Thomas Hickman recalls receiving on-the-job training from coach Donovon Barrett when he joined the Westerville Central High School boys basketball team as a freshman.

Hickman was given valuable minutes that season and has since developed into one of the program's most prolific players.

The senior point guard is 14 points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career. He'll look to achieve that milestone when the 11th-seeded Warhawks open Division I district tournament play Saturday, Feb. 24, at home against 32nd-seeded Delaware.

Hickman said Barrett has pushed him to succeed.

"He's been a really big help," Hickman said. "When I was a freshman he would tell me where I needed to be and how I needed to run the offense. Now, he just gave me the keys to the offense. It feels good that coach trusted me."

The Central-Delaware winner plays 24th-seeded Whitehall in the second round March 2 at the home of the better seed.

Hickman led a fourth-quarter surge Feb. 16, propelling the Warhawks to a 49-45 win at Westerville South as they closed the regular season on a positive note.

Central outscored the Wildcats 13-4 down the stretch to erase a 41-36 deficit early in the fourth quarter, and Hickman scored 13 of his game-high 15 points in the second half.

"It was finally good to get a win against South after four years," Hickman said. "I've been tired losing against South and it was nice to get a win on the road in a hostile environment."

Central's previous win against the Wildcats came in the 2013-14 season when it swept the season series 72-61 and 72-60.

Hickman has not only developed into a consistent scorer for the Warhawks, but he's one of their leaders. He played all 32 minutes against South and has given similar efforts throughout this season.

"We needed to keep him in and he came up big for us late," Barrett said. "I hardly say a whole lot to him because we, as a coaching staff, believe in him and he's been around, been through the ups and downs. He knows what he's doing and he knows what other guys are doing."

After going 4-19 last season, Central is 15-7 overall and finished 6-4 in the OCC-Buckeye Division to place second behind Westerville North (8-2) and ahead of South (5-5), Olentangy Liberty (4-6), Olentangy Orange (4-6) and Olentangy (3-7).

It is Central's first winning season since 2013-14, when it finished 19-5 overall and won the OCC-Cardinal title at 13-1. The Warhawks are looking for a similar postseason run as that team, which reached a district final before losing to Northland 64-53.

Hickman is averaging a team-high 19.7 points, with a season-high effort of 34 in a 69-67 loss to Gahanna on Feb. 6. He has scored in double figures in all of the Warhawks' 22 games.

On Feb. 13, Dylan Edens' 3-pointer as time expired lifted the Warhawks to a 56-53 win over Licking Heights. Hickman scored 13 points, Cam Schroeder had 12 and Chaz Dixon added 11.

"I love how our team is playing," Hickman said. "We're talking, we're communicating and we're getting wins, so that's all that matters."

Hickman was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season after averaging 11.1 points. As a sophomore, he averaged 8.2 points and was honorable mention all-league as the Warhawks finished 8-15.

Central finished 4-19 in Hickman's freshman season.

"You can see his growth as a person," Barrett said. "You (also) can see his growth as a player, and physically he's matured quite a bit and that's because he's done what he's supposed to do as far as working out and his body."

Hickman began playing at the AAU level in third grade and plans to play in college, but he might consider attending a prep school first.

"Someone is going to get a good one wherever he decides to go to college," Barrett said. "His upside is tremendous. We won't be able to replace him. We'll have to do different things. We'll have to retool a little bit."

Two swimmers earn state berths

A pair of girls swimmers will compete for Central in the Division I state meet Friday, Feb. 23, and Saturday, Feb. 24, at Branin Natatorium in Canton.

It will be the first state meet for senior Annie McNenny, who qualified in the 100-yard butterfly and 500 freestyle.

McNenny finished sixth in the 100 fly (57.09 seconds) at district Feb. 17 at Ohio University and is seeded 16th at state. She was fifth in the 500 free (program-record 5:08.7) and is seeded 24th.

"It's going to be an incredible experience because I've never been there before," said McNenny, whose postseason was hampered a year ago after she developed mononucleosis. "I was excited to do better than I did last year."

Sophomore Macey Swearingen is seeded 17th in the 100 backstroke after placing fourth at district in 57.23. Last season, she finished 20th in the 100 back (58.46) as the program's only state qualifier.

Central finished 11th (93.5 points) at district behind champion Upper Arlington (274) as 30 teams scored.

Kaden Jacob led the boys team at district, as he finished 13th in diving (301.35) on Feb. 13 at Dublin Community Recreation Center.

The Warhawks finished 28th (4) of 29 teams behind champion Dublin Jerome (303).

Girls basketball team opens postseason

The 11th-seeded girls basketball team was 15-7 overall before opening the Division I district tournament against 23rd-seeded Liberty on Feb. 20 at home.

The winner plays 15th-seeded New Albany in the second round Friday, Feb. 23, at the home of the better seed, with that winner playing 10th-seeded Eastmoor Academy, 12th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley or 27th-seeded DeSales in a semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 28, at a neutral site to be determined.

The district final is March 3 at Ohio Dominican.

The Warhawks closed the regular season with a 63-51 loss at South on Feb. 16 to finish 6-4 in the OCC-Buckeye.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

At a glance

Below are the members of the Central boys and girls swimming & diving teams who competed at district but did not qualify for state:

Boys -- Adam Aziz: 100 fly (59.28, 30th); Kaden Jacob: diving (301.35, 13th); Riley Jacob: diving (104.95, 24th); 200 free relay (1:38.28, 24th); 200 medley relay (1:59.43, 29th); 400 free relay (3:42.08, 26th)

Girls -- Kaila Aaron: 50 free (24.75, 18th), 100 free (54.55, 24th); Sophie Antonetz: 50 free (25.34, 24th), 100 fly (1:01.01, 26th); Chloe Minton: diving (350.6, 11th); D'Nisa Oocumma: 200 free (2:04.51, 28th), 100 breast (1:10.55, 16th); Macey Swearingen: 100 free (52.78, 12th); 200 free relay (1:49.13, 22nd); 200 medley relay (1:48.6, eighth); 400 free relay (3:37.74, ninth)

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Central bowling, gymnastics and wrestling teams:

BOWLING

Feb. 23 -- Division I boys sectional at HP Lanes. The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district March 3 at HP Lanes.

Feb. 24 -- Division I girls sectional at HP Lanes. The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district March 3 at HP Lanes.

GYMNASTICS

Feb. 24 -- District meet at Worthington Kilbourne. The top three teams advance to state March 2 at Hilliard Bradley. The top eight individuals in each event and the all-around advance to state March 3 at Bradley.

WRESTLING

Feb. 24 -- Division I sectional at Marysville. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to district March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby.