The Big Walnut High School wrestling team has begun a new era with a new coach and a roster teeming with freshmen.
The Golden Eagles are under the direction of Aaron Renner, who served as an assistant with the team the past seven seasons. Renner was promoted to head coach last summer, replacing Luke Moore, who stepped down after 11 seasons.
Grooming 11 freshmen will be Renner's top priority this season.
"They were a strong eighth-grade group," said Renner, whose team opened Dec. 1 by placing fourth in the Granville Invitational before playing host to the Big Walnut Classic on Dec. 8. "All of the freshmen have previous experience, and they won a number of tournaments together. That's important, but we're currently developing the high school work ethic. The competition and practices are tougher."
Among the freshmen who've earned spots in the lineup are Andrew Parker (106 pounds), Carson Leasure (126), Gavin Miller (152), Austin O'Malley (170) and Michael Hurst (195). Grayson Segars and Christian Takatch are competing at 138.
Big Walnut's lineup does include some familiar faces, including senior Josh Halbakken (182) and juniors Max Lenz (220) and Christian Jodrey (120). All three were district qualifiers last season, with Lenz also making first-team all-OCC-Capital Division and Halbakken making second-team all-league.
Other returnees include senior Levi Piceno (132), who was a district qualifier as a sophomore, and junior Ryan Coletta (160), who was a district alternate last season.
The roster also includes sophomore Cali Lang (106), a move-in from California, where she was a member of her school's girls wrestling team, Renner said.
The Golden Eagles lost two state qualifiers from a year ago in 2018 graduates Bailey Munday (132) and Cole Foster (138). Munday went 1-2 at state and finished the season 40-5, while Foster went 0-2 at state to finish 41-10.
"We've lost some leadership, but we have guys who have stepped up," Renner said.
Boys swimmers open with first-place finish
The swimming and diving teams already have earned a trophy this season, with the boys winning the Northridge Viking Splash Invitational on Dec. 1 at New Albany to open the season.
The boys scored 312 points to finish ahead of runner-up Watkins Memorial (292) in the 12-team meet, while the girls team placed fifth (189) of 11 teams, behind champion Granville (338).
"The program keeps growing each year, and the athletes are looking better and better," fourth-year coach Becky Brigham said. "This is a great group of athletes with positive attitudes each day and great support for each other."
Freshman Gabe Charles led the way in the Viking Splash Invitational, with first-place finishes in the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 14.89 seconds) and 100 butterfly (57.83). Freshman Nathan Wion finished first in the 500 freestyle (6:09.06).
Senior C.J. Rockwell placed second in the 500 free (6:11.17) and third in the 50 free (25.47).
Other top placers included the 200 free relay of junior John Grumney, sophomore Charlie Jaeger, sophomore Braden Buckler and Rockwell (second, 1:45.84), the 200 medley relay of Jaeger, freshman Micah Tillar, Charles and Rockwell (third, 1:59) and the 400 free relay of Charles, junior Grady Hemingway, junior Camden Andrian and Grumney (third, 4:04.11).
Grumney and Rockwell were Division I district qualifiers last season as members of the 400 free relay that finished 21st (3:31.86). The relay also included 2018 graduates Dom-inic Carifa and Sam Delfino.
Other members of the boys team include seniors Trevor Ambrose and Caleb Meade and freshmen Bryan Vance, Jameson Welker and Shane White.
Megan Baldy was the top performer for the girls team in the Viking Splash Invitational.
The senior placed fourth in the 100 backstroke (1:19.35) and was a member of the fourth-place 400 free relay along with junior Kate VandeKieft, sophomore Jordan May and freshman Sam Blackburn (4:43.76) and the sixth-place 200 medley relay along with May, freshman Eva Lane and VandeKieft (2:20.39).
Baldy also placed sixth in the 200 IM (2:55.16), behind Blackburn (fifth, 2:52.25).
Big Walnut returns some experienced divers with senior Nate Dimitroff of the boys team and sophomores Mackenna Ames and Eliana Smith of the girls squad. Ames and Smith represented the girls team in the Division I district meet last season, finishing 24th (138.05) and 25th (137.2), respectively.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 1 -- Northridge Viking Splash Invitational at New Albany
Dec. 7-8 -- Ned Reeb Memorial Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 8 -- Diving meet at Kenyon College
Dec. 21 -- Delaware County Classic Relays at Ohio Wesleyan
Dec. 28 -- Westerville Central at Westerville Recreation Center
Jan 5 -- Mount Vernon Invite at Kenyon College
Jan. 12 -- Diving meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton
Jan. 18 -- Gahanna at Gahanna YMCA
Jan. 19 -- Diving meet at Columbus School for Girls
Jan. 25 -- OCC-Capital diving meet at New Albany
Jan. 26 -- OCC-Capital swimming meet at New Albany
Dec. 1 -- Granville Invitational
Dec. 8 -- Big Walnut Classic
Dec. 13 -- at Columbus Academy
Dec. 15 -- Bexley Duals
Dec. 27-28 -- Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Association Holiday Tournament at Wright State
*Jan. 10 -- vs. Newark
Jan. 12 -- Golden Eagle Duals at Madison-Plains
*Jan. 17 -- at Canal Winchester
Jan. 19 -- Ron Thomas Sr. Invitational at Jonathan Alder
*Jan. 23 -- at Groveport
Jan. 26 -- Watkins Memorial Invitational
*Feb. 7 -- vs. Franklin Heights
*Feb. 14 -- at New Albany
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and gymnastics teams:
*Dec. 14 -- Home vs. New Albany
Dec. 11 -- Home vs. Loudonville
*Dec. 14 -- Home vs. New Albany
*Dec. 12 -- Westerville Central at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
Dec. 15 -- Pioneer Baker Bash at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
Dec. 14 -- DeSales and Olentangy Orange at Central Ohio Gymnastics