Jaelyn Ballard has a simple but important message for the opponents she competes against as a member of the Westerville Central High School wrestling team.

Jaelyn Ballard has a simple but important message for the opponents she competes against as a member of the Westerville Central High School wrestling team.

While some people might expect a girl to be at a disadvantage when facing a male opponent or for the boy to not give 100 percent, Ballard wants the boy to give a full effort.

"I don't want them to look at me differently because then I don't really get better if they treat me differently than them," she said.

Ballard has enjoyed success, as she is 14-15 at 106 pounds.

She recalls a match earlier this season when she was leading an opponent whose father implored his son from mat side not to lose to a girl. Ballard, who went on to win the match, said that attitude gives her even more motivation when competing.

Coach Phil Carney said Ballard was quickly accepted into the program.

"Since she's gotten here we've done a good job of treating her like we would treat anyone else," Carney said. "Sometimes there's the old mentality of people who don't want to see girls doing it, but it's 2016, you have to grow up and get with the times. It never really bothered me. I just thought it was a good opportunity to have a 106-pounder."

Ballard, a senior, first became interested in the sport while watching her brother, Davey, compete at Cardington, where he wrestled for four years. He then wrestled at Baldwin Wallace University for two seasons before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He is stationed in North Carolina.

Ballard first wrestled at Cardington as a freshman before transferring to Central. She didn't compete at Central in her sophomore season, but participated in practices and training sessions.

Her dedication quickly caught the eye of Carney.

"She's been integral to our team because she doesn't get hurt, she doesn't miss practice, she doesn't miss weight," Carney said.

Ballard, who wears a protective cap to contain her long, blonde hair, had limited success that first year at Cardington, but has steadily improved.

Last season, she qualified for the Division I district tournament at 113, but went 0-2 to finish the season 5-23.

"I've gotten a lot better," she said. "Everyone has helped me a lot."

Ballard competed at 113 a year ago because teammate Adam Snively earned the starting spot at 106. Snively, a junior, has since moved to 113, allowing Ballard to return to her customary 106.

The drop in weight class has helped her increase her win total as she looks for a return trip to district.

"I definitely want to qualify for district again," Ballard said. "Going to state would be cool, but I want to go to district again and win more there than I did last year."

Ballard finished second in the Bruin Invitational on Jan. 23 at Briggs and sixth in the Pioneer Classic on Jan. 9 at Olentangy Orange.

Central scored 163 points at Briggs to finish first of nine teams, ahead of the runner-up Bruins (152).

Since she joined the program, Ballard and Snively have been training partners in practice. Snively said Ballard has steadily improved and doesn't expect special treatment.

"Other than the initial surprise, it was just like wrestling a guy, like what I did in middle school and what I'm doing now with Justin (Gall)," Snively said of when he first met Ballard.

"She's improved, I've improved. Everyone here has improved. She's won plenty of good matches this year and she's gotten very close to winning against good people, and she's very strong for 106."

The sport will provide Ballard the opportunity to compete in college. She will attend Ferrum (Va.) College, which is in its first year of offering women's wrestling.

"It will be a lot different wrestling on a girls team," said Ballard, who also competes on Central's cross country and track and field teams. "I've always been with guys, but it's freestyle so it will be different. I'm excited because it won't be easier, but I'll be equaled out to the girls."

Central is 2-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. The War-hawks placed seventh (89) in the 13-team Cruiser Invitational on Jan. 30 at Groveport behind champion Mason (337) as Will Green won the title at 145.

In the Division I state team tournament Jan. 27, the seventh-seeded Warhawks lost to second-seeded and host Watkins Memorial 42-18 in a second-round Region 5-A match.

North set to face South

North will look to secure at least a share of its third consecutive OCC-Cardinal title when it plays host to South on Thursday, Feb. 4.

The Warriors lead the league at 5-0 and close league action Feb. 11 at Canal Winchester. They are seeking their third consecutive undefeated league season.

Hilliard Bradley is second in the league at 4-1, and South is 1-4.

The Warriors advanced to a regional semifinal of the Division I state team tournament by defeating seventh-seeded South 60-17 and third-seeded Teays Valley 47-14 on Jan. 27 at home.

North, which was seeded second in Region 5-B, faced top-seeded and host Lancaster in a regional semifinal Feb. 3. The winner faced Delaware or Watkins Memorial, the top two seeds, respectively, in Region 5-A in the regional final later that night.

The regional champion advanced to a state quarterfinal Feb. 14 at Ohio State's St. John Arena.

North defeated Fairview Park 66-3 and Cleveland Benedictine 75-0 on Jan. 29 at Elyria Catholic.