Each of Louis Dytko's first three seasons as a DeSales High School wrestler ended in the Division II district tournament, and he entered his senior year knowing he needed to improve when on top during a match.
Almost a year worth of work later, Dytko hopes a newfound dominance will help him cap his career as the team's first state placer in five years.
Sessions with Collin Palmer, a four-time Division I state champion at Lakewood St. Edward who went on to wrestle for Ohio State and now is an area club coach, have helped Dytko learn how to turn and pin. Dytko is 33-6 on the season, and 24 of those wins have come by pin.
"I just wasn't great on top the past three years. I worked a lot on throws and shots, but I needed some top-bottom work and one-on-one time," Dytko said. "Palmer fixed a lot of my issues. It's gotten me so much better on top and I can ride kids out for an entire period now compared to last year. Last year, I might try to milk the clock out. Not this year.
"A lot of my pins have been off takedowns from the top position. The opponent will be flat so it's easier to work against them. A lot of them have been in the second or third period when I go on top because of that improvement. I'm a lot better at knowing what is or is not a good time to try a certain move."
Dytko is second on the team in wins behind Cole Potts, who is 36-9 at heavyweight. Dytko had a team-best 40-11 record last season after going 28-16 as a sophomore and 27-13 as a freshman.
"Louis is a great leader. He helps everybody," Potts said. "If we're ever struggling with a move, he pulls us aside and lets us know what we're doing wrong. We all look up to him and admire him."
DeSales will compete in a Division II sectional Friday, Feb. 23, and Saturday, Feb. 24, at Licking Valley. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Uhrichsville Claymont.
Coach Nick Preston said he thinks Dytko has met his own expectations so far, but acknowledged his season will be judged by the next few weeks.
"When (Dytko) gets on top, he has been a pinning machine," Preston said. "The reason why is the extra work and Collin. Collin has been known for turning and pinning. ...
"Louis has definitely met expectations and this is the time (of the season) where we'll see if he exceeds expectations. His goals are to be on the podium at state at the end of the year. We'll see if he steps up and is able to do that. How he prepares in the next couple weeks will have a lot to do with it, along with being prepared and doing the things we've done all year."
The Stallions went 1-1 in the CCL duals Feb. 15 at Hartley, losing to the Hawks 57-20 and defeating Ready on seventh criteria in a match they tied at 24. DeSales earned the win because it got the first takedown of the match.
Sectional is a level at which the Stallions have had success in recent years, as they sent four wrestlers to district last season after qualifying five in 2016, four in 2015, six in 2014 and four in 2013.
Even so, Dytko is trying to maintain a narrow focus as the stakes increase.
"Every year coach asks us to talk about our goals," he said. "My freshman year, I wanted to be a state champion by my senior year and make it there before then. I think of it as more of a day-by-day thing. Getting to state and being a state champion is on my list of goals, but I don't want it to be something I'm saying for publicity. It's in the back of my mind, but my main goal is always the next match. If I look too far ahead, I'll come up short of what I want."
Boys basketball team preps for Panthers
Considering his team's recent schedule, boys basketball coach Pat Murphy said having six days between the regular-season finale and the Stallions' Division II district tournament opener "will seem like a millennium."
DeSales, which concluded the regular season Feb. 20 against Beechcroft, is seeded 13th in the 22-team district tournament and will play at 11th-seeded Linden-McKinley in the first round Monday, Feb. 26.
The Stallions, who played games on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday each of the past four weeks, were 11-10 overall before playing Beechcroft and avoided a winless season in the CCL with a 41-37 overtime win over St. Charles on Feb. 16. Kobe Righter had 13 points to lead DeSales, which outscored the Cardinals 8-1 in overtime and finished 1-7 in the league.
"Having six days (between games) isn't what we're used to lately," Murphy said. "We've been playing well lately. We had a nice win over (Sparta) Highland (53-43 on Feb. 10) and Ready (a 58-51 loss on Dec. 9) was a one-possession game in the last few minutes. We've had a lot of good, productive possessions recently. We're seeded right about where we thought we'd be, and we've have some good games lately that we can build on."
Linden was 11-9 overall before playing Hartley on Feb. 16. Murphy pointed to the Panthers' 76-72 upset of Northland, the sixth seed in the Division I district tournament, on Jan. 23 as well as 12- and 14-point losses to the top seed in Division II, Beechcroft.
"They have a few quality wins and have had a tough schedule overall," Murphy said. "They like to get out and run and they can score. We'll have our hands full."
The DeSales-Linden winner will visit sixth-seeded Jonathan Alder in a second-round game March 3.
The Stallions defeated Dresden Tri-Valley 47-42 on Feb. 17 as Kayin Derden scored 17 points and Righter added 14.
Boys bowlers fall short of district
Jacob Pugh of the boys bowling team came up one pin shy of advancing to the Division II district tournament, and the Stallions' season came to an end Feb. 16 in a sectional at HP Lanes.
Pugh, a senior, bowled a 478 three-game series to place 37th, finishing one pin behind the final individual district qualifier in Grandview's Brad Jagers.
DeSales finished 16th (3,011) behind champion Jonathan Alder (3,643) as 30 teams scored. The top 12 teams and top 12 individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to district Thursday, Feb. 22, at HP Lanes.
Also scoring for the Stallions were Will McAfee (58th, 436), Isaiah Thomas (59th, 435), Bryan Ritzler (tied for 65th, 422), Andrew Swift (tied for 130th, 268) and Marcus Ray (176th, 105).
The girls team will compete in the Division I sectional Saturday, Feb. 24, at HP Lanes. The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district March 3 at HP Lanes.
Gymnastics team seeks state berth
The gymnastics team is preparing to compete in the 33-team district meet Saturday, Feb. 24, at Worthington Kilbourne.
The top three teams advance to the state team meet March 2 at Hilliard Bradley, while the top eight individuals in each event and the all-around advance to the state individual meet March 3 at Bradley.
Swim season ends at district meet
The boys and girls swimming teams' seasons ended in district meets last weekend at Ohio University.
Led by Ian McCandlish's 10th-place finish (1 minute, 2.24 seconds) in the 100-yard backstroke, the boys finished 21st (22) in the Division II district meet Feb. 16 behind champion Columbus Academy (324) as 31 teams scored. McCandlish also was on the 13th-place 200 freestyle relay (1:40.11) and 15th-place 200 medley relay (1:54.44).
The next day in Division I, the girls scored one point and tied Newark for 29th behind champion Upper Arlington (274) as 30 teams scored. Mary Ruff finished 16th in the 100 back (1:00.16) to pace DeSales.
In both meets, the top two placers in each swimming event automatically advanced to the state meet, which concludes Saturday, Feb. 24, at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
Girls basketball team loses to Scotties
Emma Burns had 14 points to lead the girls basketball team in a 53-37 loss at 12th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 17.
Erin Burns added seven points for the 27th-seeded Stallions, who finished 10-12.
Hockey team falls in tourney opener
Hockey coach Darcy Cahill did not let his team's 7-20 record stop him from calling the season "a great year," in light of the gains he saw his players make throughout the season.
Seeded 18th in the district tournament, the Stallions lost to 14th-seeded Centerville 7-1 in a first-round game Feb. 16 at Chiller North. Junior forward Adam Graver scored in the second period and junior goaltender Grant Rodgers made 20 saves.
"We had a lot of guys step up. Every single one of them got better," Cahill said. "The habits of hockey got better. That was the biggest thing. They might have lacked some direction early in the year, but we put that confidence back in and I think that reflected in how we played the last month or so. They really did have more fun even when we didn't win."
Junior forward Chris Yarger scored a team-high 16 goals. Graver added 11 and freshman forward Dylan Flesher scored six.
DeSales went 5-11 with 10 points in the Capital Hockey Conference-Blue Division to finish second behind Watterson (22, 11-5) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (4, 2-14) and Gahanna (0, 0-16).
Other expected returnees include two defensemen in junior Caleb Ghiloni and sophomore Sam Bosson.
"We need to start working out more in the next week or so and keep building a program," Cahill said. "We have to keep the culture going that the kids created this year and continue taking hockey seriously at DeSales."
@ThisWeekDaveAt a glance
Below are the members of the DeSales boys and girls swimming teams who competed at district but did not qualify for state:
BOYS -- Mitchell Mayerchak: 50 free (25.97, 28th); Zane Marmie: 50 free (24.73, 20th); Ian McCandlish: 100 back (1:02.24, 10th), 100 fly (DQ); Jonathan Randel: 200 IM (2:41.1, 30th); Aaron Spittell: 200 free (2:03.6, 19th), 500 free (5:41.2, 14th); 200 free relay (1:40.11, 13th); 200 medley relay (1:54.44, 15th); GIRLS -- Mary Ruff: 100 back (1:00.16, 16th), 200 free (2:01.28, tied for 19th); 200 medley relay (2:03.89, 22nd); 400 free relay (4:07.96, 27th)
*Record: 7-20 overall, 5-11 (second) in CHC-Blue
*Seniors lost: Tyler Albers, Logan Barrett, Zach Dowling-Fitzpatrick, Alex McClary and Matthew Mitchell
*Key returnees: Sam Bosson, Adam Graver, Grant Rodgers and Chris Yarger