visible and that's a great thing as far as I'm concerned."
The Cruisers led Reynoldsburg 35-26 at halftime, but the Raiders rallied to tie the score at 42 by the end of the third quarter and opened a 54-49 lead with under three minutes left. Groveport staged a rally of its own, tying the score at 57 with 10 seconds left on a basket by Raymond Rhone off an assist by Ty Ferguson.
However, following a timeout, Gleason took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the court for the layup.
"We had just preached to (the players) not to foul, so we were a little passive on defense because they didn't want to foul or leave their man open under the basket if they stepped out," Grashel said. "But that's about the only thing we didn't do well down the stretch. We played well. Reynoldsburg just made one more play than we did.
"We won a few close ones this season when we made some bad plays down the stretch but survived to get the win and we were fortunate. But this wasn't like that. We didn't make bad turnovers or take bad shots. It was just good basketball."
Tyrone Cherry led the Cruisers with 16 points and Ferguson scored 11.
"That was greatly disappointing," said Ferguson, a sophomore point guard who is averaging less than two turnovers per game. "It was right there for us. Everybody is doubting us, but we know we can do this. We're still developing and trying to get better every day. Two years ago, we had just one win (in junior high) and last year we had six. We've already got eight this year, but we're not satisfied. We think we're going to win every game. That's our mindset."
Entering play Jan. 14, Groveport was sixth in the OCC-Ohio behind Newark (6-1), Central (5-1), Gahanna (5-2), Grove City (4-3) and Reynoldsburg (4-3) and ahead of Pickerington North (1-6) and Lancaster (0-7).
Losses piling up for girls basketball team
The girls basketball team entered play this week still searching for its first victory.
Groveport was 0-12 overall and 0-7 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Pickerington Central in a makeup game Jan. 14. It will play host to Gahanna on Friday, Jan. 17, in a league game and Hamilton Township on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
The Cruisers lost to Gahanna 76-13 on Dec. 9 in the first round of league play.
Groveport lost to Reynoldsburg 90-18 in a league game Jan. 10 and fell to Westerville Central 68-31 on Jan. 11. Against Westerville Central, Carlisa Hayes had 12 points and Diaba Diane scored 11.
Wrestling team places 7th at Licking Heights
Shakur Laney and Matt Miller helped lead the wrestling team to a seventh-place finish (96 points) in the 16-team Licking Heights Invitational held Jan. 10 and 11 behind champion Westerville North (304.5).
Laney won the 120-pound weight class in the event and improved to 23-2 on the season and Miller (106) placed third and improved to 14-6.
Also placing were Dayrel Billingsley at 152 (fourth), Ryan Smith at 126 (fourth) and Malcolm Solack at 220 (sixth).
The Cruisers lost to Gahanna 45-32 in an OCC-Ohio dual Jan. 9. Winning matches were Billingsley, Laney, Miller, Smith, Solack and Eli Schleret (113).