Westerville South High School wrestling coach George Crooks continues to see positive signs in his second stint with the program.
After having a limited roster in the first three seasons since his return, Crooks has seen an increase in interest, evidenced by the fact the Wildcats have competed with a full lineup for most of this season.
South had a complete lineup for its home match against Westerville North on Jan. 25, with several wrestlers turning in strong efforts in a 65-6 loss in OCC-Buckeye Division action.
Crooks previously spent 12 years with the Wildcats, with the first five under former coach Kevin Peck. After Peck resigned, Crooks took over and guided South from the 2003-04 season to 2007-08. He then replaced Kerry Burton before the 2014-15 season.
"North is a powerhouse," Crooks said. "They've done so much great work and they deserve what they have. I thought our kids battled against them better than they have in the past. We're just trying to be a little more relaxed and have as much fun as we can. We want to keep kids around and have the hardest practices that we can have."
Sophomore Aaron Morton, who is in just his second season in the sport, earned one of his team's two wins against North, edging Zach Pryfogle 3-2 at 160 pounds.
"It's always fun to wrestle North," Morton said. "(Pryfogle) is a freshman, so when you get good freshmen like that you want to do well."
Morton is 19-8 on the season and has hopes of qualifying for his first Division I district tournament March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby. He and Crooks said a rigorous offseason training schedule has helped Morton improve on last season, when he went 13-24 and ended up one spot from advancing to district by finishing fifth at sectional at 152.
"I'm not where I want to be, but I'm happy where I'm going," Morton said. "I want to get to district and ultimately become a state qualifier. I have to wrestle solid and stop making rookie mistakes. I don't have as much experience as other guys, so when I get in some positions I get scared and don't know what to do."
Freshman Fuanyi Fobellah earned South's other win against North, defeating Eric Snider 14-8 at 106 to improve to 8-11.
"(Fobellah) spent some time with us in the summer," Crooks said. "He's here about every day doing all that he can do. He's gotten a lot better just over this summer. He really loves the sport and he's a great kid."
Junior Bobby Henderson was competitive in a 10-7 loss to Brice Wilson at 138.
Others performing well include freshman Nick Ifju, who is 13-10 at 120, and junior Seth Chrisman, who is 10-10 at 126.
The Wildcats are 0-3 in the OCC-Buckeye.
Sam Shalvey, a former South wrestler who graduated last year, has been filming matches after assisting in offseason activities.
"Our team is getting so much better," Morton said. "Sam Shalvey has been getting a lot of guys to go to our offseason things and it's getting our team a lot better. He's in college (at Otterbein), but he still wants to help out our team."
North coach David Grant also sees improvement in the South program.
"They had a full squad and that's nice," he said. "The kids are working harder, I can tell. I keep track of them all in the summer. A lot of those kids are working out in the summertime and doing the right things and they're going to get better if they do that. If they're not wrestling me, I cheer for them."
In the Division I team dual tournament, South lost to Marysville 72-6 on Jan. 24 at Delaware. Chrisman won by pin in 33 seconds.
Boys basketball team prepares for Orange
The boys basketball team will look to avenge a 57-54 loss at Olentangy Orange on Dec. 22 when it plays host to the Pioneers on Friday, Feb. 2.
Orange is coached by Anthony Calo, the son of South coach Ed Calo.
The Wildcats are 11-5 overall and 4-3 in the OCC-Buckeye. They defeated Olentangy Liberty 51-50 on Jan. 26 as Jordan McMillian hit the winning shot with 2.3 seconds remaining and finished with 14 points.
The Wildcats fell 49-46 at Thomas Worthington on Jan. 27 after being outscored 30-15 in the second half. South was just 10-for-26 from the free-throw line, including 7-for-20 in the second half. Emmanuel Sunnyway and McMillian each scored 11 points, and Hafiz Turay added 10.
Girls team remains perfect in league
The girls basketball team remained atop the OCC-Buckeye at 7-0 with a 56-49 win at Liberty on Jan. 26.
Gabby Hutcherson scored 16 points, Sommer Pitzer had 14 and Anyssa Jones added 10.
Jones scored 21 points, Peyton Guice had 13 and Pitzer added 12 in a 63-62 win over visiting Reynoldsburg on Jan. 23.
The Wildcats were 13-5 overall before playing Upper Arlington on Jan. 30.
Swim teams compete in league meet
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams competed in the OCC-Buckeye meet Jan. 27 at Thomas.
Nate Stadler won the 50-yard freestyle (21.78) and 100 backstroke (52.48) and Caleb Baker was third in the 100 free (50.35) to lead the boys, who finished fifth (142) behind Liberty (400.5), Orange (259), Olentangy (210.5) and Westerville North (163) and ahead of Westerville Central (73).
Abigail Ellsworth won the 100 free (55.24) and was third in the 100 back (1:02.08) to lead the girls, who finished sixth (145) behind Liberty (279), Olentangy (273.5), Orange (186), Central (182.5) and North (161).
Ellsworth also teamed with Emma Secrest, Ayden Jones and Taylor Henderson to finish second in the 200 free relay (1:47.93).
Below are the coming schedules for the South boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 2 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange. The Wildcats lost to the Pioneers 57-54 on Dec. 22.
Feb. 6 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*Feb. 2 -- At Orange. The Wildcats defeated the Pioneers 44-25 on Dec. 22.
Feb. 6 -- At UA
*Feb. 1 -- Gahanna at Gahanna Lanes
Feb. 7 -- Lancaster at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 2 -- Big Walnut at Westerville Community Center
Feb. 6 -- At Mount Vernon