Dublin Jerome High School boys basketball coach Richie Beard calls them his "foxhole guys."
Also in regards to his current 14-player roster, an unusually high number -- 12 -- happens to be seniors.
"It has been very unique," Beard said. "No matter how we sliced it, these seniors were always the top players in the program when we looked at numbers this offseason. Having such an older team, it makes practice great. These guys understand the expectations. They push each other and demand greatness in practice from one another. This group has always been close since middle school. Off the court, most of them always hang out together, and that goes a long way in our team chemistry and really helps us with the style we play."
Although Beard believes he has one of central Ohio's better players in senior wing player Trey Ballengee and a junior who has begun to emerge in guard Dan Lee, all of Jerome's top six scorers were averaging between 12 and 4.5 points through nine games.
"The special thing about our class is the amount of time and effort we put into the games," Ballengee said. "I feel like the season has been going OK. We have our ups and downs, but we're always here for each other. We've stuck together so long for our love of the game and for playing for each other."
The Celtics were 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing Delaware on Jan. 8 and conclude the first round of league action Friday, Jan. 11, at Scioto.
After losing to Thomas Worthington 69-61 in overtime Dec. 14, Jerome lost to two-time defending league champion Hilliard Bradley 60-51 on Dec. 21.
Bradley was 5-0 and Delaware was 4-1 in the league heading into games Jan. 8.
On Jan. 4, the Celtics built a 38-17 halftime lead and cruised to a 64-50 league victory over Hilliard Darby. Senior forward Matthew Montgomery had 11 points, senior guard Luke Schlessel scored 10, senior guard Ryan Keys scored nine and Ballengee added eight as 12 players scored.
Ballengee was averaging 11.6 points through nine games, followed by Lee (11.0), Montgomery (8.5), senior forward Cam Kerns and senior wing player Joey Pickering (both 6.5) and senior guard Joseph Gatien (4.5).
"Trey Ballengee is one of the best two or three players in the OCC and we feel he's one of the top players in central Ohio," Beard said. "He makes us go and he does a lot of things for us. He's gotten better each year and improved some part of his game each offseason. He's one of the top players I've ever coached, from his work ethic to his coachability. He's a great listener, communicator and a great representative of our team, our school as well as the Dublin school district as a whole. From a basketball standpoint, Trey can do it all."
Girls basketball team learning how to close
Finishing has been at the forefront of the ups and downs of the girls basketball team this season.
Before playing Delaware on Jan. 8, the Celtics were 5-7 overall and 3-3 in the OCC-Cardinal, but each of their losses was by six points or fewer.
Lately, Jerome has started to find ways to win close games.
After beating Owenton (Kentucky) Owen County 40-35 on Dec. 28 in a KSA Events Holiday Tournament in Orlando, Florida, the Celtics lost to Highland Park (Illinois) 49-47 the next day in the fifth-place game.
They began the 2019 portion of their schedule, however, with wins over Darby (43-38 on Jan. 4) and Logan (43-40 on Jan. 5).
"We played as a team and we managed the last two minutes of the game (against Darby)," coach Natalie Herring said. "If we manage the last two minutes of the game, our success is going to be much greater. We had well-rounded scoring and nearly everyone in the book scored. When you play good defense and have well-rounded offense, good things are going to happen."
Jerome will try to avenge a 51-45 loss to Scioto on Dec. 4 when it plays host to the Irish on Friday, Jan. 11.
Scioto and Darby both were 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal heading into their respective league games Jan. 8.
Junior guard Jamie Cline, who was averaging 12.8 points through 12 games, scored 12 against Darby and 13 against Logan.
Also through 12 games, sophomore guard/wing player Amaris Lowery was averaging 9.2 points, followed by senior guard Demi Brewer (7.8) and junior forward Brittany Sanders (5.2).
According to Herring, her team "had a blast" during the trip to Florida, which began with a 54-48 loss to Canton (North Carolina) Pisgah on Dec. 27.
"It was a great experience," Herring said. "(KSA is) a great organization and they do a great job of giving you a chance to have fun and relax."
Swimming teams prep for Northeast Classic
One of the swimming and diving program's biggest remaining preparations for the postseason is the Northeast Classic, which will take place Friday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 12, at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
"We're really excited to get into the next part of the season with the Northeast Classic," coach Patrick Johnston said. "We take the whole team up there. It's a nice, fast invite and kind of gets us a last look of how we want to do our relays going into the postseason."
On Jan. 5 at St. Charles, the boys team beat the host Cardinals 99-71 and the girls defeated Columbus School for Girls 106-60.
Finishing first for the boys were Max Scott in the 50-yard freestyle (21.57 seconds) and 100 free (48.25), Reno James in the 200 individual medley (1:59.39), Carson Smith in the 500 free (4:55.83), Austin Davis in the 100 backstroke (54.62), Ian Smith in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.89), the 200 free relay (1:29.27) and the 400 free relay (3:19.57).
Winning for the girls were Kelsey Cooper in the 200 free (2:04.75) and 100 back (59.97), Lauren Smith in the 200 IM (2:20.4), Brenna Cooper in the 50 free (26.21) and 100 breast (1:11.88), Maya Geringer in the 100 free (57.27) and the 200 free relay (1:47.31).
"Things are going really well," Johnston said. "The kids are looking at going fast. Some of them are swimming surprisingly fast and some of them are swimming like they've done two weeks of hard training, and that's what we just got done. I'm very happy with the way we've been looking and very excited for the last two months."
Craig signs with Boilermakers
During the early signing period for football that began Dec. 19, senior Cam Craig committed to play for Purdue.
Below are the coming schedules for the Jerome boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 11 -- At Scioto
Jan. 12 -- At Cincinnati Elder
*Jan. 11 -- Home vs. Scioto. The Celtics lost to the Irish 51-45 on Dec. 4.
Jan. 15 -- Home vs. Westerville North
Jan. 12 -- McGee Invitational at Coffman
Jan. 15 -- At Upper Arlington with Coffman, Scioto, Grove City and Olentangy Berlin
*Jan. 11 -- Coffman at Chiller Dublin
*Jan. 12 -- Liberty at Chiller North
*Jan. 13 -- Upper Arlington at Chiller Dublin
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 11-12 -- Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
*Jan. 10 -- Home vs. Kilbourne
Jan. 12 -- Comet Classic at Central Crossing
*Jan. 16 -- At Olentangy Berlin