The Watkins Memorial High School wrestling team is off to a strong start.
The Warriors, who competed in the WHIZ Duals on Jan. 4 and 5 at Dresden Tri-Valley, earned third-place finishes in both the Licking County Invitational and the West Jefferson Invitational during the holiday break.
Senior Nick Lancia (160 pounds) won titles in both events and classmate Chris Bankes (126) won at West Jefferson.
Lancia pinned Granville's Will Navin in 2 minutes, 58 seconds in the championship match to finish first in the Licking County Invitational on Dec. 22 at Licking Heights and defeated Navin 15-4 in the final in the West Jefferson Invitational on Dec. 28 and 29.
Lancia was a Division I district qualifier at 138 last season.
"Nick is up to 160 now, and he's wrestling really well," coach Mark Kurth said. "In the Licking County meet, he pinned (Navin). But in pool play at West Jefferson, he lost to Navin. It may have had something to do with his preparation. Not only had he just pinned (Navin) the week before, but Nick went out to eat after his weighout and he didn't eat well. He ate heavy food and ate too much. He's got to know better than that. But he's 11-1 and he's having a great start to the season."
The Warriors scored 208.5 points in the 11-team Licking County Invitational to finish behind Northridge (276) and Licking Valley (250) and ahead of Granville (201), Newark Catholic (165), Licking Heights (120), Lakewood (87), Heath (86.5), Utica (66), Johnstown (54.5) and Newark (19).
Placing second were senior Damian George (heavyweight) and sophomore Andrew Lieb (120). Entering the WHIZ Duals, George was 15-3 and Lieb was 16-2.
The Warriors scored 405 points in the 18-team West Jefferson Invitational to finish behind Hillsboro (449) and Pemberville Eastwood (420). Bankes beat previously unbeaten Christian Price of Granville 7-0 in the championship match after Price had won the title in the Licking County Invitational.
"Chris Bankes normally wrestles at 132, but our 126-pounder, Dylan Scott, had a toe injury and was out," Kurth said. "Chris wanted to drop down and he did a great job. I think 126 is a great fit for him, but then we run into a problem. It'll be interesting to see Chris and Dylan wrestle off for 126 late in the season. But for now, we're a better dual team with Chris at 132 and Dylan should be back now."
Bankes was 17-2 before the WHIZ Duals.
Also placing in the top five in the West Jefferson Invitational were Josh Lyday (second, 195), Dean Marek (third, 106), Noah Holter (third, 145), Elliott Holter (fourth, 113), George (fourth) and Lieb (fifth). Lyday was 14-5 and Marek was 11-5 before the WHIZ Duals.
"We feel pretty good about the way things are going right now," Kurth said. "But we're starting into the rough stretch of the (OCC-Capital Division) duals, so we'll get an idea of where we stand soon."
Return of Bronder helps girls team
The return of senior post player Brittany Bronder from a knee injury provided a boost for the girls basketball team.
The Warriors had won three of their previous four games before playing Olentangy on Jan. 4 after winning just one of their first eight games. Bronder returned in a 54-39 over Franklin Heights on Dec. 21 after missing three games.
"She was a spark for us," coach Jayme Gates said. "It was great to have her back out there providing rebounding and scoring in the post. We aren't a big team with her, so we're really hurting without her. I did think Vicki Smith stepped up and did a nice job being scrappy and aggressive on the boards."
Bronder had 10 points against Franklin Heights. Lou Nickel had a team-high 15 points against the Falcons and Kiki Welker scored 11.
Watkins Memorial beat Lakewood 49-41 in the first round of the Fairfield Union Holiday Tournament on Dec. 27 before losing to the host Falcons 68-41 in the championship game Dec. 28. The Warriors then beat Grove City 45-41 on Jan. 2, getting 13 points from Ivy Durbin and 11 from Nickel.
"She's finally getting to the bucket and free-throw line," Gates said of Nickel. "She's just starting to take the outside shot, which we need her to do to open things up inside. She's playing well overall and is leading us in steals and assists.
"We're working hard and those couple of wins there have us energized. Our junior varsity won the Fairfield Union tournament, so our program has some positive vibes going right now."
Boys team looking to learn from losses
After beating Big Walnut 58-44 on Dec. 18 to even its record at 3-3, the boys basketball team lost its next three games.
Coach Pat Dimmick is hoping his team can learn from its losses to Franklin Heights (47-44 on Dec. 21), Tri-Valley (58-46 on Dec. 22) and Licking Heights (72-66 on Dec. 28). All three games weren't decided until the fourth quarter.
"We've been competitive in all of them and that was the next step in our progression," Dimmick said. "As coaches and players, you want more wins. But if you continue to see improvement and head in the right direction, those wins will come eventually.
"The Franklin Heights game came down to the last few possessions, the Tri-Valley game was close midway through the fourth quarter when we struggled to score and had to continue fouling them. Against Licking Heights, we fell behind 32-15 and never quit. We trailed by (seven) at halftime and the second half was back and forth. I think we got as close as two points."
Dimmick has been pleased with the improved play of Aarmanni Garnett, Clay Gray and Zach Lescalleet.
"Aarmanni has played exceptional defense all along, but now his offense is coming around," Dimmick said. "He's realizing he can attack the rim off the ball screen as well as take his mid-range jumper. Clay is handling the ball well and knocking down some shots and Zach has provided a spark off the bench both offensively and defensively."