The Licking Heights High School football team made school and program history when it defeated visiting Fisher Catholic 53-0 on Oct. 26.
The Hornets completed their first perfect regular season, which also was a first for the school in any sport. They also clinched their first league championship in 20 years and extended their season, as they played at Marion-Franklin in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs Nov. 2.
"I am so proud of these kids," coach Darren Waters said. "Any time you accomplish a feat like this and check off some of your goals, it's fantastic. It was an exciting moment. The highlight of the season was beating West Jefferson (36-16 on Oct. 12) and (the win over Fisher Catholic) was an exclamation point."
Licking Heights was seeded sixth in Region 7 and Marion-Franklin was 9-1 and seeded third. The winner plays second-seeded Zanesville or seventh-seeded Canal Winchester in a regional semifinal Friday, Nov. 9, at a site to be determined.
The other side of the regional pitted top-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley against eighth-seeded New Carlisle Tecumseh and fourth-seeded New Albany against fifth-seeded Beechcroft.
This is the third time Licking Heights has qualified for the playoffs. The Hornets last made it in 2007, when they competed in Division IV, Region 15 and beat Portsmouth 42-34 in the first round before losing to St. Clairsville 33-17 in a regional semifinal.
Their other appearance was in 2001 when they competed in Division V, Region 19 and lost 6-0 in the first round to Woodsfield Monroe Central.
Marion-Franklin, which won the regional title last season before losing to eventual state champion Trotwood-Madison 47-44 in a state semifinal, was making its ninth consecutive playoff appearance.
"That's the type of program we want to have, where making the playoffs is expected every season," Waters said. "That's what we want to strive for."
Waters has created a winning program in his eight seasons and wants to take it to the next level.
"The first time we went 5-5, people around here were saying how great that was," he said. "When we went 5-5 last year, everyone was asking what went wrong. They were upset with .500 and that's a great thing."
With just three starters returning on both sides of the ball, including standout running back/linebacker Ronnie Dawson who was injured and has missed the season, not many outside the program likely envisioned this type of season.
Ron Carruthers-Kimball is the leading rusher (112 carries, 749 yards, 14 touchdowns) on a team that shelved the spread last season to return to an I-power offense. Josh Ausberry and Kendall Bradley also were near the 700-yard mark in the regular season, and Carruthers-Kimball played in only seven games on offense to preserve his legs.
"It's a misconception that great high school teams have to have a few really big standouts," Waters said. "We have done it with the team concept. I guess if we have stars, it's the offensive line and the entire defense. We manage the clock well on offense and we have allowed only 84 points (through 10 games)."
The offensive line consists of center Steven Clum, guards Ross Friel and Cameron Claborn, tackles Michael Zaky and Willie Carter and tight ends Luke Langkamp and Dante Burnett. Leading the defense were Matt Mayville at middle linebacker, Aaron Tiller and Clum at ends, Claborn at tackle, Jake Foley at cornerback and Carruthers-Kimball at free safety.
The Hornets went 7-0 in the MSL-Cardinal Division to finish ahead of Liberty Union (6-1), West Jefferson (5-2), Harvest Prep (4-3), Grandview (3-4), Fisher Catholic (2-5), Berne Union (1-6) and Millersport (0-7).
Konich runs at regional
Senior Briana Konich did not qualify for the Division II state girls cross country meet held Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway.
At regional Oct. 27 at Pickerington North, she finished 75th (21 minutes, 46.1 seconds) as the top 16 individuals advanced to state.
Sarra Taylor of London won the individual title in 18:50.55 and Granville's Alyssa Atkinson had the 16th-best time (19:41.11).
Konich qualified for regional by finishing 15th (21:20.45) in the district race Oct. 20 at Watkins Memorial as the top 16 individuals advanced.
Girls volleyball team produced strong year
The girls volleyball team will lose five seniors who helped the program produce its two best seasons.
Licking Heights finished 17-8 overall and 14-0 in the MSL-Cardinal to win the title in its final year in the league. It's moving to the Licking County League next year.
The eighth-seeded Hornets lost to second-seeded Hartley 25-19, 25-15, 25-12 in a Division II district semifinal Oct. 23 at Worthington Christian Middle School. They defeated London 25-12, 25-15, 25-17 in the first round Oct. 16 and Linden-McKinley 25-1, 25-9, 25-7 in the second round Oct. 18, both at home.
Last season, the Hornets went 16-5 overall and 13-1 in the MSL-Cardinal to share the league championship with Harvest Prep.
"These seniors have been tremendous and have set a foundation and expectations that the younger girls will have to continue," fifth-year coach Amanda Mosely said. "Winning the program's first two league championships is a huge accomplishment. When I came here, we'd have next to nobody but parents in the gym watching us. Now we have great support and we've done a good job building at the lower levels as well."
The seniors included starters Katie Kenney (outside hitter), Mercedesz Mate (libero) and C.J. Wulf (setter), as well as Kristin Abarra (defensive specialist) and Tricia Nagy (right-side hitter).
Mate and Kenney were second-team all-league and Wulf was honorable mention.
"Five years ago, I asked these seniors to play club, to find things to do together off the court and create a team atmosphere," Mosely said. "They did everything I asked them to do. That's the way we've built things. We still attend at least one middle school match every year, we hold a youth night and we're getting the young girls involved. It's awesome to see little girls at our matches."
Expected to return are juniors Jemiah Powell (middle hitter) and Alexis Sanidad (defensive specialist), sophomores Bailey Carr (outside hitter) and Iyanna Coleman (outside hitter) and freshman Michaela Powell (middle hitter).
Jemiah Powell was first-team all-league.
"We have to develop our setters and work on our outsides," Mosely said. "We've got some work to do, but the younger girls saw how it was done, watched these seniors and will follow along the same path, hopefully. It was a wonderful season and a great momentum-builder as we get ready to move to the Licking County League."
As the largest school in the MSL-Cardinal moves to what is expected to be a more competitive league, the Hornets realize winning league titles won't be easy.
"We may get frustrated at times until we realize what it takes to be successful against teams our size like Lakewood, Licking Valley and Granville, and against schools with great traditions like Newark Catholic and Heath," Mosely said. "There will be no nights off in the Licking County League. We'll have to be prepared for the grind of that. But that's what will help prepare us for an atmosphere like this, playing a Hartley in the tournament."