Having been to three Division I state tournaments in as many years as an Olentangy High School wrestler, Xander Gore has been on the giving end of plenty of takedowns.
But going up against former state and national champion Joe Heskett during a recent practice, Gore found himself on the receiving end of a fireman's carry and a quick trip to the mat.
"He was showing us how a drill was supposed to be run and I wasn't expecting him to show the way he did," Gore said. "Every time I'd reach my right arm around, he'd take me down right away. He'd tell me to go and I'd try to take him down or fully cover him (and) he just said I didn't finish ... and he fireman-carried me straight to my back. It was a big smack. But I'm learning a lot.
"He's not afraid to tell it like it is. He'll call you out if you need it, and sometimes we need that to get motivated."
A three-time state champion at Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit from 1995-97 and 165-pound national champion as a senior at Iowa State in 2002, Heskett is spending 10 hours with the Braves in an advisory role spanning seven practices.
Heskett lives in the Olentangy district and the youngest of his three children, 7-year-old Joey, is a member of the Little Braves, Olentangy's youth program.
"We've had a few guys come to talk to us but nobody with the experience he has," senior Avery Flanagan said. "The guys he has worked with and the competition he's worked with is as good as you can get. He will break down the sport and he knows what to do and when to do it, what situations are happening and how to counter them. It's a whole new way to look at wrestling."
Heskett visited with the Braves on Dec. 12 and 22, Jan. 2 and 15 and Feb. 8. He is scheduled to return Friday, Feb. 16, and Monday, Feb. 19, before the postseason begins Feb. 24 with a sectional at Watkins Memorial.
"The wrestling world is small, so conversations started and I offered to help in any way possible," said Heskett, who was an assistant coach at Ohio State from 2006-10 and a head coach at Army from 2010-14 before spending three years at West Virginia as associate athletics director for sports performance. "I think it's something I've been led to do. When I left college athletics, I knew my primary goal was to make a direct difference in the lives of others. I didn't know exactly what that looked like or how to do it."
Heskett has run h Leadership, a company that focuses on character and leadership development, since 2009. He plans to start h Wrestling Club at Olentangy this spring, with spring, summer and fall seasons consisting of 18 sessions each for any youth, regardless of school district.
Olentangy coach Dennis Lyberger welcomes Heskett's expertise, saying he brings a different approach and different voice.
"He is teaching technique but so much of it is about mental preparation and match preparation," Lyberger said. "It's thinking about the knowledge of the sport in general and why you are doing something, not just 'here's a move, learn it.' If you understand the sport and know what you're doing, everything makes more sense."
Heskett's final message to the Braves after their Feb. 8 practice involved putting aside the fatigue of a long season. Olentangy is 2-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division entering its Thursday, Feb. 15, league finale at home against Orange.
"Some of the best kids are already starting to check out. They're tired and making excuses. Don't be that guy," Heskett told the team. "Be the guy who takes them out. Let that mentality start building at a higher level today."
Gymnasts repeat as league champions
The gymnastics team not only repeated as OCC-Buckeye champions in the league meet Feb. 10 at Hilliard Davidson, but set a school record in points in the process.
Olentangy placed at least three competitors in the top six of each of the four events, amassing 140.5 points to finish ahead of Liberty (128.15), Orange (124.75), Big Walnut (118.75) and Westerville Central (118.325).
Olivia Boone won balance beam (9.1) and floor exercise (9.5) and was third on vault (8.9). Wen Holmes won uneven bars (9.175), placed second on vault (8.95) and tied for fourth on floor (8.925).
"We got goosebumps (when we heard our point total). We think we can only get better going toward district and state," assistant coach Ashley Small said. "They work so well together. They're always pushing each other and striving to be better than the meet before."
Also finishing in the top six in multiple events were Ellie McIntyre, who was third on bars (8.8) and sixth on beam (8.75), and Madeline Vouis, who placed third on floor (8.975) and fifth on vault (8.525).
Olentangy's win Feb. 10 also clinched the overall league title. The Braves went 4-0 with 20 points in the OCC-Buckeye, ahead of Orange (14, 3-1), Liberty (14, 2-2), Central (6, 1-3) and Big Walnut (6, 0-4).
Kuriger leads swimmers to district
Ben Kuriger of the boys swimming team earned the top seed in both the 100-yard butterfly and 200 freestyle for the Division I district meet Saturday, Feb. 17, at Ohio University.
Kuriger, a senior and Ohio State recruit, won the 100 fly (50.51 seconds) and 200 free (1:42.8) in a sectional Feb. 10 at Kenyon College. He also was on the fourth-place 400 free relay (3:21.18), leading the Braves to 86 points and sixth place behind champion Dublin Jerome (270) as 11 teams scored.
