Grace Pennington has just one regret as she enters the final stretch of her Olentangy High School girls basketball career.
The 5-foot-10 senior guard said she was so concerned with college recruiting as a junior that she put that long-term goal ahead of immediate matters, and as a result averaged just 6.1 points as the Braves finished 11-12.
Now having signed with Olivet Nazarene University, Pennington is channeling her renewed focus into a potential trip onto the program's record board. She had 24 3-pointers through 12 games, more than halfway to the mark of 42 set two years ago by 2016 graduate Kelly Meade.
"I was more focused on getting recruited than playing, and that was a big mistake," Pennington said. "I was so worried about doing so well that it threw me off my game. Now, I've signed. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I am playing free. I wish I would have done that last season.
"This is my last year in this place, this kind of atmosphere with these girls, so I really want a good send-off season."
Pennington was averaging 9.3 points through 12 games for Olentangy, which was 7-5 overall before playing Upper Arlington on Jan. 9 and improved to 3-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division with a 56-50 win over Orange on Jan. 5.
Pennington, who was held to four points against Orange, also had 21 rebounds and 19 assists through 11 games.
Pennington averaged 10 points as a freshman at Worthington Christian, earning second-team all-MSL-Ohio and honorable mention all-district in Division IV, before transferring to Olentangy. She saw limited regular-season action as a sophomore as the Braves advanced to a Division I district final, but earned enough trust from then-coach John Feasel to sometimes guard the opponent's best player in the postseason.
Coach Mike Daniels, who succeeded Feasel last year, lauded Pennington's basketball intelligence, patience and selflessness.
"She's a player who puts the team first. She never plays for herself," Daniels said. "She knows exactly what she needs to do as a captain. She follows the game plan. She has kept everybody under control, and her 3-point shooting has been excellent. We are not a great team shooting off the dribble or one-pass shot, but if we penetrate and kick it out, we are very effective."
Pennington is one of three seniors in the starting lineup, along with guard Lauren Biehl and forward Molly Delaney. Sophomore Jessica Nation plays center or the other forward spot, and freshman Meg Spohn has been the starting point guard all season.
"When I drive to the basket, I am always looking to kick it out to Grace and go to her side," Delaney said. "We click well. When I pass it to her, she's usually open for 3. Grace can take the ball up (the court) too; pretty much any of us can. We can trust her to get us in the right place and make a big play."
Pennington plans to major in psychology with a minor in criminal justice at Olivet Nazarene, which is in Bourbonnais, Illinois, about 50 miles south of Chicago.
As for other career plans, Daniels has an idea.
"Coaching can definitely be in her future," he said. "She knows the game well enough and works well with everybody."
Boys basketball team hitting tough stretch
Boys basketball coach John Feasel had enough of a grasp on his team through nine games to know its strengths and where it needs to improve, but Olentangy also was entering perhaps the toughest stretch of its schedule.
The Braves were 6-5 overall before playing UA on Jan. 9 and are 1-3 in the OCC-Buckeye. Olentangy concludes the first half of league play Friday, Jan. 12, at home against Liberty.
UA is led by Notre Dame recruit Dane Goodwin, who was averaging 25.6 points before Jan. 9 as the team was 10-0.
After the Liberty game, Olentangy is off until it plays host to Westerville South on Jan. 19.
"We have to be able to score. It's tough to defend because we're a lot smaller than most teams," said Feasel, whose team was averaging 65.6 points through nine games. "We are rebounding well and only averaging 11 turnovers a game. For a team that likes to run and shoot, that is very good. The thing with us in some of our games is that we've only shot well for a half. We have to play four quarters every night.
"We're learning what we can and can't do. We're getting a lot of guys varsity experience. Top to bottom, we have one of the best divisions in the OCC."
Sean Marks was averaging a team-best 22.9 points through 11 games, ahead of Jerred Kinnaird (11.8) and Alex Sieve (11.5). Kinnaird also was leading the team in rebounds at 8.2 per game.
Sieve's 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in overtime Jan. 5 gave the Braves a 75-74 win at Orange.
Marks, a junior guard, had six games of 20 points or more and four with 30 or more before Jan. 9. He had a career-high 33 points in a 77-67 win over Mansfield Madison on Dec. 2, two nights after opening the season with a previous best of 31 points in an 81-59 win over Marion Harding.
"We're undefeated when he scores at least 30," Feasel said of Marks. "We could use more nights like that."
Gymnasts look forward to staying home
It took a lot of leg work and thousands in dollars in fundraising, but the gymnastics team will have a true home meet for the first time Monday, Jan. 15.
Olentangy will play host to a quad that also includes Big Walnut, Liberty and Orange.
All four teams use Central Ohio Gymnastics and Cheerleading as their home facility, but coach Misty Lloyd-Matthews and the team wanted to stage at least one competition at Olentangy.
Approximately $4,000 had to be raised to bring the necessary equipment to the school, which according to Lloyd-Matthews has never played host to a gymnastics competition of any size.
"This is huge for us," she said. "We hosted a meet at Liberty one year (when she coached the Patriots), maybe the first year they were open (2003-04) or the second. Orange has the Beauty and the Beast meet, but Olentangy has never had a home meet. For this team, the caliber of it and what they've done, it's huge. ... We've had great support from the kids and parents."
Hamrick named boys soccer coach
Kyle Hamrick will be the next boys soccer coach, athletics director Jay Wolfe announced Jan. 5.
Hamrick replaces Pat Shick, who stepped down shortly after guiding Olentangy to a Division I district runner-up finish last fall. Shick was 31-32-10 in four seasons and led the Braves to at least a district semifinal three times.
Hamrick, a 2002 graduate of Cincinnati Northwest, most recently has served as manager of the boys and girls district tournaments. He coached at Wellington in 2010, going 5-8-5, before serving as athletics director at Harvest Prep.
The Braves went 11-4-5 overall and 1-1-3 in the OCC-Buckeye last season, losing to Dublin Jerome 1-0 in a district final.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 12 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
*Jan. 12 -- At Liberty. The Braves defeated the Patriots 47-38 on Dec. 5.
Jan. 13 -- Central District Preview at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
Jan. 17 -- Lexington at Lex Lanes
Jan. 13 -- McGee Invitational at Dublin Coffman
Jan. 15 -- Home vs. Big Walnut, Liberty and *Olentangy Orange
Jan. 12 -- New Albany in Pioneer Classic at Chiller Ice Works
Jan. 13 -- Mentor and Newark in Pioneer Classic at Chiller North
Jan. 14 -- TBD in Pioneer Classic at Chiller North
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 13 -- Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
Jan. 12-13 -- Top Gun Wrestling Tournament at Alliance