When Caska Thompson took over as Mifflin High School wrestling coach five seasons ago, he had just six athletes in the program.
"It's been five long, hardworking years," Thompson said.
That effort has paid off for Thompson and the Punchers.
On Feb. 9 at Centennial, Mifflin built a 12-point lead over Columbus West during the early rounds of the City League tournament and held on to win the championship with 192.5 points.
It snapped a five-year run of titles for Marion-Franklin and marked the first league championship for the Punchers.
According to Thompson, it also was the first tournament the wrestling program had ever won.
"It means a lot," said senior Alec Mills (145 pounds), who was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler. "We've just been building our program for years now. This year we had a lot of guys come in and put in a lot of work."
Mills, a two-time Division II district qualifier, was one of three champions for the Punchers with junior Hannibal Tate (152) and senior Jalen Robinson (220).
Also placing for Mifflin were juniors Mohammed Ali (fourth at 138), Christian Stevens (fourth at 182) and Travis Taylor (third at 170), sophomores Montrese Frazier (fifth at 160), Makiyn Tate (second at 120) and Maurice Chatman (second at 132) and freshman Quaadir Thomas (sixth at 113).
West settled for second with 187 points, followed by Whetstone (170), Marion-Franklin (148.5), Columbus South (124), Brookhaven (98), Centennial (82), Walnut Ridge (74), Briggs (61.5), Columbus East and Northland (58), Linden-McKinley (56.5), Africentric (39), Independence (37.5) and Beechcroft (18).
Winning titles for West were seniors Marcos Gasca (120), Bryan Gray (heavyweight) and Paco Quinonez (182) and junior Zach Em (126).
"We had a shot at (Mifflin) and we wrestled well but not well enough," West coach Scott Nicola said. "We had 10 guys and nine of them placed. They wrestled hard."
Whetstone senior Anthony Lehnen (113) won his third league championship.
Other winners included East junior Bashir Ali (106), Whetstone seniors Chris North (170) and Daylon Smothers (132), Northland senior Anthony Alexander (138), South senior Gabe Valentine (160) and Marion-Franklin sophomore David Wellborn (195).
Mifflin will open the postseason Saturday, Feb. 16, in a Division II sectional at Licking Heights. Also at the site will be Centennial, East and South.
Beechcroft, Brookhaven, Independence, Linden, Marion-Franklin and Walnut Ridge will compete in a Division II sectional at Licking Valley.
Briggs, Northland, West and Whetstone will compete Saturday, Feb. 16, in a Division I sectional at Marysville.
The top four individuals in each weight class will advance to district tournaments the following weekend.
Africentric girls win City title
The Africentric girls basketball team made it six City League championships in eight seasons when it beat Northland 83-67 on Feb. 9 at South.
The Nubians, who were sixth in last week's Division III state poll, now have their eyes on defending their state title.
Africentric is the top seed for the district tournament and opens the postseason Wednesday, Feb. 20, at South against Mount Gilead. The next-highest seed in the Nubians' bracket is seventh-seeded Madison Plains.
Africentric is 16-5.
"Winning the City is great, but after today it's over," senior post player Marley Hill said as her team cut down the nets Feb. 9. "We don't want to celebrate in front of 1,000 people, we want the whole state."
Against Northland, the Nubians built an 18-9 lead late in the first quarter and never led by fewer than six after that.
Hill, a University of Cincinnati recruit, finished with 26 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Darianne Seward had 25 points.
Northland, which beat Africentric 45-37 for the league title last year and has won back-to-back Division I district championships, is 17-5.
The Vikings are the fifth seed for the district tournament and open the postseason at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at home against Briggs or Delaware. Fourth-seeded Dublin Coffman could be the opponent if Northland reaches a district semifinal and third-seeded Olentangy Orange is the highest seed in the bracket.
Northland senior Alexis Peterson, who has signed with Syracuse, had 31 points, seven rebounds and four steals against the Nubians.
Junior Brooklynn Peterson, who is Alexis' sister, was ejected with Africentric's Kyra Jones after an altercation that took place with 3 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. Both players must sit out their teams' next two games.
Northland hopes to return senior post player Jasmine Weatherspoon, who has been out the entire season with a knee injury, during the tournament.
"Africentric's very athletic and (Hill) has improved," Northland coach Dean Washington said. "I tell the girls that every game is going to be heightened from here on out and we'll see how they respond."
Football players make commitments
On Feb. 6, four players from City League football teams signed letters of intent to play with Division I college programs.
Marion-Franklin wide receiver Jaron Dukes, who was among the first area players to verbally commit when he announced in February 2012 that he would sign with Michigan, made his decision official.
Also signing were Eastmoor Academy's Devon Edwards (TE/DL) with Pittsburgh, Whetstone's Dezwan Polk (DL) with Purdue and Walnut Ridge's Rob Wheelwright (WR) with Wisconsin.
Other City players to commit Feb. 6 included Beechcroft's Maurice Hale (QB/DB) and Walnut Ridge's Terry Cole (LB) and Nick Butler (WR/DB) with Lake Erie, Independence's Vincent Rambo (DB) with Charleston (W.Va.), Mifflin's Javonte Bing (QB) with Urbana, Walnut Ridge's Jason Hawkins (LB) and Eastmoor's Daivon Barrow (RB/DB) with Ashland, Eastmoor's Brent Granger (LB) with Clark Atlanta, South's Lepaso Walker (QB/DB), Kelvin Bell (RB/DB) and Maurice Neal (TE/LB) with Otterbein and South's Shaquille Upchurch (RB/DB) with Muskingum.