After making back-to-back appearances in the City League championship game, the Walnut Ridge High School boys basketball team started a young lineup last season and didn't make it back.
Needless to say, making it three of four was among the Scots' biggest goals this season.
"We've never won (the league championship game) and this will only be the third time we'll have been in it, so this is major for us," coach Jason Bates said. "The good thing about it is we have seniors who were sophomores when we went and I think they're valuing this opportunity. Not going last year kind of adds to the value."
Walnut Ridge was 16-2 overall and 12-0 in the City-South Division before playing Briggs on Feb. 10 and Eastmoor Academy on Feb. 11.
Because the Scots had a three-game lead on Eastmoor before Feb. 10, they already had clinched a spot in the league final Saturday, Feb. 15, at Columbus East.
Walnut Ridge's opponent still was to be determined heading into games Feb. 10.
Northland, which had won 116 consecutive games against City opposition including the last seven league finals, was 16-3 overall and 12-0 in the league before Feb. 10.
The Vikings needed to beat Brookhaven on Feb. 10 and East on Feb. 11 to clinch an eighth consecutive berth.
Brookhaven was 14-4 overall and 11-1 in the City-North before playing Northland on Feb. 10 and Mifflin on Feb. 11. It needed to win out to earn its first spot in the league final since 2006.
Walnut Ridge lost to Northland 59-52 in the 2011 City final and 66-55 to the Vikings for the 2012 title.
Whichever team the Scots face, Bates expects his team to be challenged by strong guard play.
Northland senior guard Shemar Waugh and Brookhaven senior guard Ronnie Williams both have signed with Ohio Dominican.
The Vikings edged the Bearcats 41-37 on Jan. 30 as sophomore forward Seth Towns had 12 points and junior Doug Taylor added 11. Towns and Taylor are 6-foot-7 and 6-8, respectively.
Juniors Shadrick Kimble and J-Saun Davis both are 6-4 and have been steady inside presences for the Bearcats.
"(Brookhaven) coach (Hali Robinson) is a good friend of mine and you know they're going to play mentally tough," Bates said. "The funny thing about this Northland team is they put us out of the tournament last year (79-43 in a Division I district semifinal), and I think what's different about them this year is that they have a legitimate big in the middle in Doug Taylor."
Nubians girls win another title
The Africentric girls basketball team overcame a late scare to beat Northland 49-38 in the City championship game Feb. 8 at Columbus South.
The Nubians led by as many as 19 points before the Vikings rallied to within four, but even Northland's strong defensive effort on Africentric senior post player and Ohio State signee Alexa Hart wasn't enough for it to come back all the way.
Hart was held to six points, but fellow seniors Darianne Seward and Sierra Harley scored 12 and eight points, respectively. Seward and Harley each had two 3-pointers and the Nubians made nine 3s overall.
Africentric improved to 19-3 and Northland fell to 18-2 after both went 14-0 in their respective leagues, the City-South and City-North.
"They actually cut it to four, but we responded real well," Nubians coach Will McKinney said. "We came back with some 3s. Sierra Harley played well, Alexis Parks did well and a variety of people did some nice things."
The win gave Africentric its seventh league title in nine seasons.
"It's something that we're real proud of," McKinney said. "Because we take it seriously and appreciate it, it never gets old. We work hard for it."
Africentric received the top seed in Division III and begins defense of its nine-year run of district championships when it opens the postseason Wednesday, Feb. 19, at home against 22nd-seeded Mount Gilead.
Northland, which got 18 points from junior guard Ariel Skipper and 12 from senior guard Brooklynn Peterson against the Nubians, is seeded fourth for the Division I tournament. The Vikings open Wednesday, Feb. 19, at home against 26th-seeded Whetstone or 29th-seeded Hamilton Township.
"Ariel Skipper played one of her best games ever for us," coach Bill Spencer said. "She just showed a lot of guts. They all did. We played zone on them and made them hit their shots. They took (the loss) hard, but at the end it just showed how much they wanted it. I think we grew up as a team."
Whetstone captures City wrestling title
Entering the City wrestling tournament Feb. 8, most coaches in the league had a tough time picking a favorite.
The balance of the field lived up to expectations, with Whetstone scoring 177 points to win its first championship since 1976.
The Braves accomplished the feat despite not having even one individual champion, as Zack Arnold (220 pounds), Christian Bobo (170), Demetrius Burrell (195) and Chris North (160) all were runners-up.
"We didn't have one champion, but we had 11 placers out of the 14 weight classes," coach Tom Jones said. "That's work. If everything came together (we thought we had a chance to win the title) but that was the trick. ... It's been a long time coming."
Centennial was second (164.5) and Mifflin followed its first league title a year ago by settling for third (157.5). Brookhaven (154), Walnut Ridge (142), Marion-Franklin (111), Columbus West (88), Northland (71.5), South (58), Independence (45), Briggs (38), Africentric (37), Beechcroft (30), Eastmoor (29), Linden-McKinley (29) and East (22.5) rounded out the standings.
Mifflin senior Hannibal Tate won all four of his matches at 170 to improve to 31-1 overall. He was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler.
Tate attended Ready as a freshman and Hilliard Davidson as a sophomore before earning a Division II state berth last season at 152 with the Punchers. He was a Division III district qualifier as a freshman and a Division I district qualifier as a sophomore.
"It's just another symbol of hard work," Tate said. "My big thing was us winning the team championship again, so we're looking to go into the sectional (this weekend) and win as a team."
Also winning titles were Brookhaven's Giovaughni Bonner (113), Steven Pelletier (220) and Keandre Powell (152), Mifflin's Montrese Frazier (160), Carlos Luna (heavyweight) and Makyin Tate (126), West's Aden Abdi (106) and Zac Em (132), Centennial's Jordan Emmerson (120) and Shereef Fall (145), Eastmoor's Gavin Grace-Giles (195), Marion-Franklin's Jhulyis Monroe (182) and Walnut Ridge's Romero White (138).
Bonner had never beaten East's Bashir Ali before this season, but pinned him in 3 minutes, 6 seconds in the final for his second win over Ali this winter.
"We work hard in practice and it pays off," Bonner said.
Northland's top finishers were Quadarius Bolden (fourth at 132), Nathan Brown (third at 182) and Caleb Woods (fifth at 145). Beechcroft's top finishers were Kasaad Tyree (fourth at 145) and Mike James (fourth at 160).
"We brought seven guys and had five placers, which is pretty good," Northland coach Nathan Wylder said. "I thought we did better overall at this tournament than we did last year."