A stout defense led the Big Walnut High School girls basketball team in a turnaround season.
The Golden Eagles finished 15-9 overall after going 8-15 last season.
"We held opponents to eight or nine points less than we did last season, and we scored more," coach Steve Palmer said. "We were in some close games and learned from those situations last season."
Seeded 18th in the Division I district tournament, Big Walnut opened the postseason with a 57-44 victory over 21st-seeded Licking Heights in the second round Feb. 21 before losing to second-seeded Dublin Coffman 84-42 in a district semifinal March 1. The Shamrocks went on to win a district title.
It was the Golden Eagles' first district semifinal appearance since 2009.
Big Walnut went 5-5 in the OCC-Capital Division to tie New Albany for third, behind Newark (10-0) and Canal Winchester (7-3) and ahead of Groveport (3-7) and Franklin Heights (0-10).
A strong junior class played a big role for the Golden Eagles. It consisted of starters Erin Boehm (point guard), Katie Cochran (wing player) and Paige Norman (guard) as well as guards Alayna Trott and Stacey Walters. Sophomore guard Emily Neff and freshman post player Abby Facemyer also were key contributors.
Boehm averaged a team-high 8.3 points and was named second-team all district and all-league. Senior guard Kelly Kreager averaged 8.1 points and was honorable mention all-district and special mention all-league.
In addition to Kreager, Big Walnut also must replace senior guards Katie Neff (honorable mention all-league) and Taryn Hammond.
"They know what the standard is," Palmer said. "Hopefully, we can rise again. We had a junior varsity team that went 21-1, so some of (those players) could be in the mix (next season)."
season at state
Bailey Munday didn't win a match in his first appearance in the Division I state wrestling tournament held March 9-11 at Ohio State, but coach Luke Moore said that doesn't detract from the junior's season.
Munday lost his opening match 9-1 to eventual state champion Brendon Fenton of Elyria and then fell to Fairfield's Jabari Thomas 16-6 in a first-round consolation match to finish the season 45-8.
Munday was Big Walnut's first state qualifier since Alec Eisnnicher and R.J. Martin in 2014.
"He had nine returning state placers in his (weight class)," Moore said. "It looked like we had a winnable match in the consolations, but it didn't work out. That's not to take away what he accomplished throughout the year."
A state alternate last season, Munday qualified for state by going 5-1 and placing third in the district tournament March 3 and 4 at Hilliard Darby.
Also competing at district were junior Cole Foster, who went 1-2 at 138 to finish 32-13, and sophomore Levi Piceno, who went 0-2 at 113 to finish 11-13. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Big Walnut tied Mifflin for 22nd (22 points) at district behind champion Olentangy Liberty (236.5) as 42 teams scored after finishing last (49.5) in the 12-team sectional Feb. 25 at Newark behind champion Liberty (301).
The Golden Eagles went 3-2 in the OCC-Capital to finish third behind Groveport (5-0) and New Albany (4-1) and ahead of Franklin Heights (2-3) and Canal Winchester (1-4).
Seeded third in Region 5-A, Big Walnut opened the state team tournament by defeating sixth-seeded New Albany 48-24 in the second round Jan. 25 before losing to second-seeded Watkins Memorial 61-15 in the third round that same night.
The Golden Eagles must replace three seniors in Carson Dearth (152, 26-11, first-team all-league), Philip Roberto (170, 12-18, third-team all-league) and Josh Parker (182).
Among the expected returnees are Munday (first-team all-league), Foster (first-team all-league), Piceno (third-team all-league), junior Luke Apple (195, 10-9), sophomore Josh Halbakken (145, 25-15, third-team all-league) and freshmen Ryan Coletta (138, 10-11, third-team all-league), Christian Joudrey (106, 11-10, third-team all-league) and Max Lenz (220, 15-16, third-team all-league).
at state tourney
Kaitlyn Morrison of the girls bowling team rolled a 528 (182-142-204) series in the Division I state tournament March 10 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl to tie for 40th of 94 competitors.
The sophomore became the girls team's first state qualifier by rolling a 571 (177-220-174) in the district tournament March 3 at Sawmill Lanes to tie for 10th of 133 competitors and earn the fourth and final individual state berth.
Morrison was the only district qualifier for the Golden Eagles, who finished 25th (2,679) of 38 teams in the sectional tournament Feb. 24 at Sawmill Lanes, behind champion Briggs (3,766).
Big Walnut set the program record for most regular-season victories by finishing 6-9 overall. The Golden Eagles went 5-9 (11th) in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-North Division and 1-6 (seventh) in the OCC-Buckeye.
Morrison led Big Walnut with a 169.9 average, followed by sophomores Autumn Leidtke (142.1), Anna Tanner (129.8) and Caitlyn Lambert (116.4) and senior Meredith Davis (116.7).
The boys team had two district qualifiers in sophomore Jack Belcher, who bowled a 534 (168-184-182) to place 73rd of 127 competitors, and sophomore Johnny Lemaster, who rolled a 470 (132-167-171) to tie for 95th.
Big Walnut finished 28th (3,308) of 42 teams in the sectional Feb. 25 at Sawmill Lanes, behind champion Liberty (4,168).
The Golden Eagles went 5-11 overall, including 4-11 (13th) in the COHSBC-North and 3-4 (tied for fourth) in the OCC-Buckeye.
After losing its first eight matches, Big Walnut went 5-3 in its last eight.
Belcher led the Golden Eagles with a 171.9 average, followed by Lemaster (168.1), sophomore Jacob Bowens (164.6), senior Drew Alzner (164), senior Reilly Mengel (163.7) and junior Chris Fetter (161.9).
Boys basketball team
losing three seniors
The boys basketball team earned two of its four victories in its final five games.
Big Walnut finished 4-19 overall, losing to sixth-seeded Westerville South 88-41 in the second round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 28. The 44th-seeded Golden Eagles had a first-round bye.
"We got better as the season went on, and if you look at scores versus conference opponents the second time around, they were better," coach Brett Bartlett said.
Big Walnut went 3-7 in the OCC-Capital to finish fifth, behind Newark (10-0), Groveport (8-2), New Albany (5-5) and Canal Winchester (4-6) and ahead of Franklin Heights (0-10).
The Golden Eagles are losing three seniors in guard Ben Saxe, forward Alex Kelso and 6-foot-7 post player Henry von Hollen. Saxe averaged 9.8 points and was named second-team all-league, Kelso averaged 10.0 points and was honorable mention all-league, and von Hollen averaged a team-best 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Among the expected return-ees are sophomore guards Carson Becker, Jordan Koebel, Brody Lawhun and Nathan Montgomery.
"Next year is not going to be any easier ... in terms of wins and losses if we do not get better this offseason," Bartlett said. "Yes, the sophomores got a lot of experience, but the seniors were the ones who produced and did most of the scoring for us."