In its first season in Division I, the Licking Heights High School wrestling team advanced five competitors to the district tournament, equaling last year's total in Division II.
Senior Mike Hopewell (195 pounds), sophomore brothers Brandon Haist (120) and Anthony Haist (106) and freshmen Joey Harrell (152) and L.A. Kelly (138) all finished in the top four of their weight classes in the Watkins Memorial sectional Feb. 15 to advance to district Feb. 21 and 22 at Hilliard Darby.
They were trying to finish in the top four of their weight classes at district to advance to the state tournament Thursday, Feb. 27, through Saturday, March 1, at Ohio State.
Last year, all five of the Hornets' district qualifiers lost first-round matches. They did not have a state qualifier for the first time in seven years.
"For our first year in Division I, I'm pretty happy with the way things went overall," coach Bo Ramsey said. "I'm pretty confident we'd have gotten seven out if we were healthy. We were without Ty Yeager almost all season and A.J. Velasquez injured a shoulder in his first match (at district) and wrestled with one arm the rest of the day and still finished sixth."
Velasquez, a senior, lost to Lancaster's Brad Rutter 6-5 in that first match at 220, but pinned Dresden Tri-Valley's Jimmy Priest in 2 minutes, 54 seconds. He then was pinned in 4:33 in his district-qualifying match and forfeited the fifth-place match to finish 21-9.
"It was unbelievable he got a pin with his shoulder like that," Ramsey said. "He tried to gut it out, but he couldn't even get his arm above his head by the time his qualifying match started. He kept his one arm in at his side and gave it his all. It's a shame to end his career like that."
Yeager (132) is a junior and two-time district qualifier who hasn't recovered from a knee injury.
Licking Heights finished seventh (84) in the 11-team field behind champion Delaware (248.5).
The Haist brothers were making their second appearance at district.
Anthony lost his sectional semifinal to Watkins Memorial's Alex Lieb 4-2, but defeated Delaware's Tommy Detunno 8-1 in the third-place match. Brandon was pinned in his semifinal by Reynoldsburg's Dominic Hathaway in 3:25, but bounced back to pin Pickerington North's Connor Korban in 2:50 in a qualifying match before losing to Watkins Memorial's Dean Marek 3-2 in the third-place match.
Entering district, Anthony was 33-9 and Brandon was 30-12.
"That's the fourth time Anthony wrestled the Lieb kid," Ramsey said. "Anthony lost the first one 13-10, then won 7-2. He lost the third one 2-1. We've got to find a way to beat him. He's a tough kid. Brandon is in a solid weight class and had a solid day. He just came up a bit short in the third-place match."
Hopewell was pinned by Delaware's Colton Richard in 1:01 in a semifinal, but advanced by pinning Rey-noldsburg's Sage Finnerty in 2:38 before losing to Lancaster's Shawn Norris 16-1 in the third-place match. Richard was a state qualifier last year.
"Mike was competing at 195 for the first time all year because he was cutting so much weight," Ramsey said. "He had a great first-round win and ran into a very good Delaware kid. I don't think he had much left in the third-place match and (Norris) was the most impressive wrestler I saw in the whole tournament. But I'm proud of Mike because he was 16-13 last year and he's 31-11 now."
"I'm feeling comfortable and confident and I prepared a lot more for this season than I did before," said Hopewell, who will play football at Northern Colorado.
"My parents didn't even want me to wrestle this year because they're big football people. But they've been behind me after I got started because they support me in everything and they know I enjoy wrestling."
Kelly was pinned in 1:55 of his semifinal by eventual-champion Tim Rooney of St. Charles, but advanced with a 12-11 decision over Lancaster's Zach Diaz before being pinned by Watkins Memorial's Dylan Scott in 2:50 in the third-place match. He was 16-11 entering district.
Harrell (152) narrowly missed reaching a championship match, as he lost to top-seeded Jimmy Thompson of Lancaster 7-6 in overtime in a semifinal. He then pinned Reynoldsburg's Andrew McBane in 4:30 to qualify for district before losing to Canal Winchester's Nick Hammond 10-3 in a third-place match.
"L.A. Kelly was wrestling for the first time in a month because of an injury and he had a couple of solid wins, and Joey Harrell had a big match against the top seed and his other loss was to a Canal Winchester kid who was a district qualifier last year. So they both wrestled very well," Ramsey said.
Freshman Dereck Wilson (145) placed sixth and finished 26-18.
Boys basketball team opens postseason
The boys basketball team held off host Big Walnut 67-64 in its regular-season finale Feb. 15 to take an 11-11 record into its first Division I district tournament game.
The Hornets, who were seeded 29th of 45 teams, played 26th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley in the first round Feb. 21. The winner plays at fourth-seeded Zanesville in the second round Wednes- day, Feb. 26, with that winner moving on to a district semifinal March 4 at Westerville Central.
Babe Murphy had 19 points, 13 rebounds and four assists against Big Walnut. Aaron Tiller had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Dante Burnette also scored 12 points.
Girls team falls in tourney opener
The girls basketball team, competing in Division I for the first time, lost at 13th-seeded Olentangy 92-58 on Feb. 17 in the first round of the district tournament.
Skyler Ortiz scored 15 points and Crystal Jackson and Dameras Whitlock both added 12 as the Hornets, who were seeded 33rd of 47 teams, finished 10-13.
Licking Heights hadn't played since Feb. 8, when it defeated Northridge 51-29 to finish 8-10 in the LCL.