Whetstone High School boys basketball coach Kevin Arway hopes the way his team finished the regular season is an indication of what lies ahead for his program.
The Braves, who finished 6-16 overall after losing to eighth-seeded Reynoldsburg 71-44 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23, went 3-3 in their final six games of the regular season.
"One of those wins was over Beechcroft (70-52 on Feb. 8) and we hadn't beaten them in my six years as coach and I don't know how many years before that," Arway said. "They beat us pretty good earlier (61-48 on Jan. 8). I think it was just a glimpse of how well we can play when we click on both ends of the floor.
"We finished strong, going 3-3 in our final six, and one of those losses was by one point to Independence (69-68 on Feb. 19)."
It wasn't just the late-season wins that pleased Arway.
"Our record wasn't what we wanted, but three other factors were very encouraging," he said. "We were practicing hard up to the end of the season, we were playing better at the end of the season and everyone had bought into the system and was on the same page. That indicates we're moving in the right direction."
Whetstone finished 3-11 in the City League-North Division to place seventh, behind Northland (14-0), Brookhaven (11-3), Centennial (10-4), Beechcroft (7-7), Columbus East (6-8) and Mifflin (5-9) and ahead of Linden-McKinley (0-14).
The Braves lose three seniors in guards Claude Bogan and Steven Foster and forward Gary Hoover. All three were honorable mention all-league.
Hoover led the Braves in scoring (14.0) and rebounding (9.0) and was among the area leaders in field-goal percentage (52.1). Bogan averaged 12 points and 2.7 assists and had a career-high 31 points with seven steals in the win over Beechcroft.
"Foster was our defensive stopper among the bigs, even though he's only (6-foot-1)," Arway said. "He was reliable, a blue-collar player who set a positive example. In three of our wins, he held the opponents' top-scoring big man well below his average. All three of those seniors gave us a positive contribution every time they were on the floor, whether it was a game or practice."
Among those expected to return are juniors Aaron Adair (point guard), Darius Bester (forward) and Brian Scott (guard) and sophomore Dre Mills (forward).
"The three juniors were all starters at some point and they all averaged around 5 points per game," Arway said. "After another spring and summer, they're going to be ready to go. Mills is very athletic and goes 6-3 or 6-4 and has a good shot. I really think he's going to develop into a big-time player."
Swim teams look to build on season
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams will be looking to build on this season's success.
The girls team finished second (99 points) in the City meet Feb. 2 at Columbus Aquatics Center, behind Centennial (132) and ahead of Northland (43), Eastmoor Academy (74) and Beechcroft (20).
The Braves did not score in the Division I district meet Feb. 16 at Ohio State after finishing 11th (20) behind champion and host Upper Arlington (463) in a 12-team sectional Feb. 9.
At district, the 400-yard freestyle relay of seniors Alana Bruzzese, Kaylina Ruth and Audrey Bollas and sophomore Karina Spulgis finished 22nd (4 minutes, 12.47 seconds) and the 200 medley relay of junior Ellie Downie, Bruzzese, Bollas and Ruth was 29th (2:12.82). Neither relay qualified for the state meet Feb. 21-23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
The top two placers in each swimming event at district automatically advanced to state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide. The top three boys divers and top four girls divers advanced to state.
"It was a wonderful year," coach John DeRing said. "We had great senior leadership and a lot of young girls step up. We're losing four seniors, but they helped guide these young girls so we can continue to build.
"Audrey was our absolute leader who loved competition and Alana and Kaylina will be big losses, too. I remember Kaylina couldn't swim 25 yards as a freshman and she swam the 500 this year. She's a great example for the younger kids. Our other senior, Miranda Metz, was second in diving in the City this year and won the City title last year."
Bollas won the 100 butterfly (1:09.68) and the 200 individual medley (2:29.61) in the league meet.
Downey, Spulgis and sophomore Claire O'Grady are expected to be key returnees.
"Ellie worked real hard and came on like gangbusters this year," DeRing said. "She has a great work ethic. Karina really put things together the last three weeks. It just seemed like it clicked for her. Claire is another one we'll ask a lot of next year. Those three should lead us."
The boys team finished third (84) in the City meet, behind Northland (103) and Centennial (91) and ahead of Eastmoor (13) and Beechcroft (8), as junior Bert Pajor won the 200 free (2:10.36) and freshman Nathan Smith won the 100 backstroke (1:06.24).
The Braves did not score at district after finishing ninth (36) in a 12-team sectional behind host and champion UA (351).
At district, senior Nick Nottage placed 21st in the 100 breaststroke (1:05.85), Smith finished 27th in the 100 back (1:02.69), Smith, Nottage, Pajor and freshman Nico Azuad were 20th in the 200 medley relay (1:50.47) and 21st in the 200 free relay (1:38.51) and the 400 free relay of senior Ben Alexander, sophomores Evan Myers and Sam Green-Lauber and Pajor finished 27th (3:58.98).
Joining Alexander and Nottage in the senior class was Michael Yokusuk.
"We'll miss those three seniors and Nico Azuad, too," DeRing said. "Nico will be back in Venezuela because he's an exchange student. Nick was our Mr. Everything. He would swim any event we needed him to and find success. Ben and Michael were also willing to swim anything for the team. I really enjoyed this team and the versatility."
Pajor, Smith, Myers, Sam Green-Lauber and his twin brother, Luke Green-Lauber, are expected to be the top returnees next year.
"Bert will be our lone senior and leader and the kids look up to him," DeRing said. "With the amount of improvement our younger guys made this year, I'm looking forward to next year."