Columbus West wrestling team on upswing
The Columbus West High School wrestling team had its first state qualifier in 25 years and was City League runner-up in the 2004-05 season. The next season, the Cowboys won their only league title in program history.
Second-year coach Scott Nicola is hoping the Cowboys will have another memorable season this winter, as they have returned three Division I district qualifiers from last season when they placed third in the City.
Nicola was an assistant at West from 2001-06 under his brother, Brian, who now coaches Olentangy Orange, and then worked with Ready's youth program for two years before returning to the Cowboys' program for the 2008-09 season as an assistant under former coach Dan Ritchie.
"We want to be not just a good City League team," Nicola said. "Last year we had five kids make it to district, which is a pretty good number. We didn't finish as strong (in the City League tournament) as we wanted, but at the end of the year coming in third at City and with five district qualifiers isn't bad."
Marion-Franklin won its fifth consecutive City title last season, scoring 227 points in the league tournament to finish ahead of runner-up Centennial (198.5) and third-place West (195).
The Red Devils have a new coach in Quinton Ryman, a 2009 Marion-Franklin graduate. He replaced Derek Oney, who stepped down after seven seasons. The Red Devils' top returnee is senior Deante Gray, who won the league title and was a district qualifier at heavyweight last season.
The only state qualifiers from the City last season were 2012 Centennial graduate Stanley Hendricks (132 pounds) and Walnut Ridge's Travis Gusan (heavyweight) in Division II and Northland's Anthony Alexander (138) in Division I. Gusan transferred to Hilliard Davidson, but Alexander is back for the Vikings.
Alexander, a senior, was named Most Outstanding Wrestler in the City tournament last season after winning a league title. He went on to become the first Northland wrestler to qualify for state since 1991, going 0-2 at state to finish 38-5.
The returning district qualifiers for West are seniors Marcos Gasca (120), Bryan Gray (heavyweight) and David Stockton (220). Senior Paco Quinonez (170) and junior Aden Abdi (106) also are expected to be key wrestlers for the Cowboys.
Boys basketball races could be 'wide open'
Having won the previous five City championships and featuring three Division I college recruits, the Northland boys basketball team not surprisingly won its sixth consecutive City title last winter.
Including City finals, the Vikings had won 89 consecutive league games entering this season. Also expected last season was that Walnut Ridge would win the City-South Division. The Scots did that and lost to Northland 66-55 in the City final.
Things might not be as predictable this season, at least in the City-South, according to Africentric coach Michael Bates.
"I think the City-South is wide open this year," said Bates, who is in his seventh season. "The parity is just great this year. Marion-Franklin probably has the most returning with (Anthony) Anderson and Marquiez Lawrence, but you know Walnut Ridge is going to be tough. Eastmoor's always tough with (John) Draper still there. And to me, I think (Columbus) South is the favorite. They're returning everyone, including Ellis Williams, who has signed to go to Bryant (University)."
Last season, Walnut Ridge went 14-0 to win the City-South, ahead of Africentric (12-2), Eastmoor Academy (9-5), Marion-Franklin (9-5), Briggs (5-9), Independence (5-9), South (2-12) and West (0-14).
The Nubians made it to a Division IV state semifinal for the second consecutive season, losing to Jackson Center 53-50 to finish 22-4. Seniors Kenny Robinson (guard) and Trevonn Saunders (guard) were starters and senior Cyquil Tucker (guard) also saw action.
Eastmoor was a Division II district champion a year ago under first-year coach Jim Miranda and is expected to be led by Draper, a senior guard who made first-team all-district last season.
Walnut Ridge lost the City championship game for the second consecutive season but bounced back to earn a Division I district runner-up finish.
The Scots lost nine players to graduation. Senior Rob Wheelwright, a 6-3 forward who has verbally committed to play football at Wisconsin, and 6-6 junior forward Robert Bowers are expected to lead the way for Walnut Ridge.
Other key players for the Scots are seniors Ty Pack (5-9, guard) and Darius Strickland (6-4, forward), junior Dymiere Finch (6-2, guard) and freshmen Malik Harrison (6-3, guard) and Tarik Wright (6-2, guard).
Pack and Strickland are transfers from Licking Heights.
"I think we'll be more blue-collar this year," said Scots coach Jason Bates, who is in his fifth season. "Whoever wins the City will probably have a couple losses this season."
In the City-North last season, Northland went 14-0 to place ahead of Brookhaven (12-2), Centennial (9-5), Beechcroft (6-8), Mifflin (6-8), Columbus East (5-9), Whetstone (3-11) and Linden-McKinley (1-13).
The Vikings lost four starters, including the Division I district Player of the Year in 6-8 forward Jalen Robinson, from a year ago when they finished 22-2 overall, but they opened with a 71-69 win over Toledo Rogers on Dec. 1.
Freshman Seth Towns had 21 points and junior Derek McKeithen scored 18.
The only City-North team to win a district title last season was Brookhaven, which finished 19-5 overall.
Nubians girls team again thinking big
With Kiyanna Black leading the way, the Africentric girls basketball team won its third state championship last season.
The Nubians, who beat Anna 70-66 in overtime in the Division III state final and finished 23-4, lost Black to graduation. She is playing for Ohio University.
Africentric has returned nearly all of Black's supporting cast from a year ago, however, and is off to strong start.
Marley Hill, a 6-2 post player who has signed with Cincinnati, is the only senior returnee.
Also back are juniors Kyra Jones (5-8, guard), Darianne Seward (5-5, guard), Alexus Parks (5-5, guard), Ayrielle Stith (5-7, guard/forward) and Sierra Harley (5-8, guard) and sophomores Dayunna Johnson (5-3, guard) and Dejanique Franks (5-5, guard).
Africentric has won seven consecutive City-South championships, including five City titles during that span. The Nubians lost to Northland 45-37 in the City championship game last season.
Africentric beat Eastmoor, which placed second in the City-South a year ago, 86-65 on Dec. 4 for its 100th consecutive league victory.
"We're really looking forward to (continuing the success we've had in recent years)," said 10th-year coach Will McKinney, who entered the season with an 186-43 record with the Nubians. "We'll work with each other more this year. There's more of a team bond."