First-year Whitehall-Yearling High School boys basketball coach Drew Williams understands the plight of the Madison Plains boys basketball program.
The Golden Eagles are mourning the loss of coach Jeff Spradlin, who died Nov. 8 after suffering an apparent heart attack following practice.
Spradlin, 51, had coached Madison Plains since 2006. Last season, the Golden Eagles finished 14-10 overall and 8-6 in their final season in the South Central Ohio League.
Madison Plains, which has joined Whitehall in the MSL-Ohio Division, played host to the Rams on Dec. 13.
Williams offered advice and consoled members of the Madison Plains program during his team's visit. He had dealt with a similar situation before, having been an assistant at Brookhaven when coach Bruce Howard died in 2003 after a battle with liver disease.
"I went through the same thing coaching with coach Howard at Brookhaven," Williams said. "He collapsed in front of the kids. I knew what they were going through. I told the coach (Nathan Warner) I would reach out to him. He asked me how do you deal with it and I told him I'd reach out to him and we could talk. There are some things he can do to refocus them."
On the court, the Rams won 85-53 to improve to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the league before playing London on Dec. 17.
"It was a great win," Williams said. "It was an emotional game for (the Golden Eagles) since they were honoring their coach who had passed away. It was kind of a bittersweet thing. It was a packed house. ... We had to make sure our kids stayed focused. We were there to win the game also, even though I really feel for that program."
Whitehall figures to face a challenge when it visits West Jefferson on Saturday, Dec. 21. The Roughriders are in their first season in the MSL-Ohio, and Williams expects them contend for the league title.
"West Jefferson probably has the biggest inside (players) that we've seen," he said. "We've been able to match up with the inside of the other teams so far, but you have a (6-foot-5) kid (in Nick Mendenhall) at West Jefferson and (the game is) at their place. That's going to be a very tough game."
Against Madison Plains, R.J. Mims scored 21 points, Terronte Hutchins had 15, D.A. Saunders had 11 and Antoine Vaughn added 10.
On Dec. 10, Whitehall pulled away in the second quarter to defeat Hamilton Township 61-46. The Rams trailed 14-13 after one quarter but outscored the Rangers 22-5 in the second.
Hutchins scored 17 points, Saunders had 13 and C.J. Prater added 12.
Although his team had won each of its first four games by double-digit margins, Williams said the Rams hadn't reached their potential.
"I like our start, but we have a long way to go," he said. "I'm trying to make sure I temper some of the expectations of the kids, but at the same time let them enjoy some measure of success. There are some things we've gotten much better at and there are some things that we have a lot of improvement to get to. The most impressive thing that I like about them so far is that they play very disciplined."
Wrestlers compete in Liberty duals
The wrestling team finished 0-4 in the Olentangy Liberty Super Duals on Dec. 14.
Although the team struggled, the Rams received a strong effort from sophomore Ana Abduljelil, who was 4-0 at 113 pounds to improve to 11-0 on the season.
Abduljelil capped his day by winning by technical fall in a 17-2 decision over Delaware's Max Wright.
Last season, Abduljelil went 3-3 at 113 in the Division II state tournament to finish seventh. He was 48-5 overall.
"Win or lose, I go out there and put everything into it and just look to have fun," he said. "I just want to stay undefeated because now I'm on the road to win the state title. It's not about just placing anymore. It's about winning it all."
Other winners against Delaware were Parker Riley (12-9 over Bruno Dials at 120) and Elijah McGowan (6-4 over Brandon Dydek at 138).
Whitehall lost to Liberty (46-24), Lancaster (63-12), Teays Valley (52-15) and Delaware (58-17).
Against Liberty, Josh Pace (182) pinned Pat Barboza in 3 minutes, 51 seconds.
The Rams split a pair of matches Dec. 11, defeating host New Albany 56-15 and losing to Westerville North 64-18.
Against North, Abduljelil pinned Kalven Thomas in 3:31.
"Ana is on a mission this year," coach Steve Pennington said. "He's by far the hardest working kid we have on the team. When he's at practice, he's 100 percent every day. He did a lot of wrestling in the offseason and for the first time, he joined a freestyle club and got to travel a little bit. He's absolutely on a mission. He's for real."
Pennington said he scheduled Division I schools during the regular season to help his team prepare for the Division II postseason.
"What's nice is although these young kids are taking their lumps, they realize when you're wrestling big D-I competition you're going to take your lumps, but against D-II and in our league they're easy matches because we've already wrestled the best," Pennington said. "We've really worked on staying positive with the kids and reassuring them that even though you went 0-4 today, it doesn't mean you're going to go 0-4 next week. We're going to be fine."
Girls team falls to West Jefferson
The girls basketball team was 0-6 overall before playing Columbus East on Dec. 17.
The Rams lost to visiting West Jefferson 40-23 on Dec. 14 to fall to 0-3 in the MSL-Ohio.
Whitehall was outscored 21-8 in the second half. Brenell Williams led the Rams with 10 points.