Bridget Parker's second-place finishes in the 200 individual medley (2:11.59) and 500 free (5:10.1) led the girls team to 146.5 points and third place behind champion Dublin Coffman (274) as 10 teams scored.
Parker also was on the runner-up 200 medley relay (1:50.16).
The winner of each event automatically qualified for district. In addition, 27 at-large district berths were awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
At district, the top two placers in each event automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 23 and 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each event based on district times statewide.
Divers did not compete at sectional.
In the girls diving district meet Feb. 12 at Dublin Community Recreation Center, Olentangy's Ciara Szerencsits finished 14th (335.8) as the top four advanced to state Feb. 22.
The boys diving district meet was Feb. 13 at the same facility. The top five finishers advanced to state Feb. 24.
Pennington sets girls team record
Despite a below-.500 regular season, the girls basketball team enters the Division I district tournament led in part by a record-setting player.
Senior guard Grace Pennington's 3-pointer with 2:56 left in a 40-17 win over Orange on Feb. 10 was her 43rd of the season, breaking the school record set two years ago by 2016 graduate Kelly Meade.
Pennington tied the mark with three 3s in a 38-33 win over Davidson on Feb. 6.
Meade is the school's all-time leading scorer regardless of gender with 1,410 points, and also holds the career 3-point record with 147.
Olentangy finished the regular season at 10-12 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Buckeye.
Seeded 29th for the 50-team district tournament, the Braves visit 16th-seeded Teays Valley for a first-round game Saturday, Feb. 17. The Braves and Vikings did not play during the regular season.
The winner plays 13th-seeded Watterson or 40th-seeded Delaware in the second round Feb. 23 on the better-seeded team's home court.
Hockey team prepares for Eagles
The hockey team received the sixth seed for the 24-team district tournament and will take on ninth-seeded New Albany in a second-round game Sunday, Feb. 18, at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Olentangy, which is 16-10-2-1, defeated the Eagles 4-3 on Dec. 22 in their only meeting of the regular season.
The winner will play fourth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller, 13th-seeded Oxford Talawanda or 15th-seeded Coffman in a third-round game Feb. 24.
The Braves' seven-game winning streak was snapped with a 1-0 loss to St. Charles in the first round of the Blue Jackets Cup on Feb. 8 at Chiller Ice Works. The third-seeded Cardinals scored early in the second period.
Olentangy was seeded sixth of 15 teams.
Braves athletes select colleges
Seven Olentangy student-athletes announced their college decisions Feb. 7.
Braydon Chitty will play football at Ohio Dominican, Melina Endsley will play women's soccer at Colorado School of Mines, Nick Miller will play men's soccer at Franciscan University of Steuben-ville, Justin Rehklau will play men's soccer at Case Western Reserve, McKenna Riesterer will play women's soccer at Mount Vernon Nazarene, James Rosenberry will play football at Maryland and Eli Stoner will play men's soccer at the University of Indianapolis.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys basketball, gymnastics and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 16 -- At Olentangy Liberty. The Braves lost to the Patriots 73-66 on Jan. 31.
Feb. 20 -- Home vs. Marysville
Feb. 24 -- At 18th-seeded Hilliard Darby in first round of Division I district tournament. The Braves are seeded 19th.
Feb. 19 -- District Invitational at Upper Arlington
*Feb. 15 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
*League contestAt a glance
Below are the district qualifiers with sectional time and district seeds for the Olentangy boys and girls swimming teams:
BOYS -- Ben Kuriger: 100 fly (50.51, first), 200 free (1:42.8, first); Preston Kuriger: 100 back (57 seconds, 22nd); Ben Paull: 50 free (22.73, 26th); Chris Sabharwal: 100 back (57.8, 28th); 200 free relay (1:31.82, ninth); 200 medley relay (1:50.45, 25th); 400 free relay (3:21.18, seventh)
GIRLS -- Grace Butcher: 100 breast (1:05.49, fifth), 100 fly (1:00.42, 20th); Lauren Delligatti: 500 free (5:39.83, 24th); Emily Espy: 200 free (2:03, 26th); Olivia Gollmar: 50 free (25.23, 21st), 100 free (55.17, 27th); Grace Horstman: 50 free (25.37, 25th), 100 back (1:01.88, 26th); Meara Marker: 500 free (5:42.36, 30th); Bridget Parker: 200 IM (2:11.59, fifth), 500 free (5:10.1, fifth); Liz Passias: 200 free (2:01.83, 22nd); 200 free relay (1:46.42, 15th); 200 medley relay (1:50.16, fourth); 400 free relay (3:41.47, eighth)