It's that time of year again for Kaitlyn O'Reilly, when achy knees and shin splints are as much a part of life for the DeSales High School senior gymnast as homework and nightly practices.
But this year, everything holds a certain sentimentality for O'Reilly, whose final season with the Stallions will last no more than another 2 1/2 weeks and who is uncertain of her future in a sport in which she's participated since elementary school.
"It's a little nerve-wracking because this might be the last time I ever do this," said O'Reilly, who plans to attend Ohio University. "I'm just not sure if I plan to continue doing gymnastics. I want to get into the Air Force ROTC (in college), and I don't know if I'll have time for club gymnastics. If I do, great. I love it. But it's just a matter of having time."
If this season is O'Reilly's last, she is giving herself and her team some solid performances to remember.
In a Dec. 20 meet at Westerville Central, O'Reilly scored a personal-best 9.0 points on floor exercise, a score her aunt and coach, Megan O'Reilly, believed had not been achieved by any Stallion since at least 2014.
In the Dawg House Challenge on Jan. 27 at Dresden Tri-Valley, O'Reilly tied for sixth on uneven bars (8.15), placed eighth on vault (8.5) and finished 11th in the all-around (32.9).
Four days later in a four-team meet at Marysville, she won floor (8.7), bars (8.35) and the all-around (33.35).
O'Reilly hopes those achievements help her become DeSales' first state qualifier since 2013, when Kate Miltko finished 18th in the all-around as a senior after winning the district championship.
DeSales' next competition is the district meet Feb. 24 at Worthington Kilbourne. The top three teams and top nine finishers in each event and the all-around advance to the team and individual state meets March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Bradley.
"We always know Kaitlyn will be solid in whatever she does," coach O'Reilly said. "She's really improved on (balance) beam this year. Coming from freshman year to what she is doing now, she has improved tremendously. Beam and bars are probably her strengths overall. She's a strong tumbler."
O'Reilly practices 22 hours in a normal week -- from 4-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday at Future Gymnastics Academy in Blacklick, and six more hours spanning two practices Fridays and Saturdays with DeSales at Central Ohio Gymnastics and Cheerleading.
O'Reilly began spending time in gymnasiums as a youth, when coach O'Reilly competed at Buckeye Gymnastics and her mother -- Kaitlyn's grandmother, Cathy -- cleaned the gym after practices. That gave Kaitlyn time to run and tumble on the equipment.
Kaitlyn's father is coach O'Reilly's oldest brother, Eric, whose four deployments to the Middle East as a member of the Army spawned his daughter's interest in the military.
Kaitlyn and Megan O'Reilly are separated by 13 years.
"She is like a little sister to me, especially growing up with three older brothers," coach O'Reilly said. "I definitely wanted (Kaitlyn) to do gymnastics, and she had some natural talent. If she isn't good at a skill, she will work at it until she is. She'll make it as perfect as she can."
O'Reilly is unsure of her college major, although she mentioned human sciences as a possibility.
"Because of all my injuries, I got really interested in how the body works," she said. "(Injuries) just come naturally with practicing so much over the years. I haven't had any recent injuries, but my shin splints are coming back full force, my knees are aching. But if I can do some good things (in the postseason), it won't hurt as bad."
Girls basketball team preps for tourney
Girls basketball coach Brian Cromwell has seen this -- meaning strong late-season play and a road trip to begin the Division I district tournament -- from his team before.
Cromwell hopes recent history will repeat itself as the Stallions, who are seeded 27th in the 50-team tournament, visit 12th-seeded Tri-Valley for a first-round game Saturday, Feb. 17.
DeSales had won five out of six games before ending the regular season with a two-game losing streak, falling 50-44 at Hartley in its CCL finale Feb. 8 and 39-18 at Zanesville on Feb. 10.
The Stallions are 10-11 overall and finished 3-4 in the CCL, third behind Hartley (6-1) and Watterson (5-2).
"It's a good thing for us going into the tournament. We'd like to be better in our league, which we haven't done the last couple of years, but we do trend in that direction later in the year and that's a tribute to our girls," Cromwell said before last week's losses. "We start to dial in later in the year. I'm happy for (the players)."
Last year, DeSales upset host Upper Arlington 39-34 in a first-round game to snap a four-game losing streak. Two years ago, the Stallions went 8-1 late in the season, including tournament victories over Grove City and Whetstone before a district semifinal loss to Pickerington Central.
