The Pickerington High School Central wrestling team entered this week with the world at its fingertips, at least as far as its goals were concerned.
On Feb. 6, the Tigers competed against Hilliard Davidson in the Region 6 final of the Division I state team tournament. The winner advances to the state tournament on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
On Thursday, Feb. 7, Central visits Pickerington North needing a win to claim its first OCC-Ohio Division championship in two years. The Tigers sit atop the league at 6-0, just ahead of second-place North (5-1). Despite having lost to Gahanna 36-33 on Jan. 31, the Panthers still have a chance to share the title with their crosstown rival.
"We have two goals right now. One is to win the OCC championship and the other is to win the regional championship," Central senior A.J. Bondurant said after a 51-12 win over Grove City on Jan. 31. "Our first goal is always to win the OCC, but right now we're looking forward to taking care of the regional championship only because it comes first."
The Tigers, who were seeded second in Region 6-B, defeated Gahanna 42-28 in a second-round match Jan. 30 at Pleasant Street Elementary in Mount Vernon. That same evening, they upset top-seeded Mount Vernon 37-35 in a regional semifinal.
Bondurant (160), senior Ason Sunkle (170), juniors Dylan McDowell (182) and Aaron Yarger (152) and sophomores Devon Johnson (106) and Ryan McElwee (113) each went 2-0 for Central on Jan. 30. Bondurant, Johnson, Yarger and sophomore Aaron Morefield (heavyweight) had pins against Mount Vernon.
"Our boys keep rising to the occasion," coach Jason Allen said. "We just took the momentum of the first dual. Our guys were pumped. They knew it'd be tough against Mount Vernon. It was all bonus points, getting major (decisions) and pins and not giving those up. We won seven matches and they won seven, but our guys scored the points where we needed them."
Central and North entered the week ahead of Gahanna (4-2), Lancaster (4-2), Grove City (3-3), Groveport (1-5), Reynoldsburg (1-5) and Newark (0-6) in the OCC-Ohio.
A league championship would be Central's second since 2005 and 15th since 1982. North's only league championship came in the 2009-10 season, when the Panthers went 6-1 in the OCC-Ohio and shared the title with Gahanna.
Last season, a 46-23 loss to Lancaster in its sixth OCC-Ohio match cost North a shot at the league championship. The Panthers finished 6-1 in the league, defeating Central 27-26 in their final league match to secure second place behind Lancaster (7-0). The Tigers finished third at 5-2.
The loss to Gahanna capped a difficult 24-hour stretch for North, which was eliminated from the state team tournament with a 35-34 loss to Mount Vernon in a Region 6-B second-round match on Jan. 30. The Panthers, who were seeded fifth, won seven of the 14 matches against the Yellow Jackets but lost four by pin.
Winning matches against Mount Vernon were seniors Payton Gutierrez (106) and Jake Snyder (126), juniors George Dial (170), Geno Rollo (heavyweight) and Wyatt Starkey (182) and sophomores Tyler McCafferty (138) and Nick Notestine (152).
Notestine, Rollo and Starkey each won by pin.