As Julius Brown ascended the ladder, he was realizing a dream.
The senior for the Westerville North High School boys basketball team was participating in a net-cutting ceremony Feb. 9 after the Warriors defeated Westerville South 68-40 to clinch the outright OCC-Buckeye Division title, their first league championship since 2013.
North is a balanced team, but it has made quite a journey since the 5-foot-11 Brown took over at point guard as a sophomore.
The Warriors went from 13-11 overall and 6-8 in the OCC-Cardinal in 2015-16 to 15-8 overall and 7-3 in the OCC-Buckeye last year to 18-4 overall and 8-2 in the league after closing the regular season with a 61-58 loss to Olentangy Orange on Feb. 16.
"It was amazing to be the ones to cut down the nets," said Brown, who was named league Player of the Year. "(That piece of net) is in my room and it's going on the wall above my bed.
"It was great to be able to do something like that for North and our community, to do something that great for the first time in a long time."
Coach Shan Trusley took a lot of pride in watching his players cut down the nets. But he was especially proud of Brown, who has put in the work to make himself better.
"Julius is not a kid who gets caught up in how many points he scores," Trusley said. "To see the look on his face when he got to the top of the ladder to cut the net, that's every basketball player's dream to be able to do that.
"Julius is one of a kind. He's unique because he's the first kid in (the gym) and last kid out. He is a self-made basketball player and has put in a lot of time and effort. You don't get that good without working like that."
Last season, Brown led the Warriors in scoring (15.0 points), assists (4.0) and steals (3.3) and was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league. He currently is averaging 16.4 points.
"There's a lot that comes with being a point guard," said Brown, who has not made a college selection. "You have to be able to manage the team on and off the court, be a leader by example and make your teammates better.
"Defense is probably my biggest strength and then probably my ability to create for my teammates. That would be my dribble-drive-and-kick or my drop-downs to a big man or being able to knock down the open shot or finish by the basket, things like that."
Trusley said Brown is the epitome of a point guard, elevating the play of his teammates.
"A quality of any good basketball player is that they make the players around them better," Trusley said. "On the defensive end, he can cover up for a lot of mistakes because of his ability to help out, create turnovers and things like that. On the offensive end, he moves it, he passes it and he gets it to open people.
"Julius has had a great career, and he has done so much for this program. Each year as he has grown, the program has grown and the team has grown. As a sophomore we won 13 games and then 15 last year and this year we're already at 18 games. We crept our way up in the league along the way as well."
Brown is the son of former Ohio State basketball player Jamal Brown, who currently lives in Texas. Brown lives with his mother, D'andrea, and stepfather Kenny Brown.
"We used to talk about (my father's accomplishments), but that doesn't matter," Julius Brown said. "Dad raised me to be my own man and I have to be me."
Jamal was at North to see his son celebrate the league championship, but the Warriors hope there's at least one more title in their immediate future.
Seeded fourth for the Division I district tournament, the Warriors begin their quest for their first district title since 1998 when they play host Saturday, Feb. 24, to 35th-seeded Groveport. The teams have not played this season.
The winner advances to a second-round home game March 2 against 39th-seeded New Albany, and that winner needs two more victories to cut down the nets March 10 at Ohio Dominican.
"If we keep playing as a team like have been we'll get that second chance to cut down the nets," Julius Brown said. "I believe in our team and we're playing great now. Almost everyone on our team can shoot and that could make the difference.
"No one is being selfish and we're playing as a team. We're moving the ball and knocking down the open shot. We're playing great basketball the way (Trusley) preaches."
Swimmers break records at district
Andrew Bernsdorf and siblings Jason and Janessa Mathews all set records while qualifying for the Division I state swimming meet Friday, Feb. 23, and Saturday, Feb. 24, at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
The top two placers in each event at district Feb. 17 at Ohio University automatically advanced to state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each event based on district times statewide.
Jason Matthews won the 100-yard breaststroke and 200 individual medley. The senior's performance in the 100 breast set a meet and program record of 54.88 seconds and earned him the top seed at state.
