Those who watched Nathen Eberhardt of the Pickerington High School Central boys swimming team set a meet record in the season-opening Mason Invitational on Dec. 2 might be surprised to learn he spent most of his summer on baseball diamonds rather than in pools.
Eberhardt, a junior, played second base and shortstop on the South East Columbus Baseball Academy Wildcats, but at Mason, he quickly asserted himself as the team leader coach Justin Dortch expects him to be.
Eberhardt won the 100-yard backstroke in a meet-record 53.43 seconds and placed fifth in the 200 freestyle (1:52.76) to lead Central, which scored 52 points to place 12th of 19 teams, behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (431.5).
St. Xavier is the defending Division I state champion.
"I definitely felt like that was a big achievement," said Eberhardt, whose older brother, 2017 graduate Trace Eberhardt, became the boys team's first state qualifier since 2006 last season. "Ever since I went to state to watch Trace swim, I've been working that much harder to get better and trying to figure exactly what I have to do to get to that level. Those aren't even my top events. I really think I can get to state in the 200 (individual medley). I might be swimming more of the 200 free now, though, especially after (that) weekend."
Led by Eberhardt, Central returns 10 of its 11 boys and girls district qualifiers.
Last season at state, Trace Eberhardt finished 21st in the 100 fly. He was the Tigers' only state qualifier and their first since Maddie Martin won four consecutive 100 butterfly championships from 2010-13.
"We're loaded with potential," said Dortch, who coached Central from 2013-16 and replaced Nicolas Davis. "I told Nate he will be the driving force of the team, which is a fun and exciting thing. He's stepping out of Trace's shadow. He has a fun, infectious attitude and that carries over to both teams. I've had the benefit of coaching Nate since he was 9. He's always been one of the most positive kids I've ever coached, and again it's so nice to see the snowball effect and have them latch on to him and try and meet that success."
Central's other returning district qualifiers are senior Joey Held, juniors Jason Orr, Matt Phelan, Joe Phillips and Mason White and sophomore Sam Bechert of the boys team, and juniors Kolya Larson and Natalie Reed and sophomore Paige Christy of the girls team.
"This year feels so amazing. I don't know where to begin," Christy said. "There are a lot of new swimmers, so we don't know what will happen. Everything could change, but it should be an exciting year because there's a deep group."
At Mason, Larson won the 100 breaststroke (1:09.82) and Christy was second in the 100 back (1:04.02) as the girls finished 13th (51) of 21 teams, behind champion Akron Firestone (282).
Rounding out the girls roster are juniors Paige Burton, Kristen Nestor, Megan Phillips and Grace Pierce, sophomore Grace Hoser and freshmen Mary Koskey, Lauren LaVilla, Alli Mayeran and Abby Rainey.
Also on the boys team are freshmen Braeden Lehrman and Alex Rowles.
The boys placed sixth (101) in the OCC-Ohio Division meet last season, behind champion Lancaster (311). The girls were fourth (123) behind champion Pickerington North (360).
Dortch, a 1999 Pickerington graduate who swam at Bowling Green State University, is in his fourth stint coaching in the school district. He coached Central's girls team from 2003-05 and both North teams in 2012-13 before taking over both teams for three seasons.
Dortch stepped down to devote more time to his law career, but jumped at the chance to return.
"When I heard Nic stepped away, I didn't know who would fill that vacuum and I wanted it filled the right way," Dortch said. "This isn't just my program because I'm the coach. This is where I swam. This is my alma mater. I care so much about their success. It's a huge reward to see them do well."
Wrestling team starts strong
Wrestling coach Jason Allen isn't lowering his expectations for the first month of the season, but he is telling his team that early competitions are more for learning than winning, especially with a reduced roster.
The Tigers are competing without a handful of wrestlers who contributed to the football team's Division I state championship, including seniors Grey Brancifort (220 pounds) and Grant Meek (182/195) and juniors Keaton Middendorf (138) and Silas Pearson (170/182).
Even so, Central opened Dec. 9 by tying host Whitehall for third (199) in the six-team Dan Gartner Duals as OCC-Ohio rival Grove City (251) won.
"December and January are for us to see where we need to improve for the postseason," said Allen, who is in his ninth season. "Right now, we are just getting our technique in. Once they hit competition, they'll see what they need to refine. This is the time I really enjoy, getting to see what we have to fix. ...
"Everybody wants to win, but they also know giving up several forfeits will make it tough."
The Tigers lost their only Division I state qualifier from last year to graduation in Shota Sisco, who led the team with a 37-8 record, but two district qualifiers are back in senior Noah Dotson (132, 24-12) and junior Trevor Mangahas (113, 31-12).
Brancifort (23-13), Pearson (18-8), junior Carter Wade (120, 7-19) and sophomore Marcus Zullo (145, 23-3) were district alternates a year ago.
