After winning its first Division I state title last year, the Westerville Central High School boys bowling team realized it would be getting the best from every opponent this season.
That didn't stop the Warhawks from returning to state, as they will look to defend their title Friday, March 9, at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
The next day, the girls team will compete at Wayne Webb's after earning its first state berth since the 2013-14 season.
"We always have a target on our backs," coach Julie Wells said of the boys team. "Our program has been solid through the years and they're always looking for us. The fact that we won last year just makes us a little more (of) a target. We're just going to go out there and play our game and see how it works out."
Central won its title last season by defeating Wapakoneta three games to none in the state final after placing third (3,580) of 16 teams in the qualifying round. The top eight advanced to the best-of-five Baker championship round.
The Warhawks earned their latest state berth by easily winning the 16-team district tournament March 3 at HP Lanes. They rolled a 3,907 to finish well ahead of fellow state-qualifiers Marion Harding (3,645) and Whitehall (3,580).
Junior Zach Gonzalez, who was part of last season's title run, led Central by finishing fourth of 105 bowlers with a 597 three-game series.
Devon Richardson, who also contributed last season, tied for 10th (570).
"This is really big," Richardson said. "We work as a team and we're looking forward to going back to state and defending our title. ... We have the confidence in ourselves as a team that we can go do it again."
Wesley Minke was 73rd (363, two games) at district, followed by Malik Curry-Brown (346, two games, 75th), Nick Owsiak (199, one game, 87th) and Cameron Gonce (195, one game, 88th).
Last season at state, Gonce had a 654 series to finish 10th of 102 competitors and earn second-team all-state honors.
Not to be outdone, the girls team secured the final state-qualifying berth from its district tournament by finishing third (3,360) of 16 teams behind Gahanna (3,596) and Whitehall (3,438) and ahead of Delaware (3,220).
Reace Gonzalez, Zach's sister, was seventh of 102 bowlers with a 523 series. Jocelyn Grimsley was 23rd (481), followed by Madison Owsiany (480, 24th), Kirsten Miller (451, 35th) and Summer Snyder (148, one game, 95th).
"I'm thrilled for the girls," Wells said. "They've worked very hard this season and they've improved week to week and month to month. They've done a great job."
Brooks competes at state meet
Junior gymnast Gianna Brooks competed in her third state meet March 3 at Hilliard Bradley and finished 24th of 36 competitors in the all-around with a score of 34.025.
Brooks also qualified for state on vault and tied for 27th (9.025).
"The state meet is always a really fun meet," she said. "It was nice going in knowing what it would be like and even recognizing a few of the girls from Cleveland from other state meets. ... I got to go in with no pressure."
At district Feb. 24 at Worthington Kilbourne, Central was 16th (119.2) of 24 teams behind champion Thornville Sheridan (145.425) as the top three advanced to state.
Brooks finished seventh in the all-around (35.05) and tied for second on vault (9.15).
Senior Torie Cochran finished 67th in the all-around (29.025), followed by sophomores Kylie Nelson (27.625, 71st), Abigail Ring (26.1, 83rd) and Katlyn Alexander (22.7, 92nd).
Another highlight for Brooks this season was earning Central's first all-around title at the OCC level, as she finished first (35.5) of 43 gymnasts in the OCC-Buckeye meet Feb. 10 at Hilliard Davidson.
Central went 1-3 in league duals, finishing fourth overall with six points, behind Olentangy (20, 4-0), Olentangy Orange (14, 3-1) and Olentangy Liberty (14, 2-2) and ahead of Big Walnut (6, 0-4).
Coach Shea Stammen shared league Coach of the Year honors with Olentangy's Misty Lloyd-Matthews.
Sophomore Sam Muller and freshman Maggie Davis also are eligible to return.
Boys basketball team reaches district semi
The 11th-seeded boys basketball team reached its first Division I district semifinal since 2014, as it played 10th-seeded Reynoldsburg on March 7.
Central entered the game 17-7 after defeating 24th-seeded Whitehall 68-61 in the second round March 1 at home.
The semifinal winner plays top-seeded Pickerington North or 16th-seeded Mount Vernon in a district final Saturday, March 10, at Ohio Dominican.
The district champion plays Chillicothe, Bradley, Logan or Westerville South in a regional semifinal Wednesday, March 14, at Ohio Dominican. The regional final is March 17 at Ohio Dominican.
Central split a pair of OCC-Buckeye games with South this season, losing 59-45 on Jan. 13 and winning 49-45 on Feb. 16.
The Warhawks pulled away from Whitehall in the fourth quarter.
After the Rams rallied from a 49-40 deficit to take a 50-49 lead late in the third, Thomas Hickman hit a 3-pointer to give Central a 52-50 lead after three.
Whitehall took its final lead at 53-52 on Reiko Bagley's 3-pointer before Hickman again scored to give his team the lead for good. He finished with a game-high 33 points and Solomon Wells added 13.
"We held serve at home," said coach Donovon Barrett, a 1990 Whitehall graduate whose team also defeated 32nd-seeded Delaware 47-39 in the first round Feb. 24. "I like how we made plays at the end (against Whitehall). We made some free throws when it mattered. I was a little nervous here and there, but another key point was we had zero turnovers in the fourth quarter and that's mental toughness by our guys."
Wrestlers end season at district tournament
Four wrestlers wrapped up their season in the Division I district tournament March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby.
Senior Cody Mayes went 2-2 at 152 pounds to finish 37-10 for the season and 110-45 for his career. Junior Nick DeRose went 1-2 at 220 to finish 31-10, freshman Zeke Healy went 0-2 at 160 to finish 25-14 and freshman Gary Steele went 0-2 at 126.
Steele was a district alternate after finishing fifth at sectional Feb. 24 at Marysville.
Central finished 36th (4) at district behind champion Lancaster (170) as 38 teams scored. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Other key wrestlers eligible to return include freshmen Jack Bond (106), Keegan Hinton (145), Logan Moore (170), Caleb Scheideger (120), Tate Sterling (145), Luke Voit (138) and Braden Weimer (182).
The Warhawks finished seventh (71) of 10 teams at sectional behind champion Marysville (279).
Central went 0-5 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish sixth behind Liberty (5-0), Westerville North (4-1), Olentangy (3-2), Orange (2-3) and South (1-4).
DeRose was second-team all-league and Mayes was third-team all-league.
Girls basketball team earns district honors
Girls basketball coach Jim Morgan has been named district Coach of the Year in Division I.
After the team went 1-22 last year, Morgan guided the Warhawks to a 15-8 record in his first season.
"This is truly a team award," Morgan said. "The players and staff get all the credit for buying in and get all the credit for the turnaround we had. It truly is a blessing to be a part of such a great group of people."
Michayla Brenning, Casey George and Najayah Shepherd were named honorable mention all-district.
@ThisWeekFrankAt a glance
*Finishes: Fourth in OCC-Buckeye, 16th at district
*Senior lost: Torie Cochran
*Key returnees: Katlyn Alexander, Gianna Brooks, Kylie Nelson and Abigail Ring
*Finishes: Sixth in OCC-Buckeye, 10th at sectional, 36th at district
*Seniors lost: Ian Manahan, Cody Mayes, Austin Miller and Devin Stevko
*Key returnees: Nick DeRose, Zeke Healy and Gary Steele