When the Westerville South High School wrestling team was preparing to open the season in early December, coach George Crooks said he expected sophomore Aaron Morton to emerge as the Wildcats' top competitor.
Morton hasn't disappointed and will compete in his first Division I district tournament Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3, at Hilliard Darby. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to state March 8-10 at Ohio State.
"It would give me a lot of confidence and it would make me super happy," Morton said of qualifying for state. "It's my No. 1 goal right now."
At sectional, the top four finishers in each weight class advanced to district.
"At this level all those kids are tough," Crooks said. "You have to be on each match. You can't have any bad moments during the match and your head has to be right, and just go in there and do your best."
Last year, in his first season in the sport, Morton went 13-24 and ended up one spot from advancing to district by finishing fifth at sectional at 152 pounds.
Morton and Crooks said a rigorous offseason training regimen greatly improved Morton's skills, and he is 35-10 on the season.
"I can open up my offense now to pretty much anybody when I wrestle," Morton said.
He finished second at 152 in the Newark sectional Feb. 24, losing to Newark's Hunter Thornsberry 8-3 in the final.
Morton said he defeated Thornsberry 10-0 during the AAU Junior Olympics last summer in Michigan and wouldn't mind another matchup. The pair could meet again at district.
Morton called an 8-4 win over Westerville North's Caden Crist in a sectional semifinal a highlight of his tournament.
"The day felt good," Morton said. "I knew I had a hard semi with Crist from North, so I didn't know if I would make it to the final. Once I did I was pretty happy that I got to district."
Morton will face Hilliard Davidson's Luke DeWeese (29-9) in the first round at district.
"Once you get to district, everyone knows what they're doing, so it's time to turn it up," Morton said.
Also at sectional, Fuanyi Fobellah (106) and Nick Ifju (120) finished fifth and are district alternates, and Bobby Henderson was sixth at 138.
"I know our team could have gotten a couple more guys out, but they just didn't wrestle to their potential," Morton said.
South finished 10th (42) in the 10-team sectional behind champion Lancaster (223) and runner-up North (214.5).
"I thought we could get some more out, but that was a tough sectional," Crooks said. "Basically, the best schools were there. They know it's going to be tough, but you're looking for a top-four (finish). You don't have to get first. You just try to convince them to go out and do the best they can do to get into the top four and move on."
Stadler caps career at state swim meet
Senior Nate Stadler closed his prep swimming career by competing in the Division I state meet Feb. 23 and 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
He finished ninth in the 100-yard backstroke (program-record 50.76 seconds) and 10th in the 100 free (46.66).
"The first race I was a little nervous, but then that helped to get the jitters out," Stadler said. "I came back for the backstroke and I knew what I was going for. I knew what I was trying to do and I knew I just had to have a good tempo, and obviously it resulted in a seven-tenths of a second best time.
"I think my main goal was to be very precise with my skills, with my tempo, with my kick."
Stadler accounted for the boys team's 16 points, as North tied Olentangy Liberty and Ashland for 31st behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (413) as 51 teams scored.
"(Stadler's performance) was amazing," coach Shane Davis said. "He came in (Feb. 24) just feeling better. He had a great day (Feb. 23), was a little tight, but he just knew he was going to have an amazing day (Feb. 24). I could not be any more proud of him in the way he's been so resilient and fights every time he gets a chance. He never gives up on anything he does."
Stadler missed the latter part of last season with histoplasmosis, a fungal lung infection.
In the district meet Feb. 17 at Ohio University, South finished 16th (39.5) behind champion Dublin Jerome (303) as 29 teams scored. Stadler finished third in the 100 free (program-record 46.31) and third in the 100 back (51.51).
In a 13-team sectional Feb. 10, South finished fifth (116) behind champion and host UA (327).
In the OCC-Buckeye Division meet Jan. 27 at Thomas Worthington, the Wildcats finished fifth (142) behind Liberty (400.5), Olentangy Orange (259), Olentangy (210.5) and North (163) and ahead of Westerville Central (73).
Senior Abigail Ellsworth led the girls team at district, finishing eighth in the 100 back (program-record 58.55) and 16th in the 100 free (program-record 53.22). South finished 23rd (20) behind champion UA (274) as 30 teams scored.
The Wildcats finished eighth in the 15-team UA sectional behind the champion Golden Bears (328) and sixth (145) in the league meet behind Liberty (279), Olentangy (273.5), Orange (186), Central (182.5) and North (161).
Boys basketball team wins district opener
The boys basketball team opened the Division I district tournament with a 92-63 win over 36th-seeded Marysville on Feb. 24 at home.
Jordan McMillian led a balanced attack with 19 points. Hafiz Turay had 13 points, Ryan Greggs and Jacob Singleton each scored 12 and Malique Lyshe added 11.
The eighth-seeded Wildcats play host to 28th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in the second round Friday, March, 2, with the winner playing 12th-seeded Logan or 13th-seeded Orange in a semifinal Wednesday, March 7, at a neutral site to be determined.
South and Orange split a pair of OCC-Buckeye games this season, with Orange winning 57-54 on Dec. 22 and the Wildcats avenging the loss 53-45 on Feb. 2.
The district final is March 10 at Ohio Dominican.
Girls basketball team reaches district semi
The 28th-seeded girls basketball team was 18-5 before playing 17th-seeded Canal Winchester in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 28 at Whitehall.
The winner plays second-seeded Dublin Coffman or 20th-seeded Lancaster in a district final Saturday, March 3, at Ohio Dominican. South lost to Coffman 82-80 in overtime Jan. 3.
The district champion plays Newark, Northland, Upper Arlington or Watterson in a regional semifinal Tuesday, March 6, at Otterbein. The regional final is March 9 at Otterbein.
The Wildcats defeated 28th-seeded Mount Vernon 64-28 in the second round Feb. 23 at home as Anyssa Jones scored a game-high 14 points.
Bowling teams advance to district
The boys and girls bowling teams advanced to the Division I district tournament Saturday, March 3, at HP Lanes.
The boys finished ninth (3,344) of 38 teams at sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes behind champion Central (3,836) as the top 16 teams advanced to district.
Colton Rice led South, tying for ninth of 220 bowlers with a 566 three-game series. Callan Van Scyoc tied for 32nd (520), followed by Ryan Loggins (313, two games), Tanner Van Scyoc (164, one game), Cameron Voigt (160, one game) and Tristan Mathis (157, one game).
The girls finished 14th (2,901) of 37 teams at sectional Feb. 24 at HP Lanes behind champion Gahanna (3,642). Taylor Knox was 19th of 208 bowlers with a 496 series and Maggie Van Scyoc was 29th (477), followed by Rachael Bielby and Emily Grise (407, tied for 74th).
At district, the top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to state at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl. The boys compete March 9 and the girls compete the next day.
@ThisWeekFrankAt a glance
SWIMMING & DIVING
*Finishes: Boys -- Fifth in OCC-Buckeye, fifth at sectional, 16th at district, tied for 31st at state; Girls -- Sixth in OCC-Buckeye, eighth at sectional, 23rd at district
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Caleb Baker, Kosta Gesouras, Jason Li, Nate Stadler and Aidan Tansey; Girls -- Reagan Christie, Abigail Ellsworth, Grazia Santos and Madison Schroeder
*Key returnees: Boys -- Riley Andrews, Mason Crow, Dylan Gary and Bayden Jung; Girls -- Allie Diller, Taylor Fletcher, Taylor Henderson, Cara Jennings, Izzie Kotik, Lauriel Richards, Emma Secrest and Maeve Stacey