The Licking Heights High School wrestling team is a little ahead of the pace coach Bo Ramsey envisioned at the beginning of the season.
The Hornets entered the Licking Heights Invitational on Jan. 11 and 12 coming off a seventh-place finish in the 19-team Ready Winter Classic on Dec. 27 and 28.
More importantly, according to Ramsey, younger members of the squad are starting to understand the dynamics of the sport while showing improvement in technique and toughness.
"Some of them are taking their lumps right now, but it's toughening them up," Ramsey said. "I believe they're on the fast track to success, even if it is two years from now. Seeing them learn and grow and survive in what is a trial by fire, well that's rewarding."
The Hornets scored 136 points at Ready as Whitehall easily won with 342.5. Only 27 points separated second-place Columbus West (161) and eighth-place London (134).
Sophomore Ty Yeager finished second at 132 pounds, losing to Whitehall's Josh Delgadillo 7-3 in the final. Yeager was 14-2 with 10 pins and 43 takedowns before the Licking Heights Invitational.
"He's been outstanding, but he got caught in a move by Delgadillo early and had to play catch-up the entire match," Ramsey said. "(Delgadillo) is a state qualifier and it's tough to play catch-up against someone of his caliber."
Junior A.J. Velasquez (220) and freshmen Brandon Haist (113) and Wayne Rader (195) all finished third. Junior James Shaw (138) finished fourth.
"My goal this year is to finish with a winning record," said Haist, who improved to 14-4. "My bigger goal is to go through my high school career without getting pinned. I'm happy with my start, but not satisfied. Wrestling is a bunch of learning. What I like to do is find a move that I think can confuse my opponent, practice it until I'm comfortable with it and then use it."
Velasquez improved to 12-3 and Rader went 5-2 in the tournament.
"Velasquez is wrestling very well," Ramsey said. "Rader had his best outing by far and he's starting to figure it out. That's the improvement I'm talking about with these younger guys. Even when they're not winning matches, I'm seeing them eliminate stupid mistakes. They're not getting pinned and they're going the distance to save us some points. They're all staying positive and learning."
The draw for the inaugural state team tournament is Monday, Jan. 14. The regional quarterfinals will be held Jan. 23.
Boys basketball team diversifying
The boys basketball team appears to be acquiring the pieces it needs to defend its MSL-Cardinal Division championship and make a run in the Division II postseason.
Junior guard DeAnthony Hosley scored 21 points in a 77-67 win over Berne Union on Jan. 4, marking the first time this season someone other than senior forward John Righter or junior guard Babe Murphy surpassed the 20-point mark.
"They face-guarded John Righter all game and DeAnthony made some big 3s, some great drives and some key 15-foot jumpers that we really needed," coach Nathan Clark said. "That's exactly the type of performance we need. When either John or Babe have off nights, or if we have trouble getting those guys open, we should have other options.
"We don't want DeAnthony to go out there and throw up all kinds of shots trying to get 20 (points), but we want him ready to step forward when the opportunity arises like it did that game. The same goes for everyone on the team."
Others have stepped up in different ways. Junior Doug Benniefield does many things that might go unnoticed, according to Clark.
"He's our workhorse," Clark said. "He's a 6-foot-2 post player who leads the team in rebounding. He gets off the floor quickly and he runs very well. On offense, he beats his man down court and is important in our transition game. He's there to rebound, or as part of the break. He gets so many offensive rebounds."
Clark also pointed to the defensive play of senior Ty Green.
"He's by far our best on-ball defender and he forces point guards to start their offenses further out front than they're used to," Clark said. "That makes passes longer, which makes it easier for us to play passing lanes, make steals and start our transition game. He just harasses point guards and frustrates them."
The Hornets, who defeated Millersport 80-57 on Jan. 8, were 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the league before playing Fisher Catholic on Jan. 12.
Girls basketball team rebounding
After starting 0-5, the girls basketball team improved to 6-7 overall and 3-3 in the MSL-Cardinal with a 41-37 win over Fisher Catholic on Jan. 5.
Skyler Ortiz scored 17 points and Dameras Whitlock added 11 for the Hornets, who will play at Grandview on Tuesday, Jan. 15, and at home against Liberty Union on Saturday, Jan. 19, in league games.