Delaware Hayes High School boys basketball coach Jordan Blackburn believes his team came a long way over the course of the season.
The Pacers finished 16-7 overall and placed second in the OCC-Capital Division at 11-3, behind New Albany (14-0) and ahead of Olentangy (10-4), Olentangy Orange (8-6), Franklin Heights (5-9), Mount Vernon (3-11), Watkins Memorial (3-11) and Big Walnut (2-12).
Delaware was seeded 14th of 42 teams in the Division I district tournament and lost to defending state champion Pickerington Central 66-53 in the first round Feb. 23. The host Tigers were the 10th seed.
"This is the most improved team we've had from the start of the season to the end in the past decade," Blackburn said. "I felt we were much improved on the defensive end and on the boards and I think that was reflected on the scoreboard. A turning point in the season for us was getting throttled at Westland (79-47 on Jan. 22) and these kids responding.
"We won six straight games and seven of eight down the stretch. During that stretch, we gave up 41.4 points per game, which was the biggest reason for the wins."
Five of the six opponents that defeated Delaware this season had 17 or more wins and the lone exception, Olentangy, had 15 wins.
The Pacers lose three seniors, including guard Mike Wells, who averaged 21.1 points, 5.3 assists and 2.9 steals and shot 53 percent from the field, including 47.4 percent from 3-point range. He was named first-team all-district and was co-OCC-Capital Player of the Year with New Albany's Jalen Rhea, marking the second year in a row in which he garnered league Player of the Year honors.
A three-year starter, Wells has committed to play for the University at Albany, which also is known as State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany.
The Pacers lose another starter in senior post player Griffin Kinney, who averaged 10.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists and shot 44.8 percent from the field, including 34 percent from 3-point range. He was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
The third senior was forward Joe Robinson, who was the team's league scholar-athlete honoree.
"Our seniors were the backbone of our team," Blackburn said. "Their leadership, char-isma and character were consistent and all three are looked up to by their teammates. We graduate scoring, rebounding, assists, but even more so, we graduate wonderful examples of what you should be as a student-athlete. This program will always be partly theirs for what they were willing to sacrifice to be a part of it.
"Although (Robinson) did not score a point this season, he was one of the most valuable members of the team due to his commitment to excellence both on the practice floor and in the classroom."
The Pacers expect to return three starters in junior guard Tyler Treese, sophomore forward Khalil Iverson and sophomore guard Noble Moore.
Iverson averaged 13.1 points and 11.6 rebounds and shot 63.6 percent from the field. He also set the program's single-season record for rebounds with 266 and was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Moore averaged 7.1 points and 2.7 assists and was honorable mention all-league, and Treese averaged four points and three assists.
Also expected back are juniors Jamison Lahman (forward), Gaige Linville (forward), Thoeun Sorn (guard), Alex Stevens (forward) and Jante' Wright (guard).
Linville and Treese have been selected to be team captains next season.
"All eight of those guys should be key components next season," Blackburn said. "We have a lot of work to get done to be successful next year, but the expectation is that the work will get done."
Swimming teams losing 10 seniors
The girls swimming and diving team loses six seniors, including two who competed in relays in the Division I state meet held Feb. 21-23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton in Lindsey Norris and Susan Thomson.
At state, junior Regan DeWitt placed 15th in the 500-yard freestyle (5 minutes, 9.8 seconds) and junior Brittany Puthoff finished 15th in the 100 breaststroke (1:07.01) and the two teamed with Norris and sophomore Sam Curtin to finish 14th in the 200 medley relay (1:49.79).
All finishers in the top 16 earned all-state honors.
Also competing at state were Thomson, Puthoff, DeWitt and Curtin in the 200 free relay (21st, 1:40.72) and Curtin, sophomore Bethany Ward, Thomson and Puthoff in the 400 free relay (21st, 3:40.81).
This season marked the first time that all three relays for the girls team advanced to state in the same season.
Delaware scored 10 points at state to tie Dublin Coffman, Dublin Jerome and Olentangy for 40th behind champion Cincinnati Ursuline (234) as 55 teams scored.
DeWitt set program records in the 200 free (1:58.42), 500 free (5:08.16) and 200 individual medley (2:15.33) during the regular season.
In the district meet Feb. 16 at Ohio State, Curtin set a program record in the 50 free (25.08) and the 200 free relay set the program mark (1:40.08), as the Pacers finished seventh (121) behind champion Upper Arlington (491) as 24 teams scored.
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 also advanced.
The Pacers finished third (187) in the 13-team sectional Feb. 9 at Thomas Worthington behind Thomas (311) and New Albany (239) and placed third (259) in the OCC-Capital meet Jan. 26 behind New Albany (312) and Olentangy (274) and ahead of Orange (167), Watkins Memorial (114), Big Walnut (110) and Mount Vernon (63).
Franklin Heights does not have a swimming and diving program.
"We're losing some talented and dedicated swimmers from the program on the girls and boys teams and all will be missed," coach Bill Rietz said. "We had good leadership from them and I really enjoyed the senior class.
"I think we have a lot coming back, especially on the girls team, so I'm looking forward to see what they can do next season."
The boys team, which loses four seniors, scored three points at state to tie Lakewood for 52nd behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (270) as 57 teams scored.
Junior Anthony Hinton accounted for the Pacers' scoring, placing 14th in the 50 free (21.69), and earned all-state honors. Also competing were senior Cam Hackett in the 500 free (19th, 4:43.5) and the 400 free relay of Hackett, Hinton and seniors Anthony Sanfillipo and Thomas Lenhart (22nd, 3:16.49).
Delaware finished eighth (122) at district behind champion UA (380) as 24 teams scored.
Setting program records at district were Hackett in the 200 free (1:43.91) and 500 free (4:42.99), Hinton in the 50 free (21.33) and the 400 free relay (3:15.38).
Delaware finished fourth (181) in the 11-team Thomas sectional behind Westerville South (216), Thomas (208.5) and New Albany (201.5) and placed third (254) in the league meet behind New Albany (335) and Olentangy (274) and ahead of Orange (166), Mount Vernon (96), Watkins Memorial (77) and Big Walnut (74).
"Obviously, we're going to miss the seniors a lot," Rietz said. "Cam, Anthony and Thomas were four-year lettermen who ended their careers with a bang. We're going to need others to step up and take their turn next year."