The Ohio State signee also won the 200 IM in 1:51.63 to earn the state's fifth seed.
"Jason had such a great meet, which is amazing because he's not even fully rested yet," coach Rich Morris said. "His stroke looks really strong and there's a lot more in the tank.
"Some of the best breaststrokers in the country dropped a lot of time last week, and that motivates him. I expect him to have a big weekend."
Bernsdorf, a junior, won the 500 freestyle in a program-record 4:32.19 and is seeded third at state.
"The disappointment that happened last weekend (at sectional, being disqualified) in his 200 IM, he is so focused," Morris said. "He wanted to redeem himself and that was his way of saying I'm still one of the top dogs in this state.
"I'm unbelievably proud. I'm his high school coach, but I'm also one of his club coaches and it's satisfying to see him be rewarded for how hard he really works and as hard as he works and how great a swimmer he is."
Janessa Mathews won the 100 breast in a meet- and program-record 1:01.89 and is seeded second at state. The sophomore also just missed qualifying in the 200 IM after placing seventh in 2:09.66. Brynna Wolfe of Kings Mills Kings was the state's 24th and final seed at 2:09.15.
"The 100 breast is my favorite event and we're focusing on that right now," Mathews said. "I wanted to branch out and do the 200 IM this season, but I didn't do well in that and I'm very disappointed. I was able to put that behind me and go all out (in the 100 breast)."
The girls 200 medley relay of Christy Harper, Janessa Mathews, Tatiana Slesnick and Allie Thompson was ninth at district in a program-record 1:51.35.
"We had an amazing day overall with 13 (personal records), bringing the total for the season to 322," Morris said. "We just had a great day all-around."
The girls finished 16th (52 points) at district behind champion Upper Arlington (274) as 30 teams scored. The boys were 11th (86) behind champion Dublin Jerome (303) as 29 teams scored.
Wrestlers to compete in sectional at Newark
The wrestling team competes Saturday, Feb. 24, in a Division I sectional at Newark.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to district March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby.
The Warriors finished second in the OCC-Buckeye at 4-1, behind Liberty at 5-0, after losing to the Patriots 35-25 on Feb. 15.
Jacob Goldsmith (182 pounds) and Jake Gooding (113) won by pin. Lucas Seibert (120) won by major decision, and Jacob Grant (145), Gabe Ohle (106) and Blake Wright (138) won by decision.
Girls basketball team to play Golden Bears
The girls basketball team plays Thursday, Feb. 22, at seventh-seeded UA in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
The 31st-seeded Warriors are 7-15 and lost to the Golden Bears 34-24 on Jan. 23.
The winner plays in a district semifinal against sixth-seeded Northland or 18th-seeded Thomas Worthington on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at a site to be determined. North has not played either team this season.
The district final is March 3 at Ohio Dominican.
Bowling teams get ready for sectionals
The boys and girls bowling teams begin the postseason with Division I sectionals this weekend at HP Lanes.
The boys compete Friday, Feb. 23, and the girls compete the next day.
The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams in both sectionals advance to district March 3 at HP Lanes.
@ThisWeekHennenAt a glance
Below are the members of the North boys and girls swimming & diving teams who competed at district but did not qualify for state:
Boys -- Hayden Yeager: 100 fly (55.45, ninth), 200 IM (2:03.91, 20th); 200 free relay (1:41.91, 30th); 200 medley relay (1:39.64, 10th); 400 free relay (3:20.72, 11th)
Girls -- Maggie Bolen: 100 breast (1:11.761, 25th); Christy Harper: 100 back (1:01.47, 20th), 200 IM (2:19.82, 22nd); Janessa Mathews: 200 IM (2:09.66, seventh); Emily Richards: diving (239.75, 17th); Emma Weisgerber: diving (143.15, 23rd); 200 free relay (1:44.52, 16th); 200 medley relay (1:51.35, ninth); 400 free relay (3:55.64, 25th)