Thinking they had a good chance to advance at least two relays to the Division I state meet, Pickerington High School North girls swimmers sat down last week with coach Justin Dortch to revise their sectional lineup for the district meet Feb. 17 at Ohio University.
A few changes ended up highlighting a productive day for the Panthers.
The 200-yard medley relay began the day with a second-place finish in 1 minute, 46.02 seconds to earn an automatic state berth, and will be joined this weekend at Branin Natatorium in Canton by three individual qualifiers and the 200 freestyle relay.
Grace Cherryhomes, Lindsey Keaton, Rylee Kreinbrink and Kelsey Morgan comprised the 200 medley relay, with Cherryhomes and Morgan replacing Lilian Muszynski and Regan Turnbull.
North scored 132 points at district to finish sixth behind champion Upper Arlington (274) as 30 teams scored.
The top two placers in each swimming event automatically advanced to state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
The 200 medley relay is seeded eighth at state. Swimming preliminaries are Friday, Feb. 23, at Branin Natatorium in Canton and finals are the next day.
"Our relay woke up at 8 (a.m. Feb. 17) and warmed up and then came here," Cherryhomes said. "We were so excited. This group is close. Every meet with them is so exciting and it puts us in a good mental place before we start swimming.
"We expected to finish in the top five in the medley relay and when we got second, we got chills. It was cool to experience that with my best friends."
Cherryhomes also was on the fifth-place 200 free relay (1:37.56) with Keaton, Kreinbrink and Morgan that earned an at-large state berth and is seeded 11th.
North had more freedom to tinker with its relays given that fewer girls swam at district than the sectional Feb. 10 at Upper Arlington.
"That 1:37 (in the 200 free relay) gave us a great chance (to qualify for state)," Dortch said. "The way Lindsey swam in the butterfly was exceptional. She gave herself a chance. I loved what I saw. For them to advance is special."
Kelsey Morgan advanced in both the 100 breaststroke (1:03.71, fourth) and 200 individual medley (2:07.17, fourth) and is seeded ninth and 17th, respectively, and Kreinbrink finished third in the 100 fly (56.03) and is seeded eighth.
No members of the boys team qualified for state.
The 200 free relay of Connor Daniel, Anthony Ojeda-Pesa, Wyatt Ross and Spencer White finished 16th (1:33.62), earning the Panthers their only two points as they finished last of the 29 teams that scored, behind champion Dublin Jerome (303).
Ross was the only North swimmer to compete in an individual event at district, finishing 28th in the 100 breast (1:05.18).
"The fact that (the boys swimmers) held times and swam well in the relays was fantastic," Dortch said.
Boys basketball team wins league title
The boys basketball team shook off a two-game losing streak in time to win its first league championship in seven years.
Jerome Hunter had 18 points and Jack Sawyer and Ty Wiley both scored 17 to carry North to a 79-57 win at Grove City on Feb. 16 and the outright OCC-Ohio title. The Panthers are 18-4 overall and finished 9-1 in the league, a game ahead of runner-up Pickerington Central.
North was coming off home losses to Reynoldsburg (53-52 on Dec. 9) and Jerome (48-42 on Feb. 13). Those setbacks dropped the Panthers from fifth to ninth in last week's Division I state poll.
North also won league titles in 2005, 2006 and 2011.
Seeded first in the 48-team district tournament, the Panthers begin pursuit of their second consecutive district championship Saturday, Feb. 24, when they play host to 44th-seeded St. Charles in a first-round game.
The winner plays 34th-seeded Columbus West in the second round March 2 at the home of the higher seed.
Coach Jason Bates said the team is embracing any pressure that comes with being the top seed.
"The district is so tough that we will have tough games no matter what. The biggest thing we took (from losing to Reynoldsburg) is a win-or-go-home mentality," Bates said. "It was a good eye-opener for us. We have to be ready every game. That was a district championship-type of game and, if all the seeds hold up, lo and behold that would be the district championship. It's hard to teach sometimes when you're winning a lot, but hopefully we will take (what we learned from) the losses and be that much better."
Wrestlers seek fresh start at sectional
After an injury-riddled regular season that saw the wrestling team go 0-5 in the OCC-Ohio and compete without returning Division I district qualifier Brandon Hassel since the second week of January, North will see if its fortunes improve Saturday, Feb. 24, in a Division I sectional at Watkins Memorial.
Hassel has been sidelined by a meniscus injury. Coach Jake Kuhner was uncertain last week whether he would be medically cleared for sectional.
Kuhner wrestled four freshmen - Rajesh Bomjan (113 pounds), David Carte (138), Eric Gomez (106) and Titus Mahaffey (126) - on varsity during the Panthers' final regular-season dual, a 64-16 loss at Central on Feb. 8.
North had to forfeit matches at 145, 170, 182, 195, 220 and heavyweight.
"It's been a rough year, but the kids are still plugging away and we have a lot of hungry ones," said Kuhner, who is in his final season with the Panthers after being named Watkins Memorial's football coach in January. "They are still making some freshman mistakes, some first-year mistakes, really, but they are working hard in the room. Their conditioning is getting much better. We're seeing how hard we can push them. They aren't a bunch that breaks. They'll keep going. You just have to get them tuned up on technique."
According to Kuhner, if Hassel returns, he could wrestle at either 132 or 138.
Top teams at the sectional include Olentangy and Hilliard Darby, who are seeded seventh and eighth, respectively, out of the district's 43 teams. North is seeded 23rd.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Darby.
Bowlers prepare for sectional
The boys bowling team will begin pursuit of its third consecutive Division I state tournament appearance when it participates in a sectional Friday, Feb. 23, at HP Lanes.
The girls sectional is the next day at the same facility. They are seeking their second consecutive district berth as a team.
The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams in both sectionals advance to the district tournament March 3 at HP Lanes.
The boys team has not had a match since losing to Marysville 2,119-2,001 on Feb. 8 and finished 12-1 overall, 11-0 in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division and 4-2 in the OCC-Central. The girls team wrapped up its regular season Feb. 14 with a 1,634-1,434 win over Reynoldsburg, finishing 7-5 overall, 6-4 in the COHSBC-B and 3-2 in the OCC-Central.
Girls basketball team falls to Jaguars
The girls basketball team raced to a 13-3 first-quarter lead in its Division I district tournament opener against Hilliard Bradley on Feb. 17, but could not hold the lead and fell to the visiting and 24th-seeded Jaguars 42-33.
Mickale Bates and Saige Glover each scored nine points to lead 22nd-seeded North, which finished 10-13.
@ThisWeekDaveAt a glance
Below are the members of the North boys and girls swimming teams who competed at district but did not qualify for state:
BOYS -- Wyatt Ross: 100 breast (1:05.18, 28th); 200 free relay (1:33.62, 16th); 200 medley relay (1:45.08, 17th); 400 free relay (3:32.8, 22nd)
GIRLS -- Anna Cherryhomes: 100 breast (1:11.45, 22nd); Grace Cherryhomes: 50 free (24.78, 20th), 100 fly (58.66, tied for 13th); Gracie Kane: 100 fly (59.77, 20th); Lindsey Keaton: 100 back (59.5, 13th); Rylee Kreinbrink: 50 free (24.46, 12th); Caroline Ramos: 200 IM (2:17.23, 18th); Regan Turnbull: 100 breast (1:10.62, 17th), 200 IM (2:17.39, 19th); 400 free relay (3:51.99, 19th)