The Licking Heights High School wrestling team had five competitors in the Division II district tournament held Feb. 22 and 23 at Heath.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to the state tournament, which begins Thursday, Feb. 28, and concludes Saturday, March 2, at Ohio State.
Freshman brothers Anthony Haist (106 pounds) and Brandon Haist (113), sophomore Ty Yeager (132), junior A.J. Valasquez (220) and senior Michael Zaky (heavyweight) finished in the top four in the Hornets' home sectional Feb. 16 to advance to district. Yeager and Zaky also were district qualifiers last season.
Brandon Haist entered the district tournament with a 34-9 record after going 2-2 at sectional to finish fourth. He was 2-0 with two pins in the matches he wrestled.
"Brandon injured his shoulder in practice (before sectional)," coach Bo Ramsey said. "He pinned his first opponent and then took an injury default against a tough Whitehall kid (eventual champion Ana Abduljelil, who was 38-1 entering district). He then got a pin in his district-qualifying match and injury defaulted his third-place match to save himself."
"I did what I had to do. Now, hopefully, the shoulder will feel better for the rest of the season," said Brandon, who also was battling a cold like many of his teammates. "I just hope I'm feeling better all around. My brother, Anthony, and I have passed it back and forth a couple of times."
Anthony Haist finished third at sectional and was 24-13 entering district.
"It's pretty cool and exciting to go to district," he said. "It's also surprising. I had a rough start to the season, so this is a great feeling."
Yeager and Valasquez both finished second. Yeager was 27-4 entering district after getting pinned by Whitehall's Josh Delgadillo in 4 minutes, 20 seconds. Valasquez was 21-7 after getting pinned in his final by Mifflin's Jalen Robinson in 2:20.
"A.J. had a huge semifinal win (9-6 over Whitehall's Isaiah Turner) and was a little flat in the final, but he had lost to (Turner) twice this season, by pin and major decision," Ramsey said. "Ty lost to another Whitehall stud (Delgadillo) in the final. But he took (Delgadillo) down before he got caught and pinned. Ty did a lot of good things in that match."
Zaky finished third, with his lone loss to Whitehall's Alex Farrow, a state qualifier last season. Zaky entered district at 30-13.
"For a kid who never won a match as a freshman to him now being a two-time district qualifier, Michael did a lot more than people expected of him," Ramsey said. "That's a great testament to him and I am very proud of him."
Junior Mike Hopewell (195) went 2-2 and finished fifth to become a district alternate. He was 12-10 overall.
Also competing were junior James Shaw (138, 0-2) and freshmen Taylor Woolard (120, 1-2) and Tyler Peters (145, 0-2).
The Hornets finished eighth (99.5) in the 13-team field behind champion Whitehall (265.5).
Boys basketball team repeats league title
The boys basketball team won its final six regular-season games to repeat as MSL-Cardinal Division champions.
The Hornets defeated Fisher Catholic 84-54 on Feb. 15 to finish 13-1 in league play. Grandview (12-2), West Jefferson (11-3), Berne Union (6-8), Fisher Catholic (5-9), Harvest Prep (5-9), Liberty Union (3-11) and Millersport (1-13) followed.
"One of our goals when we set out this year was to defend our league championship, so we were pretty excited we were able to do that," coach Nathan Clark said. "It's a nice way for us to exit the MSL as we prepare for the (Licking County League). We won league championships in 1992, 2003 and then last year and this year."
The Hornets were 18-4 overall before playing host to Big Walnut on Feb. 23 in the first round of the Division II district tournament. The Hornets were seeded ninth and Big Walnut was 20th.
The winner advanced to play seventh-seeded Eastmoor Academy or 26th-seeded Licking Valley in the second round at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at the site of the higher seed.
The Hornets beat Licking Valley 89-57 on Dec. 6, but have not played Eastmoor this season.
Eastmoor was 15-7 entering the tournament, and Licking Valley was 4-18.
The second-round winner advances to a district semifinal against second-seeded Watterson, 10th-seeded Bexley or 16th-seeded Mifflin at 6 p.m. March 6 at Olentangy.
Girls basketball team falls in first round
The girls basketball team lost to sixth-seeded and host DeSales 66-51 on Feb. 16 in the first round of the Division II district tournament.
The 18th-seeded Hornets trailed 25-8 after the first quarter.
Junior guard Skyler Ortiz scored 22 points to lead Licking Heights, which finished 11-12 overall. Freshman Crystal Jackson, a 6-foot-2 post player, had 11 points and 17 rebounds. Junior point guard Dameras Whitlock had eight points and junior guard Imaani Wilson-Cunningham added seven points.
Last season, the Hornets finished 8-12 and lost to DeSales 47-15 in the first round.
"We started the season 0-5, but there was no panic," first-year coach Tay Tufts said. "I knew I was their third coach in three years and that it would take a while for the girls to get comfortable to the new system.
"This was one of the best seasons at Licking Heights in 10 years. I am so excited for next season. The girls are hungry ... and we get a full offseason of work together. Plus, the girls will be playing AAU."
The Hornets finished 6-6 in the MSL-Cardinal to place fourth behind Liberty Union (11-1), Berne Union (9-3) and West Jefferson (9-3) and ahead of Fisher Catholic (4-8), Grandview (3-9) and Millersport (0-12).
Licking Heights loses three seniors in guard Alyssa Stanley and post players Courtney Jones and Pylynne Myers. Stanley was second-team all-league.
Expected to return, in addition to Ortiz, Whitlock, Wilson-Cunningham and Jackson, are junior guard Alexis Sanidad and 6-2 freshman post player Ashley King, who had 20 rebounds against DeSales.
"We've got two 6-2 (post players) who will be monsters in the paint and a slew of great guards," Tufts said. "I think Ortiz and Whitlock are going to play in college with scholarships."
Ortiz averaged 13.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.1 steals. Whitlock averaged 12.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 5.9 steals. Both were first-team all-league.
Sanidad was honorable mention all-league.