A pair of seniors will lead the Hilliard Darby High School girls swimming and diving team into the Division I state meet, while a freshman will represent the boys team.

Lexie McDonald will compete in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events and Taylor Leone will compete in the 100 free in the state meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton. The preliminaries are Friday, Feb. 23, and the finals are the next day.

"I hope I feel better mentally this week than I did at district," McDonald said. "I was totally surprised by my times because I wasn't expecting that."

McDonald set school records in both events in the district meet Feb. 17 at Ohio University, placing second in the 100 free in 51.55 seconds and third in the 50 free in 23.77. She is seeded fifth in the 100 free at state and seeded eighth in the 50 free.

"I wasn't trying to set records. I just wanted to improve my times and get good seeds at state," McDonald said. "I didn't feel good in the water and I fell behind in the 100 by a lot and made up a lot of time in the second 50, so it was a total shock for me."

Lancaster's Olivia Schmelzer won the 100 in 50.94.

"(McDonald) was closing fast and maybe if she would've had another 25 yards, she would have caught Olivia," coach Brian Dickmann said. "But those are two very fast times for Lexie. If we were still keeping all-Hilliard records, she'd be at the top of that list, too."

Last year at state, McDonald finished 18th in the 100 breaststroke and was on the 200 medley relay that finished 23rd. She is happy to be going to state this year with Leone, who finished 11th in the 100 free (52.75) at district and is seeded 25th at state.

"That's so fantastic for her because she has worked really hard," McDonald said. "We've been friends forever and we get to close our careers together at state in the same event."

At district, the top two finishers in each swimming event automatically qualified for state. In addition, 16 at-large berths were awarded in each swimming event based on times statewide.

"I am so grateful and excited to extend my season and go to state with one of my best friends," said Leone, who also competed at state last year on the 200 medley relay. "We get to go against the best swimmers in the state and give it one more try. Lexie and I have been friends since we were 5 years old, so we're pretty excited about this."

The Panthers totaled 80 points at district to place 12th behind champion Upper Arlington (274) as 30 teams scored.

The boys team will be represented at state by Hayden Apel, who finished fifth at district in diving (468.7) on Feb. 13 at Dublin Community Recreation Center. He is seeded ninth at state and will compete Thursday, Feb. 22.

The Panthers scored 20 points at district to finish 22nd behind champion Dublin Jerome (303) as 29 teams scored.

"I'm very happy to have the boys team be represented at state," Dickmann said. "Overall, we had a strong meet. Of the swimmers shaved for the first time at district, we had 100-percent time improvements, including every split of every relay. That doesn't happen often. It was a spectacular performance by all of the Darby swimmers."

Boys basketball team

prepping for Braves

Seeded 18th, the boys basketball team will open the postseason Saturday, Feb. 24, at home against 19th-seeded Olentangy in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

The winner plays at 17th-seeded Chillicothe in the second round March 2.

Darby concluded the regular season with back-to-back losses to Bradley in OCC-Cardinal Division play. The Panthers fell 55-52 in overtime on Feb. 13 at home and 60-43 on Feb. 16 at Bradley to drop to 12-10 overall and finish 7-5 in the league.

Darby was outscored 27-9 at the free-throw line in the first game, when Bradley's Braden Norris forced overtime by making a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left. Norris scored 20 of his 29 points at the foul line, including six in overtime.

Chandler Barlow and Jaeln Benjamin both had 11 points to lead Darby and Kyle Miller scored nine.

In the second meeting, the Panthers were outscored 33-17 in the middle quarters. Miller had 10 points, Ben Gbur scored nine and Benjamin added eight.

Girls basketball team

getting set for Lions

The 26th-seeded girls basketball team will play at ninth-seeded Gahanna in the second round of the Division I district tournament Friday, Feb. 23.

The Panthers, who are 11-11, had a first-round bye.

The winner plays eighth-seeded Hartley or 36th-seeded Jerome in a district semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 28, at a neutral site to be determined. The district final is March 3 at Ohio Dominican.

Gahanna improved to 16-7 with a 78-22 win over 41st-seeded Central Crossing in the first round Feb. 17. Hartley is 16-7 and Jerome is 8-14 entering their second-round matchup Feb. 23.

The Panthers were swept by Jerome in OCC-Cardinal play, falling 40-38 on Jan. 5 and 37-35 on Feb. 2.

Wrestlers prepare

to open postseason

The wrestling team defeated Bradley 39-23 in its OCC-Cardinal finale Feb. 15, forcing the Jaguars to share the league title.

Bradley and Delaware both finished 5-1 in the league, while Darby finished 4-2.

The Panthers are preparing for a 10-team Division I sectional Saturday, Feb. 24, at Watkins Memorial, where the top four finishers in each weight class qualify for the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Darby.

"Winning the dual against Bradley was extremely important," coach Brendan Moody said. "It gave us validation for all of the tough practices and competitions this season. For the last couple of weeks, we have been hitting our stride and showing more physicality, and to have our kids compete with such vigor in the last dual of the season is inspiring.

"I believe that beating Bradley gives us a huge confidence boost going into the postseason. If beating our rival doesn't urge us to continue to work hard, then nothing will. The jubilation that I witnessed from these kids that night, and in practices since that dual, has sparked them to push to greater heights. These kids certainly have momentum on their side."

Entering the sectional, Jacob Cover (heavyweight) was 39-5 on the season and Rodney Beneker (182 pounds) was 27-9. Others with at least 20 victories are Jared Ball (195, 21-1), Isaac Richards (126, 20-7), Axel Ventura (106, 20-9), Ryan Blackerby (120, 20-14) and Ben Brown (132, 20-16).

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek