Watkins Memorial High School junior Andrew Lieb wrestled with a chip on his shoulder during the Division I district tournament and got the results he wanted, placing fourth at 132 pounds to qualify for the state tournament that concluded March 1 at Ohio State.
"I was ranked seventh in the district, so I wasn't supposed to even be close to getting out," Lieb said. "I was overlooked, but I proved that rankings are just somebody's guess, somebody's opinion. What matters is what happens on the mats."
Lieb went 4-2 at district held Feb. 21 and 22 at Hilliard Darby. He pinned Westerville Central's John Fitzgibbon in 4 minutes, 59 seconds in his opening match before losing 4-1 to the eventual district champion, Hilliard Davidson's Bobby Smith.
"I knew if I won my first match, I'd have to deal with (Smith)," Lieb said. "He's real tough, but I thought I wrestled him well. I knew then that I had to win each match after that or I was done."
Lieb responded by defeating Westerville North's Don Didion 6-1 and Hilliard Bradley's Will Stratton 13-1 before beating Pickerington Central's Joseph Terry 8-6 in a consolation semifinal to secure a state berth.
He then lost to Mount Vernon's Matteo Lybarger 3-2 in the third-place match.
"I lost my consolation semi last year and that ate at me for a full year," Lieb said.
Coach Mark Kurth was impressed by the mental toughness displayed by Lieb, who took a 38-5 record into state.
"I actually think he gained confidence when he lost to Smith," Kurth said. "He saw that he could wrestle against the top-notch guys. He took that confidence and built on it the rest of the tournament. I think his best match was against Terry when (a state berth) was on the line. He was great on his feet. He stayed on his toes and was sprawling and countering Terry's best shots."
Lieb was the only state qualifier for Watkins Memorial, which scored 29 points at district to finish 20th behind champion Marysville (147.5) as 37 teams.
His brother, freshman Alex Lieb, went 2-2 at 106 to finish 39-11.
Alex won his opening match before losing to Central Crossing's Jackson Lakso 3-2 in his second match. He bounced back to pin Dublin Coffman's Jakaria Hossan in 4:53 but was pinned by Mount Vernon's Ben Tate in 4:05, finishing one win shy of qualifying for state. Tate finished third and Lakso placed fourth.
"Alex Lieb wrestled very well," Kurth said. "In his opener, he won 11-4 against a kid (Thomas Worthington's Tyler Norris) he lost to 11-1 three weeks earlier. He led Tate 4-0 through two periods and it looked like he would advance (to a state-qualifying match), but he got caught (and) was taken down and pinned late."
Also at district, senior Dylan Scott went 2-2 at 138 to finish 10-7 and sophomore Dean Marek went 1-2 at 120 to finish 24-12.
"They both had tough draws and I think they wrestled well," Kurth said. "Dylan was seconds away from going overtime and reaching (a state-qualifying match). He was trying to ride out (Central Crossing's Ethan Leapley) but got reversed and pinned. But I was pleased with the way all of them wrestled and competed."
Boys basketball team losing eight seniors
The boys basketball team should have a new look next season.
The Warriors, who lost to 17th-seeded Marysville 81-65 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 22 to finish 10-12 overall, will lose eight seniors.
"The last three seasons, we've had lots of seniors, so we were only getting one year to develop them on the varsity level," coach Pat Dimmick said. "But we didn't have any juniors on the roster this year, so next year we'll be starting juniors and sophomores, which gives us some building time with that group."
Watkins Memorial, which was seeded 32nd of 45 teams in the district, led Marysville 18-11 after the first quarter but trailed 37-31 at halftime.
"We started very strong and I was happy with the way we played for the most part, except for a few lapses, which really hurt us," Dimmick said. "We had a few breakdowns defensively in the second quarter and we missed some easy shots in the second half and every possession matters.
"We were down six in the third quarter and a couple bad possessions made it a 12-point deficit. But overall, the kids played well and the energy was there."
Clay Gray led the Warriors with 23 points, Hunter Holton scored 12 and Jared Clark added seven. The three players were part of the senior class, which also included Rickey Frey, Donovan Garrison, Zach Lescalleet, Banks McBride and Ben Shroyer.
Gray averaged 13.1 points and was named second-team all-LCL and honorable mention all-district.
Clark, who was honorable mention all-league, averaged 10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds and Holton averaged 9.8 points and seven rebounds.
Watkins Memorial went 8-10 in the LCL to place seventh, behind Granville (16-2), Johnstown (15-3), Newark Catholic (14-4), Licking Valley (11-7), Licking Heights (9-9) and Lakewood (9-9) and ahead of Northridge (5-13), Heath (3-15) and Utica (0-18).
Expected to return are sophomore guard Joey Looney and sophomore post players Alex Miles and Rex Miles.
Girls basketball coach sees bright future
The girls basketball team expects to return eight players next season, including three regular starters and two part-time starters.
Watkins Memorial had four seniors on its roster this season in Caitlyn Conley, Monica Foutty, Madi Moore and Vicki Smith, but only Smith, a post player who averaged 8.2 points and 9.2 rebounds and was named honorable mention all-LCL, was a regular starter.
Seeded 41st of 47 teams, the Warriors lost to ninth-seeded Coffman 53-25 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 15 to finish 5-18.
"I think we accomplished a lot more this season than our record indicates," second-year coach Jayme Gates said. "We were a lot more competitive than in past years. We played in 10 games that were decided by six or fewer points and we have eight young girls who gained varsity experience."
The Warriors went 4-14 in the LCL to place ninth, behind Newark Catholic (17-1), Johnstown (16-2), Licking Valley (12-5), Granville (9-9), Licking Heights (8-10), Northridge (8-10), Utica (8-10) and Lakewood (5-13) and ahead of Heath (2-15).
"Our seniors were amazing and good role models and they are excited to see where this program goes," Gates said.
"Our j.v. team went 16-2 to win the LCL and was 19-3 overall. Plus, we're young. We only had one junior on the (varsity) roster, so a lot of young girls grew up this year."
Expected to return are junior guard Anna Shroyer, sophomore post players Liz Fafiade and Emma Hock, sophomore guards Lexi Denison, Kelsey Grove, Amberly Knox and Callie Palmer and freshman point guard Rylan Perry.