According to Allen, other wrestlers include seniors Jimmy Castro (heavyweight) and Devin Hargrow (160), juniors Johnathan Bellestri (126), Danny Caddell (152), Alex Epps (182/195), Jerimi Freeman (138), Dae'viyon Hargrow (152) and Holden Walters (126), sophomore Bo Branson (106) and freshman Blake Benson (126).
Mangahas and Zullo won their respective weight classes at Whitehall. Bellestri, Castro, Dotson and Devin Hargrow were runners-up.
"We have some guys that have experience in the postseason and some guys sprinkled in where it's their first time on varsity. It's a good mix," Allen said. "We have a veteran group at certain weights and some new guys. Our older guys have to help get those new guys acclimated to varsity."
Central went 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio last season to tie Gahanna for second behind Lancaster (5-0). The Tigers begin league competition Jan. 11 against Gahanna and Reynoldsburg in a quad-meet at North.
Boys basketball team fights another injury
The boys basketball team lost its projected starting point guard to injury before the season, and now his replacement is out for the next few weeks.
According to coach Eric Krueger, 6-foot-3 junior Javohn Garcia sprained his right ankle on Dec. 4 and is expected to miss a couple weeks.
Garcia scored 12 points in a season-opening 69-66 win over Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the All-Ohio High School Hoops Showcase on Dec. 2 at Whitehall.
He ran the point in the absence of junior Jeremiah Francis, a North Carolina commit who is out until at least mid-January with a left knee injury. Francis was scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery Dec. 12.
Central is 2-1 overall, and dropped its OCC-Ohio opener Dec. 8 to North, 59-41. Juan Elmore led the Tigers with 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
Central plays again Friday, Dec. 15, at Lancaster. It then has games Tuesday, Dec. 19, at Groveport and Dec. 22 at home against Reynoldsburg before participating in the Battle at The Villages from Dec. 27-29 in The Villages, Florida.
Scrape finishes 19th in national meet
In another meet, Matt Scrape of the boys cross country team would have been unhappy with a time he called his slowest in a few years.
But given that Scrape steadily improved his standing during the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships on Dec. 9 at Balboa Park in San Diego, he was largely pleased with a 19th-place finish in 15:58.5.
"It didn't go exactly according to plan. I wanted to go out slow and work my way up, but getting around people was tougher than I expected," said Scrape, a senior who has signed with Syracuse. "It was a tough course, nothing like I've ever run (in Ohio). If you tried to pass people, you'd end up in mulch that was three or four inches thick. There's no way to pass ... but (eventually) I was able to pick people off going down the final straightaway.
"I had no real time in mind. I was thinking more about placement. I'm not unhappy with 19th."
Dylan Jacobs, from Orland Park, Illinois, finished first of 40 runners in 15:19.7.
Scrape, a three-time Division I state qualifier who finished third at that stage this year and second as a junior and also was named ThisWeek's cross country Athlete of the Year this fall, was one of three Ohioans in the field.
Chad Johnson, an Iowa State recruit from North Robinson Colonel Crawford, finished 11th (15:46.6) and Buckeye Valley's Zach Kreft, a Notre Dame commit, was 12th (15:48.2).
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 2 -- Mason Invitational
Dec. 5 -- Lancaster at Robert K. Fox Family YMCA
Dec. 9 -- Northwest Classic at Bowling Green
Dec. 16 -- Ned Reeb Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 22 -- Bexley at Columbus School for Girls
Dec. 30 -- Stampede Cloverleaf Invitational at The College of Wooster
Jan. 5 -- Olentangy Liberty at Liberty Township/Powell YMCA
Jan. 6 -- at St. Charles with Hartley
Jan. 13 -- Central Ohio Splash Invitational at Ohio Wesleyan and Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium
Jan. 20 -- Presidential Pentathlon at Ohio Wesleyan
Jan. 27 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Thomas Worthington
Feb. 2 -- Pickerington North and Reynoldsburg at Robert K. Fox Family YMCA
Dec. 9 -- Dan Gartner Duals at Whitehall
Dec. 15-16 -- Liberty Classic at Olentangy Liberty
Dec. 27-28 -- Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Association Invitational Tournament at Vandalia Butler
Jan. 6 -- Kevin Cleveland Invitational at Dublin Scioto
*Jan. 11 -- Gahanna and Reynoldsburg at Pickerington North
Jan. 13 -- Porter Memorial Tournament at Hilliard Bradley
Jan. 20 -- Comet Classic at Central Crossing and Panther Invitational at Pickerington North
*Jan. 25 -- at Lancaster with Grove City
Jan. 27 -- Cougar Invitational at Westland
Feb. 3 -- Washington Court House Bracket Tournament
*Feb. 8 -- vs. Pickerington North
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys basketball, girls basketball and bowling teams:
*Dec. 15 -- At Lancaster
Dec. 19 -- At Groveport
*Dec. 15 -- Home vs. Lancaster
Dec. 19 -- Home vs. Groveport
*Dec. 14 -- Hilliard Darby at Rule 3
*Dec. 19 -- Groveport at Rule 3