Eliot Clark expects things to be much different when he goes through the tunnel onto the floor at Ohio State's Schottenstein Center.
The 182-pound senior for the Bexley High School wrestling team won a Division II district title March 3 at Uhrichsville Claymont as the top four finishers in each weight class qualified for the state tournament Thursday, March 8, through Saturday, March 10.
Coming out of the dark passageway into the bright arena bowl with the din of a near-capacity crowd can bring out the butterflies in the most seasoned wrestler. That happened to Clark last season when he went 0-2 at state at 182.
However, he now has an idea of what to expect.
"Last year, I just was happy to be (at state), and I came out wide-eyed and was taking in the experience," said Clark, who enters state at 43-0 overall. "Now the biggest thing I can do is do better than last year.
"I can't think about the crowd; I just have to go out and wrestle my match. I have to set the tone and not let up. If I score first with a takedown, I have to keep scoring and not just try to ride him out. I have to impose my will out there."
Last season, Clark finished fifth at district and was a state alternate. He then was added to the brackets after fourth-place district finisher Billy Cooper of Jackson withdrew because of injury.
Clark was the first Bexley wrestler to compete at state since Jake Weisman placed eighth at 112 in 2007.
At Claymont, Clark defeated Carrollton's Alex Carrothers 8-0 in the final to win the Lions' first district title since Matt Henn won at 145 in 2001.
Clark was 4-0 at district with three pins going into the final.
"I felt like this year was my last chance and I wanted to go out the best I could," he said. "I didn't want to walk away thinking that I should have done this or done that.
"One of the biggest differences was that I started to believe in myself. My coaches always have been saying, 'We all know you're the best, but all that needs to happen now is for you to understand that.' I started believing in that and just went out and wrestled."
Coach Chris Bragg also expects a different version of Clark at state.
"I don't think the shock of the big crowd will have an effect on him this time," said Bragg, whose team finished 15th (49 points) at district behind champion Steubenville (159) as 46 teams scored. "He knows he has wrestled with the best in the state and, in my eyes, he is one of the best in the state. His ultimate goal is still winning a state championship."
The Lions had two other wrestlers at district in seniors Reece Wilson (170) and Grant Robinson (heavyweight). Wilson went 4-2, defeating New Concord John Glenn's Eric Stallion 7-2 in the fifth-place match to improve to 39-7.
"Reece went out and wrestled well in a tough weight class to finish as (a state) alternate," Bragg said. "And we saw last year with Eliot that (Wilson) could wrestle again this weekend."
Robinson went 2-2 to finish 46-4.
Boys basketball team surpassed expectations
The boys basketball team lost to 15th-seeded Bloom-Carroll 57-51 in the first round of the Division II district tournament Feb. 26 at home.
Sophomore guard Damian Davis scored 22 points with four 3-pointers to lead the fifth-seeded Lions, who finished 17-6 overall. Junior guard Nasir Tucker added nine points on three 3s.
Bexley tied Columbus Academy for third (6-4) in the MSL-Ohio Division behind co-champions Grandview and Whitehall (8-2). Worthington Christian (2-8) was fifth and London (0-10) was sixth.
"To be honest, we exceeded expectations," said coach Todd Phillips, who completed his third season. "Entering the season, I wasn't sure that we could get 17 regular-season wins unless we got contributions from some young guys, but they worked hard and gave us that. It was a fun season and a good season, but it ended much too abruptly."
Post player Shannon Stanley led a three-player senior class, averaging 11.3 points and being named first-team all-district and all-league. He led the Lions in rebounding (8.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (94-for-160, 58.8 percent).
Davis was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league. He led Bexley in scoring (12.7 points per game), 3-point percentage (50-for-120, 41.7 percent) and free-throw percentage (81-for-94, 86.2 percent).
Junior forward Ryan Callahan (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) averaged 8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and a team-high 2.7 assists.
Junior point guard Anthony Welsh (honorable mention all-league) averaged 6.7 points and 2.1 assists, and junior post player Leo Schottenstein averaged 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds.
"What we got out of Ryan Callahan and Anthony Welsh was a known coming into the season, but the surprise was what we got out of Damian Davis," Phillips said. "To have him do that as a sophomore was amazing. We also got a lot out of Leo Schottenstein in the last half of the year, and we'll have a good nucleus coming back."
Girls basketball coach proud of team's season
The girls basketball team lost early in the Division II district tournament after winning its first league title since 2008.
The fifth-seeded Lions lost their postseason opener to 11th-seeded Lakewood 42-33 in the second round Feb. 23 at home to finish 16-7 overall.
They won the MSL-Ohio at 9-1, ahead of London (8-2), Worthington Christian (6-4), Grandview (5-5), Academy (2-8) and Whitehall (0-10).
"We had a very successful year as far as the season went," said coach Joshua Price, who completed his fourth season. "It was a tough way to end it against a very good Lakewood team, but I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish."
Junior guard/forward Maddy Vincent was first-team all-district and league Player of the Year after leading the Lions in scoring (17.1 points per game), rebounding (4.7), steals (2.3) and free-throw percentage (119-for-150, 79.3 percent). She also averaged 2.8 assists and went 24-for-66 from 3-point range (36.4 percent).
Senior guard Amanda Frey (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) averaged 8.9 points and 1.4 steals and shot 25-for-56 on 3s (44.6 percent). Guard Stacy McDonald was the other senior.
"We had two wonderful seniors who gave us great leadership," Price said. "Stacy moved in from Atlanta before the school year and was a great part of our success on and off the floor because of her work ethic. Amanda was big for us on both ends of the floor, and especially was a big part of our press."
Junior guard/forward Emma Dressel (honorable mention all-league) averaged 5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Freshman guard Maddy Young (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) was 30-for-61 on 3-point attempts (team-best 49.2 percent) and averaged 6.6 points and a team-high 3.4 assists.
"We have a lot coming back, which is exciting," Price said. "It's going to take a lot of work in the offseason to replicate the success that we had this season."
Lions searching for girls golf coach
Athletics director Eli Goldberger is seeking a girls golf coach to replace Mike Rogers, who died Dec. 8.
Candidates should email a cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline to apply is March 30.
@ThisWeekHennenAt a glance
*Record: 17-6 overall, 6-4 (tied for third) in MSL-Ohio
*Seniors lost: Grant Heilman, Will Hoyer and Shannon Stanley
*Key returnees: Ryan Callahan, Damian Davis, Leo Schottenstein, Nasir Tucker and Anthony Welsh
*Record: 16-7 overall, 9-1 (first) in MSL-Ohio
*Seniors lost: Amanda Frey and Stacy McDonald
*Key returnees: Emma Dressel, Maddy Vincent and Maddy Young