While senior Chloe Shook is the leader of the Hilliard Darby High School gymnastics team, coach Carol Eskay is excited about the team's depth as it prepares for the OCC-Cardinal Division meet Saturday, Feb. 10, at Davidson.
"I really have been most impressed with their depth," said Eskay, who also coaches Bradley and Davidson. "We have 18 gymnasts on the team and, at any point, I could go about 12 deep or more in the all-around if I could. That is the most strength we have had in many seasons."
In last year's league meet, Darby scored a 128.3 to finish second behind Bradley (133.95) and ahead of Worthington Kilbourne (126.5), Dublin Jerome (121.625), Delaware (118.6), Thomas Worthington (1117.9) and Dublin Scioto (55.4).
Shook is the defending league champion on uneven bars, having scored an 8.65. Also in last year's league meet, she placed second in the all-around (34.7), third on floor exercise (9.0), third on balance beam (8.85) and seventh on vault (8.2).
"We really want to have our best finish of the season to this point," Eskay said of the Panthers, who went 6-0 in league duals this season. "They have been steadily improving and are hoping to peak at OCCs and districts. ...
"We have some strong gymnasts that joined our team this season in (freshmen) Jenna Hartwell, Laurel Bonn, Kate Kline and Michaela Hamet. All of them have been strong all-around competitors. (Freshman) Bailey Miller started the season coming off of an injury, but has continued to progress and has become a real asset for us on bars and beam. (Junior) Hailey Hacker is also going strong for us on the floor exercise."
As for Shook, she is looking to have a strong performance in the OCC-Cardinal meet and use that as a springboard to earn her third consecutive berth in the individual state meet. The district meet is Feb. 24 at Kilbourne, where the top eight finishers in each event and the all-around advance to state March 3 at Bradley.
The top three teams at district advance to the team state meet March 2 at Bradley.
"Chloe has been having a very impressive season," Eskay said. "She has been working extremely hard to increase the difficulty of her skill, but to also be very consistent in her execution of those skills. Her hard work is really paying off. She has had a personal record in all events and in the all-around. She continued to improve throughout the season and is regularly taking first or second in the all-around competition, which highlights her consistency.
"As a team, floor has probably been our most consistent event, but beam is coming on strong as we have gained confidence and consistency. Bars is always the most difficult every season. It is just the most difficult to get in all of the requirements."
Boys basketball team looks for strong finish
The boys basketball team continues to find itself in close contests, as it went 1-1 last week in home games that were decided by four points or fewer.
The Panthers defeated Canal Winchester 57-54 on Jan. 30, but lost to Jerome 62-58 on Feb. 2 in an OCC-Cardinal contest. They are 11-7 overall and 6-3 in the OCC-Cardinal entering a game Friday, Feb. 9, at Thomas.
Against Canal Winchester, the Panthers used a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter to overcome a five-point deficit and improve to 6-2 in games decided by three points or fewer. Josh Govine had 17 points, Ben Gbur scored 14 and Jaeln Benjamin added 12.
"We shouldn't be bothered by close games in the (Division I district) tournament this season," coach Chris Maul said jokingly. "We've been in close games just about every night it seems. I guess it shows us that even if we have a bad shooting game, we can be right there thanks to our defense. We're giving ourselves a chance to win."
The Panthers' loss to Jerome marked their fourth defeat by four points or fewer this season. Chandler Barlow had 18 points, Gbur scored 13 and Govine added eight for Darby, which trailed 30-23 at halftime.
It was the second consecutive OCC-Cardinal loss for the Panthers, who entered the week in second place in the league behind Bradley (8-0) and ahead of Jerome (5-4), Delaware and Kilbourne (both 5-5), Scioto (3-6) and Thomas (0-9).
Darby will play host to Bradley on Tuesday, Feb. 13, in a makeup contest from Jan. 12. The Panthers then will close the regular season Feb. 16 at Bradley.
Girls basketball team continues to struggle
The girls basketball team has lost five consecutive games and is 10-11 overall and 4-7 in the OCC-Cardinal entering its regular-season finale at home against league-leading Thomas on Friday, Feb. 9.
Darby, which won seven of its first eight games, lost to Canal Winchester 68-58 on Jan. 30 before falling to Jerome 37-35 in overtime in a league game Feb. 2.
The Panthers entered the week in fifth place in the OCC-Cardinal, behind Thomas (9-1), Scioto (7-2), Bradley (6-4) and Jerome (5-4) and ahead of Kilbourne (3-8) and Delaware (1-9).
Darby led Jerome 30-21 through three quarters, but was outscored 12-3 in the fourth quarter and 4-2 in overtime. Sydney Wyngarden had 13 points and Annie Rauch scored 10.
Against Canal Winchester, the Panthers trailed 19-10 after the first quarter and never recovered. Rauch had 23 points, Brie Pizzurro scored 12 and Alexa Dixon added eight.
Darby is seeded 26th of 50 teams in the Division I district tournament and has a first-round bye. The Panthers will play ninth-seeded Gahanna or 41st-seeded Central Crossing in the second round Feb. 23 at the home of the higher seed.
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 9 -- At Thomas Worthington. The Panthers beat the Cardinals 52-45 on Jan. 9.
Feb. 10 -- At Watkins Memorial
*Feb. 13 -- Home vs. Bradley in makeup from Jan. 12
*Feb. 9 -- Home vs. Thomas. The Panthers lost to the Cardinals 63-47 on Jan. 9.
Feb. 10 -- OCC-Cardinal meet at Davidson
Feb. 13 -- At Davidson with Big Walnut, Bradley, Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy Orange
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 10 -- Division I sectional at Kenyon College. Winner of each event and 27 at-large qualifiers in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites advance to district meet Feb. 17 at Ohio University. There is no diving at sectional.
*Feb. 8 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
Feb. 10 -- All-North Tournament at Jerome