There was plenty of traffic coming in and out of the Pickerington High School Central wrestling room, and that in itself might signal that the Tigers are in a better place as they transition into the postseason than they were just a few weeks ago.
A 64-16 win over Pickerington North in its final regular-season match Feb. 8 helped the Tigers' morale as they finished 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division and had four wrestlers go through the league schedule undefeated.
"They're becoming more savvy on the mat," coach Jason Allen said. "They're knowing what they can and cannot do, not getting in bad positions. I like to see that, and that usually occurs toward the end of the year. With the mat time we've had, that's starting to take place. They aren't making silly mistakes or putting themselves in danger needlessly."
Bo Branson (106 pounds), Silas Pearson (170) and Marcus Zullo (145) all went 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio. Trevor Mangahas (113) went 3-0 but, like a handful of his teammates, missed matches Jan. 25 at Lancaster against Grove City and the host Golden Gales.
Allen also was absent that night as the Tigers lost to the Greyhounds 36-33 and fell to the Golden Gales 40-28.
Branson placed in each of Central's eight regular-season tournaments, and credited some of his improvement to better shots and competition in practice against former Central wrestlers Zach Kelly and Ryan McElwee, who graduated in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
"The college guys coming back and helping out and pushing to make me better and better has been huge," Branson said. "(Allen) talks a lot about better decision-making, and what he means by that is smart moves, wrestling smart and trying to wear your guy out.
"We've given a lot of thought to the (Division I sectional, district and state) tournaments. Getting to state as a sophomore would be awesome. That's my No. 1 goal."
Although Pearson went only 2-2 in the season-opening Dan Gartner Duals on Dec. 9 at Whitehall, his record now stands at 24-7. Pearson won the 170 title at the Kevin Cleveland Invitational on Jan. 6 at Dublin Scioto and was runner-up in the Washington Court House Bracket Tournament on Feb. 3.
"As far as I'm concerned, my conditioning wasn't really the best at the beginning of the season," Pearson said. "But as the season went on, I started placing at more of these tournaments. I look at my record and know that I am getting better.
"Our team is on a good track. We have to find a way to balance things out. We have some guys who are very strong in different places and we want to work with them and make sure they gain other strengths, too. If we do that, we can go far."
Central won 12 of 14 matches against North, although seven of those wins were by forfeit. Three others were by pin.
The Tigers do not compete again until the sectional Feb. 24 at Upper Arlington.
"The boys are starting to come around," Allen said. "We didn't finish where I think we could have (in the OCC-Ohio), but it is what it is. We can't control sicknesses and injuries. We just do the best we can with what we have at that time. Now we have a full lineup in, and we look pretty good."
Girls basketball team wins another title
Although its only league loss cost it the outright OCC-Ohio championship, the girls basketball team still earned its share with an 86-41 rout of Grove City on Feb. 9 and then added to an already strong resume with a win over the state's top-ranked team.
Maliya Perry had 21 points and Madison Greene scored 17 for Central, which is 20-2 overall and finished 9-1 in the OCC-Ohio, tying Reynoldsburg for first. The Raiders handed the Tigers their only league defeat, 55-50 on Feb. 2.
Central rebounded from that loss with another resounding win, 73-33 at New Albany on Feb. 6 as Greene scored 14 points, Perry 13 and Grace Luther 10.
The Tigers, who were ranked sixth in last week's Division I state poll, then upset host and top-ranked Newark 60-38 on Feb. 10 behind 16 points from Kyla Whitehead, 15 from Greene and 13 from Kai Jones. The Wildcats came in at 21-0 and had not lost a regular-season game since a 68-49 setback to Central on Feb. 2, 2016.
The Tigers have spent this week preparing for their pursuit of a third consecutive district championship.
Seeded third in the 50-team district tournament, Central will play host to 45th-seeded Westland in a first-round game Saturday, Feb. 17. The winner plays host to 48th-seeded Hamilton Township in a second-round game Feb. 23.
Central did not play Westland during the regular season.
Eberhardt, Larson lead swimmers to district
Nathen Eberhardt of the boys swimming team and girls swimmer Kolya Larson each will represent Central in two individual events in the Division I district meet Saturday, Feb. 17, at Ohio University.
Eberhardt will compete in the 100-yard backstroke and 200 individual medley at district, while Larson will compete in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.
Central advanced all of its relays from a sectional Feb. 10 at Upper Arlington as well as two other individuals, Paige Christy of the girls team and Jason Orr of the boys team. Both will compete in the 100 back.
Eberhardt recorded Central's best finish at sectional by placing second in the 100 back (53.25 seconds) and eighth in the 200 IM (2:05.27). Larson placed fourth in the 100 breast (1:07.37) and ninth in the 50 free (25.5).
Team scores were not kept.
The winner of each sectional event automatically qualified for district. In addition, 27 at-large district berths were awarded in each swimming event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
At district, the top two placers in each swimming event automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 23 and 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
Football players select colleges
Five Central football players announced their college destinations Feb. 7.
Chad Douglas will play at Ohio Dominican, Trey Madison will play at Ashland, Jalen Mitchell will play for Tiffin, Tresden Royal will play for Cincinnati Christian and Jeremiah Wood will play at Ohio University.
Below is the coming schedule for the Central boys basketball team:
*Feb. 16 – At Gahanna
March 2 – Home vs. 22nd-seeded Walnut Ridge or 31st-seeded Central Crossing in second round of Division I district tournament. The Tigers are seeded ninth.
*League contestAt a glance
Below are the district qualifiers with sectional time and district seeds for the Central boys and girls swimming teams:
BOYS – Nathan Eberhardt: 100 back (53.25, fourth), 200 IM (2:05.27, 21st); Jason Orr: 100 back (56.88, 19th); 200 free relay (1:38.64, 25th); 200 medley relay (1:45.14, 18th); 400 free relay (3:36.35, 24th)
GIRLS – Paige Christy: 100 back (1:01.18. 19th); Kolya Larson: 50 free (25.5, 27th), 100 breast (1:07.37, seventh); 200 free relay (1:49.66, 21st); 200 medley relay (1:59.28, 20th); 400 free relay (4:10.85, 26th)