Before the Groveport Madison High School wrestling team opened the season Dec. 2 in the Granville Invitational, coach Brian Brison was evaluating his athletes.
"We had to request what pool to place our guys in," he said. "The A pool is usually reserved for returnees who are very strong; the B pool is usually filled young, somewhat inexperienced wrestlers; and, if there is a C pool, it is typically filled with first-year wrestlers trying to learn the basics."
Brison couldn't make up his mind where to place freshman Jake Nelson.
"I had him slotted in the B pool, but I went ahead and asked him," Brison said. "He was a little offended and told me he wanted to be in the A pool to be tested and see how it goes. He said he believed he belongs in the A pool, so that's where we put him."
Nelson went on to win the title at 160 pounds and is 25-2 entering the Canal Winchester Invitational on Saturday, Feb. 3.
"I knew he was good and was going to have a bright future, but I didn't expect him to be this good, this early," Brison said. "He's very smart and understands how to use his hips. He's good at creating offense by setting up his opponents and he executes his game plan. He has really good leverage and, most importantly, he believes he can beat anybody. That's half the battle with young kids and even some of the older guys."
Even Nelson, who placed seventh in the junior high state championships last year, didn't expect to have such a strong start to his high school career.
"I really didn't think I would start this well, but I did put the work in to be able to do this," he said. "My goal this season was to win a (Division I) sectional title and qualify for state, but I really didn't think my record would be this good at this point."
Nelson, who said he has been wrestling since first grade, upped his level of competition last summer.
"I didn't think I was getting good enough competition in Ohio, so we looked for out-of-state tournaments," he said. "I competed in Maryland and Pennsylvania and in a five-day tournament in Virginia Beach and I won the Mountain Man Classic in West Virginia.
"My dad and mom (Tad and Brenda Nelson) have been a big part of this. We'd get up at 3 a.m. and drive to the event and get there for weigh-ins on Saturday, or we'd spend Friday night in a hotel. In Virginia Beach, we were in a hotel for the entire week, so they've been very supportive and I think it made me a better wrestler."
Brison said Nelson's intensity and confidence are through the roof.
"He does things naturally that are difficult to teach," Brison said. "As good as he is, he's been on his back quite a few times and has scrambled out and come back to win. He never quits and he's just so intense. He finds ways to slide out of bad situations somehow. He's confident even when he's on his back. I haven't seen anything like him as a freshman. It's going to be a fun four years with him."
The Cruisers are 2-1 in OCC-Capital Division duals after beating Big Walnut 38-28 on Jan. 25. Their next league dual is Feb. 8 at New Albany.
Other top wrestlers for Groveport include seniors Clayton Saunders (21-6 at 120) and Andrew Bachman (15-6 at 170) and sophomores A.J. Joyce (11-6 at 220), Muhamad Conteh (15-11 at 113) and Skyler Mouser (10-9 at 195).
Boys basketball team prepping for Eagles
The boys basketball team will play host to New Albany in an OCC-Capital game Friday, Feb. 2.
Groveport beat the Eagles 51-49 in overtime on Dec. 22, as Antwon Hampton scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half, including a jumper late in regulation that tied the score at 46 and forced overtime.
The Cruisers denied a possible game-tying layup with three seconds left in overtime.
It marked one of the few close wins Groveport has posted this season.
The Cruisers dropped to 6-11 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Capital with a 62-59 loss at Canal Winchester on Jan. 26. It was their fifth loss by three points or fewer this season.
Hampton had 21 points and Tyreese Cherry scored 20 for Groveport, which led 33-23 at halftime and 45-41 through three quarters.
Groveport lost to Pickerington North 63-51 on Jan. 23. The Cruisers, who trailed 40-35 entering the fourth quarter, were led by Hampton's 21 points. Cherry added 11 points.
The Cruisers were scheduled to complete a suspended game against Pickerington Central on Jan. 30. The game was suspended Dec. 19 in the second quarter after a rim-breaking dunk by the Tigers' Adrian Nelson.
Swimmers compete in league meet
Led by sophomore Spencer Keane, the boys swimming and diving team placed fourth in the OCC-Capital meet Jan. 27 at New Albany.
The Cruisers totaled 74 points to finish behind New Albany (458.5), Big Walnut (278.5) and Canal Winchester (206) and ahead of Newark (55).
Keane placed third in the 100-yard butterfly (59.13 seconds) and fifth in the 200 freestyle (1:57.76) and joined Miles Mason, Jordan Murphy and Jayden Henderson on the fourth-place 200 free relay (1:56.08).
The girls team placed fifth (116) in the league behind New Albany (459), Canal Winchester (295), Big Walnut (139) and Newark (126).
Sophomore Madison Newsom placed fourth in the 500 free (5:46.23) and sixth in the 100 fly (1:07.86) and freshman Jazlyn Winski finished fourth in the 100 breaststroke (1:23.3) and seventh in the 200 individual medley (2:50.28). They joined Aleah Brown and Sydney Crabtree on the fourth-place 200 medley relay (2:23.31).
Bowlers nearing end of regular season
The bowling teams are nearing the end of the regular season.
The Cruisers compete against Lancaster on Thursday, Feb. 1, at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl and must make up a postponed match against Centennial.
The girls team was 6-3 overall, 5-2 in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division and 3-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before a match against Hilliard Darby on Jan. 31. Entering the week, the Cruisers were tied with Lancaster for third place in the COHSBC-B behind Darby (9-0) and Hilliard Bradley (6-2) and were third in the OCC-Cardinal behind Delaware (5-0) and Darby (4-1).
Through nine matches, Leah Deaner had a team-best 180.1 game average, followed by Shayana Carter (144.2).
The boys team was 4-5 overall, 4-3 in the COHSBC-B and 3-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before the match against Darby. The Cruisers were fourth in the COHSBC-B behind Pickerington North (10-0), Pickerington Central (8-2) and Worthington Kilbourne (6-2) and were tied with Darby and Kilbourne for second in the OCC-Cardinal behind Delaware (4-1).
Through nine matches, Chaz Wilson had a team-best 202.7 average, followed by Lonnie Stuckey (190.4), Corey Claprood (163.8), Tyler Miracle (159.3) and Stephen Snyder (156.4).
Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 2 -- Home vs. New Albany. The Cruisers beat the Eagles 51-49 (OT) on Dec. 22.
Feb. 6 -- Home vs. Lancaster
*Feb. 2 -- At New Albany. The Cruisers lost to the Eagles 51-36 on Dec. 22.
Feb. 3 -- Home vs. Amanda-Clearcreek
Feb. 6 -- At Lancaster
*Feb. 1 -- Lancaster at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 3 -- Bellefontaine Benjamin Logan and Delaware at Ohio Wesleyan
Feb. 3 -- Canal Winchester Invitational