Tri-Valley was ranked eighth in the Division I state poll two weeks ago but dropped out of the poll after a 51-48 loss to Zanesville on Jan. 31.
The DeSales-Tri-Valley winner will visit 10th-seeded Eastmoor Academy for a second-round game Feb. 23.
"(The Scotties) are scrappy and they play a physical brand of basketball. It's going to be a tough environment," Cromwell said of Tri-Valley. "Hopefully, our schedule that we've played, going to a lot of good Division I programs, will help us. We've been getting better each and every day lately. We've been playing better the last few weeks and our girls have been feeding off that."
Swimmers prepare for district meets
Ian McCandlish and Aaron Spittell of the boys swimming team and Mary Ruff of the girls team each will compete in two individual events in their respective district meets this weekend at Ohio University.
McCandlish will swim the 100-yard backstroke and 100 butterfly, and Spittell will compete in the 200 freestyle and 500 free in the Division II district meet Friday, Feb. 16. Both were on the first-place 200 free relay (1 minute, 43.06 seconds) and winning 200 medley relay (1:54.16) in a sectional Feb. 10 at Thomas Worthington, and McCandlish won the 100 back (1:02.12) as DeSales scored 349 points to finish first ahead of runner-up Buckeye Valley (145) as four teams scored.
Mitchell Mayerchak won the 50 free (25.24) and Spittell placed second in both the 200 free (2:03.88) and 500 free (5:50.43).
Ruff is the girls team's only qualifier for the Division I district meet Saturday, Feb. 17. She will swim the 100 back and 200 free after tying for seventh (1:01.63) and finishing seventh outright (2:01.9), respectively, in those events at sectional.
The girls team finished ninth (41) behind champion New Albany (401) as 15 teams scored.
There were no automatic district berths from the Division II sectional. Twenty-seven at-large berths were awarded in each swimming event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
In Division I, the winner of each sectional event automatically qualified for district. In addition, 27 at-large district berths were awarded in each swimming event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
At district, the top two placers in each swimming event automatically advance to the state meet Wednesday, Feb. 21, through Feb. 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
Hockey team to open tourney against Elks
The hockey team is seeded 18th in the 24-team district tournament and will take on 14th-seeded Centerville in a first-round game Friday, Feb. 16, at Chiller North.
The winner will return to Chiller North on Saturday, Feb. 17, to face fifth-seeded UA in the second round, and that winner will advance to a quarterfinal Feb. 24.
DeSales did not play Centerville during the regular season but lost to UA 7-1 on Dec. 2.
The Stallions are 7-19 overall, coming off a 1-1 weekend in the consolation bracket of the Blue Jackets Cup.
DeSales, which was seeded 12th of 15 teams, defeated 13th-seeded Thomas Worthington 6-4 on Feb. 9 at OhioHealth Ice Haus behind three goals from Chris Yarger and a 4-1 third-period advantage before losing to 10th-seeded Olentangy Orange 5-0 in a semifinal Feb. 10 at the Ice Haus.
Below are the coming schedules for the DeSales boys basketball and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 16 -- Home vs. St. Charles. The Stallions lost to the Cardinals 58-49 on Jan. 30.
Feb. 17 -- Home vs. Dresden Tri-Valley in makeup from Dec. 9
Feb. 20 -- Home vs. Beechcroft in makeup from Jan. 13
Feb. 26 -- At 11th-seeded Linden-McKinley in first round of Division II district tournament. The Stallions are seeded 13th.
Feb. 15 -- CCL tournament at Hartley
*League contestAt a glance
Below are the district qualifiers with sectional time and district seeds for the DeSales boys and girls swimming teams:
BOYS -- Zane Marmie: 50 free (25.39, 28th); Mitchell Mayerchak: 50 free (25.24, 25th); Ian McCandlish: 100 back (1:02.12, ninth); 100 fly (1:01.38, 19th); Jonathan Randel: 200 IM (2:40.19, 30th); Aaron Spittell: 200 free (2:03.88, 20th), 500 free (5:50.43, 14th); 200 free relay (1:43.06, 17th); 200 medley relay (1:54.16, 12th)
GIRLS -- Mary Ruff: 100 back (1:01.63, 22nd), 200 free (2:01.9, 23rd); 200 medley relay (2:02.3, 24th); 400 free relay (4:11.2, 28th)