Editor's note: Because of early deadlines, read the March 10 edition of ThisWeek Licking County for complete state wrestling coverage.
Nick Lancia of the Watkins Memorial High School wrestling team was relieved after qualifying for the Division I state tournament for the first time given how he thought he had performed on the first day at district.
The senior went 5-1 and placed third at 152 pounds in the district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Darby to secure a state berth. The top four finishers in each weight class at district advanced to state, which was held Feb. 28 through March 2 at Ohio State.
"I was excited, but I was more relieved," Lancia said. "I battled a little nerves the first day and didn't wrestle my best."
Lancia was one of five Watkins Memorial wrestlers to compete at district, but was the only one to qualify for state.
His stay at state was short, however, as he went 0-2. He opened with a 17-2 loss to Massillon Perry's Tony Dailey and then fell to Chuck Buchanan of New Carlisle Tecumseh 7-4 in the first round of the consolation bracket to finish the season 46-6.
Sophomore Andrew Lieb was a state alternate at 126, as he went 4-2 and placed fifth, raising his record to 43-8. Senior Noah Holter went 3-3 and placed sixth at 138, finishing 42-10. Junior Dylan Scott went 1-2 at 132 and finished 21-8 and freshman Dean Marek went 0-2 at 106 to finish 30-20.
The Warriors scored 43 points at district to finish 19th behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored.
On the first day at district, Lancia pinned Grove City's Zane Chappelear in 5 minutes, 2 second, in the first round before getting pinned by Lancaster's Scott Deluse in 1:53.
"I led 4-0 and took a shot and he whipped me on my back," said Lancia, who was a district qualifier last season in the same weight class. "It was bad on my part, just sloppy."
The next day, Lancia worked his way through the consolation bracket. He pinned Westerville Central's Alex Krasovec in 1:37, defeated Hilliard Bradley's Luke Hammond 12-1 and beat Upper Arlington's Keith Neely 13-2 in a state-qualifying match before defeating Westerville North's Jacob Hinz 7-1 in the third-place match.
"He wrestled so much better that second day, really bounced back strong," coach Mark Kurth said. "Maybe because people were expecting him to make it to state, he felt some pressure. Even after he made it through, he was very emotional."
Part of that was attributed to watching Holter lose his state-qualifying match on the same mat right before Lancia faced Neely. Holter lost to Hilliard Davidson's Nick Lawler 7-5 in sudden victory to miss qualifying for state and then fell to Thomas Worthington's Ben Hooff 17-4 in the fifth-place match.
"Nick and Noah are best friends and I was worried after Noah lost the way he did that Nick wouldn't be focused," Kurth said.
Holter went 1-1 on the first day at district but won his first two matches on the second day by pin before falling to Lawler.
"It was a heartbreaker," Kurth said. "He was called twice for stalling on questionable calls, including one that tied the score and sent it to overtime. Then they gave (Lawler) takedown points to win it and it was another bad call. We all felt Noah was robbed. When seven or eight other coaches tell you the same thing afterward, well..."
Boys basketball team falls in district opener
The boys basketball team lost to 13th-seeded and host Newark 76-55 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23.
Watkins Memorial, which was seeded 35th of 42 teams, finished 6-17 overall.
"Anytime you lose, you're displeased," coach Pat Dimmick said. "Our guys played hard and pretty well at times, but overall the execution wasn't there. But Newark has a solid program and they were able to execute and make shots."
Senior guard Aarmanni Garnett had 14 points and junior guard Clay Gray scored 11 for the Warriors, who were outscored 50-29 in the second and third quarters.
The Warriors struggled with consistency, just as they had throughout the season.
"We started the season pretty strong, but struggled when we go into the OCC portion of our schedule," Dimmick said. "But in the second round of league play, we were a lot better. We beat Mount Vernon (56-45 on Jan. 26) and Olentangy Orange (53-50 on Feb. 14) and were definitely more competitive in general than in the first round."
The Warriors went 3-11 in their final season in the OCC-Capital Division, tying Mount Vernon for sixth behind New Albany (14-0), Delaware (11-3), Olentangy (10-4), Olentangy Orange (9-5) and Franklin Heights (5-9) and ahead of Big Walnut (2-12).
Next year, Watkins Memorial will compete in the revived Licking County League.
The Warriors lose six seniors, including four starters in Garnett, post player Kevin Crawford and guards Shaquan Harris and Thomas O'Sickey.
Crawford averaged a team-high 12.1 points and a team-high 9.8 rebounds and was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. O'Sickey averaged 11.6 points and was honorable mention all-district and all-league, and Garnett averaged 9.8 points and 6.0 rebounds and was special mention all-league.
"We improved from start to finish and we had some injuries that allowed some of our younger guys to get valuable playing time," Dimmick said. "That will only help us next year."
Among those expected to return are Gray, juniors Jared Clark (forward), Hunter Holton (post player), Zach Lescaleet (guard) and Ben Shroyer (guard).
Holton, who averaged 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, is the lone regular starter eligible to return. Gray and Clark were part-time starters as a result of injuries. Lescaleet and Shroyer both saw significant playing time.
"We have five juniors with plenty of experience," Dimmick said. "With Hunter and Clay, we'll have good leadership, and Jared and Zach are strong competitors. Plus, Ben is the quarterback on the football team, so leadership will be strong.
"We'll be excited to play new schools and meet old rivals. Our freshmen went 18-4 and our (junior varsity) finished 10-12, although they were much better until we had to start taking kids from them to fill in for injured varsity players."
Girls basketball team also closes season
First-year girls basketball coach Jayme Gates likes the direction the program is moving as it prepares to move into the Licking County League next season.
"I think we built interest in the program and had a positive atmosphere and environment, so I think we're on the right track," Gates said. "This year's seniors won two more games than they had ever won here before."
The Warriors finished 7-16 overall after losing to second-seeded host Gahanna 55-33 in the second round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 20. Watkins Memorial, which was seeded 41st of 43 teams, had a first-round bye.
The Warriors lose three regular starters in senior post player Brittany Bronder and senior guards Lou Nickel and Kiki Welker. Nickel averaged a team-high 10.1 points and was second-team all-OCC-Capital.
"Those girls did a fantastic job adjusting to a new coach and buying into the system," Gates said. "They were a positive influence."
The Warriors finished 3-11 in the OCC-Capital to place seventh, behind Orange (14-0), Olentangy (12-2), New Albany (10-4), Delaware (7-7), Big Walnut (6-8) and Mount Vernon (3-11) and ahead of Franklin Heights (0-14).
Watkins Memorial expects to return two regular starters in junior post player Vicki Smith and sophomore guard Ivy Durbin. Smith averaged 6.9 rebounds and was honorable mention all-league.
Juniors Deja Scott (forward) and Monica Foutty (guard) saw limited playing time after being injured early in the season. Others expected back who saw significant playing time are sophomores Maddie Berry (guard) and Anna Shroyer (guard/forward) and freshmen Lexi Denison (guard) and Emma Hock (post player).
"Injuries gave some of those girls some good varsity experience," Gates said. "With Deja coming back in the post with Vicki and the amount of guards we have, we're excited about next season. We'll need someone to step forward to replace Lou Nickel's scoring and her role as point guard, but we may end up having to do that by committee."