As the DeSales High School hockey team's only senior, Joe Gray has a lot on his mind.
The forward is happy that his offensive production helped lead the Stallions to a winning season and a berth in the championship bracket of the Blue Jackets Cup for the second consecutive year, but he always wants to be a better leader.
"It's been tougher to gauge what I should concentrate on with my playing and with my leading, but we've made it work," Gray said, acknowledging that there are times when there is "self-doubt" about his leadership skills.
"That's the phrase I'd go to. There's no other way to put it. It's hard to decide if you're doing the right thing. You're trying to lead 19 or 20 other kids who are going different directions sometimes. They're all good guys, so we figure it out."
Gray has 37 goals and 19 assists in 32 games, as DeSales is 17-13-1-1 overall entering its district tournament opener against Dublin Scioto at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The Stallions went 7-7-1-1 in the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division, losing to Dublin Jerome 4-1 in the first round of the Blue Jackets Cup on Feb. 7. They are seeded 10th of 23 teams in the district.
Gray knew this day was coming last year as a junior when he was a captain along with 2012 graduates Chad Janszen and Tyler McClary. Gray scored a team-high 51 goals, well ahead of then-sophomore forward Tyler Klutch, who had 24. But even then, Gray didn't have to be a vocal leader -- a role he's had to adopt at times this season -- or shoulder the same expectations as now.
Even though his self-analysis is relentless, Gray has received rave reviews from coach Bob Heine and his teammates for his leadership.
"We talked through the summer and we actually discussed what leadership looks like (and) traits he should aspire to, things like that. He's taken a lot of that to heart," Heine said. "I'm not a 'leader is born' proponent. I think anyone can evolve into a leader based on their environment."
Junior forward Danny Helin recalled how after a 2-0 win over Pepper Pike Orange on Jan. 21 in the championship game of the Walter F. Ehrnfelt Tournament in Strongs-ville, Gray went out of his way to include as many teammates as possible in pictures of the trophy.
"He just wanted to make sure they were involved, even the guys who don't play as much. It's indicative of his leadership," Helin said. "It's really cool to have a captain who obviously wants every player on his team to succeed and is one of the top goal scorers in the league. It's helpful to know someone with that skill level and that knowledge of the game is able to lead the team."
Gray also is relishing playing with his younger brother, freshman forward Sam Gray. The pair recorded hat tricks in a 12-2 win over Cleveland Benedictine on Dec. 7, a game in which the Stallions had 63 shots on goal.
"I watched (Sam's) games last year and I wanted to set him up in games this year," Gray said. "His friend, Justin (Antoncic, a freshman forward), who I've also played with, he's fun to play with. I want to get those guys and this whole team as right for next year as I can."
For now, Gray and the Stallions are more concerned with the remainder of this season. They lost to Springboro 5-4 in overtime in their district tournament opener last year, and that's who they would play in a second-round game at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Ice Haus if they can get by Scioto. DeSales defeated the Irish 12-2 on Feb. 1.
The second-round winner will play third-seeded Jerome, Cincinnati Sycamore or Kettering Alter in a district quarterfinal Feb. 23 at the Ice Haus. The Stallions haven't played Sycamore or Alter this season but they have played Jerome three times.
DeSales beat Jerome 3-1 on Nov. 25 in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic and tied the Celtics at 3 in a CHC game Jan. 6 before the teams met in the Blue Jackets Cup.
"We've been re-evaluating the way we played last year and we're playing it differently now," Helin said. "We had a defensive breakdown last year and that's how we lost to Springboro. But as a team, we're completely different -- much more stable and deeper. I think it's going to pay off. I think we'll shock the world in the next few weeks, just because no one's really expecting us to do much."
Girls basketball team shares CCL title
The girls basketball team fell two points short of the outright CCL championship when it lost 31-30 to Hartley on Feb. 9.
Sophomore guard Carli Codner-Pinto had a game-high 17 points for the Stallions, who finished 6-2 in the CCL to tie Hartley and Watterson for the league title, ahead of Ready (2-6) and Columbus School for Girls (0-8).
DeSales, which was 14-7 overall before playing Westerville North in its regular-season finale Feb. 13, made only eight field goals against Hartley.
"We have to be able to score the basketball even though (Hartley is) such a good defensive team," coach Brian Cromwell said. "They have some very good defenders underneath and guard the ball very well. We executed pretty well. We just have to finish better."
DeSales is seeded sixth of 26 teams in the Division II district tournament and will face 18th-seeded Licking Heights in the first round at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at home. The winner will play host to 25th-seeded Lakewood in the second round Wednesday, Feb. 20.
The second-round winner will play fourth-seeded Utica, Columbus East or Sparta Highland in a district semifinal Feb. 27 at Gahanna.
DeSales defeated Licking Heights 47-15 in a first-round game last year but hasn't played the Hornets or Lakewood this season. The Hornets are 11-11 overall and finished 6-6 in the MSL-Cardinal Division. Their top players include 6-foot-2 freshman post players Crystal Jackson and Ashley King.
"They're a good young team, they have some high energy and they're all over the court," Cromwell said. "(Jackson and King) will pose some issues for us. We just have to get back to work and ... do some things better to make a run in the tournament."
Several swimmers advance to district
Senior Eddy Cordek won the 100-yard backstroke (57.7 seconds) to pace the boys swimming and diving team in the Division II sectional meet Feb. 9 at Columbus Academy.
That time earned Cordek the top seed in the district meet Friday, Feb. 15, at Ohio State.
Sophomore Coleman McKin-ney was third in the 100 back (59.69) at sectional and qualified for district, as did the second-place 400 freestyle relay (3:44.06) and fourth-place 200 medley relay (1:50.8).
Sophomore Anne Marie Cummins finished third in the 100 back (1:03.72) and 100 butterfly (1:02.19) and is seeded fourth in both events at district. Other qualifiers for the girls team were freshmen Kaelin Kelly (100 fly) and Kaylee Spahr (100 fly and 200 individual medley) and the 200 free, 400 free and 200 medley relays.
The boys team scored 109 points in the 25-team sectional to finish fifth, behind champion Granville (279), and the girls team finished fifth (73) of 26 teams, behind the champion Blue Aces (339).
The winner of each swimming event qualified for district. In addition, 27 at-large district berths were awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites. Divers do not compete until district.
The top two placers in each swimming event at district automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 20-22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide. The top boys diver and top three girls divers advance to state.
Bowlers prepare for postseason
The boys bowling team finished the regular season 14-3 overall and 12-3 in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-Central Division after a 1,925-1,195 win over Columbus West in their regular-season finale Feb. 7.
The Stallions will compete in a 30-team sectional tournament Saturday, Feb. 16, at Eastland Lanes. Miranda Singer, Amber Strohacker and Haley Strohacker will compete in the girls sectional Friday, Feb. 15, at Eastland Lanes as individuals.
The top nine boys teams and top nine individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the district tournament Feb. 22 at HP Lanes. The top nine individuals not on a qualifying team in the girls sectional advance to district Feb. 23 at HP Lanes.
Singer, a senior, finished the regular season with a 195.2 game average, followed by sophomores Tony LaTorre (163.1) and Tyler LaTorre (157.3).
The Stallions tied Columbus Academy for second in the 16-team COHSBC-Central behind champion Ready (14-1).