In a 70-56 loss to Beechcroft in a Division II district final last season, Morgan Safford helped keep things close for the Hartley High School boys basketball team by scoring what was then a career-high 29 points.
That performance more than doubled his season scoring average but was a starting point of what he's capable of.
The 6-foot-5 guard topped that point total in two of the Hawks' first 12 games this season and has been one of the area's top scorers, averaging 21.4 points before his team played Logan on Jan. 21 in the Route 40 Classic at Zanesville West Muskingum.
What makes his emergence more remarkable is that despite being a senior, he doesn't turn 17 until next month.
"I just feel like (the district final last year) was a game to prove my talents," Safford said. "I always knew I was that player, and I came out and gave my team the best opportunity to win. I feel like I can do that every game this year.
"I had a really good offseason. I was in the gym all the time getting better. Now I've got something to prove and have a chip on my shoulder."
On Jan. 18 in a 64-58 victory over Watterson that avenged a 41-27 loss Dec. 7, Safford scored 20 first-half points and finished with 24 as the Hawks improved to 2-3 in the CCL.
Hartley was 7-5 overall before playing Logan and returns to league action Friday, Jan. 25, at home against Ready, which the Hawks beat 60-44 on Dec. 14 behind a career-high 31 points from Safford.
Safford equaled that performance in a 79-58 victory over Linden-McKinley on Jan. 10 and had 22 points in a 52-51 double-overtime loss to Upper Arlington on Jan. 15.
Senior post player Payton Collins added 19 points against UA and had scored in double figures in each of his past seven games before Hartley played Logan, including scoring 22 against Linden and 15 in the most recent matchup with Watterson.
While Collins was averaging 11.5 points through 12 games, the Hawks are hoping a third consistent scorer emerges during the final month of the regular season.
Senior forward Ryan Heuser had 10 points against Watterson -- the third game this season in which he scored that total -- but was averaging just 5.5 points through 12 games.
A recent change in Hartley's rotation occurred when sophomore guard P.J. Daniels, who had been averaging 15 minutes off the bench, left the program.
"We've still got room to grow if we can hit some outside shots," coach Randy Kortokrax said. "Morgan can shoot it pretty well and Payton can shoot it pretty well, but we need to get a third or fourth guy going. That's the last thing that would (help) us. It took us so long to get the offense in.
"Morgan knows he's got to step up. Leadership-wise, he's had to step up more and kind of lead the team. Your best leaders also lead off the court and he's a year young."
Safford's father, Boyce, played on Mifflin's 1977 Class AA state runner-up team that also featured eventual legendary Brookhaven boys basketball coach Bruce Howard, who passed away in 2003 from liver failure.
Safford, who averaged 11.5 points as a freshman and 14 last season, was enrolled in preschool at age 2 and attended Wellington from sixth through eighth grade before transferring to Hartley as a freshman. His sister, Mackenzie, is a freshman at Hartley who plays lacrosse.
Because he's still only 16, Safford is considering the option of attending a prep school next year and reclassifying.
This season, he'd just like to see the Hawks reach what he believes is a vast potential.
"Our team is starting to come together a lot more," Safford said. "The seniors are starting to lead us and as seniors we don't want it to end. We can make a deep run into the state tournament. We have a lot of talent."
Swim teams set for league meet
The swimming and diving teams will compete in the CCL meet Saturday, Jan. 26, at Columbus School for Girls.
Last season, the boys finished fourth (161 points) of five teams in the league meet behind champion St. Charles (464) and the girls were third (266) of five teams behind CSG (386) and Watterson (325).
One of the Hawks' final tuneups took place Jan. 12 when some of their top competitors traveled to Branin Natatorium in Canton for the Northeast Classic and others in the program competed in the Central Ohio Splash Invitational at Thomas Worthington.
At the Northeast Classic, the 200-yard freestyle relay of Deanne Archambeau, Cara Luallen, Emma Simone and Kayla Williams finished 12th (1 minute, 42.52 seconds) as the girls team scored 10 points to place 38th behind champion North Canton Hoover (243) as 48 teams scored. Mia Phillips and Ellie Tanner also competed at the meet for the girls team.
The boys team didn't score at the Northeast Classic, in which Chad Kegelmayer, Owen Kennedy, Sam LeMay and Leo Noll represented the program.
At the Central Ohio Splash Invitational, the girls placed eighth (180) of 12 teams behind champion Westerville Central (403) and the boys were 10th (61) of 12 teams behind champion Grove City (371).
Liza McClung was runner-up in the 100 breaststroke (1:19.34), Gabby Jackson placed fourth in the 200 individual medley (2:37.2) and Megan Luallen was eighth in the 200 IM (2:46.42). Finishing seventh were the 200 free relay of Megan Luallen, Kayla Malone, Jordyn Ross and Grace Sammler (1:59.73), the 200 medley relay of Jackson, McClung, Piper Ogden and Sammler (2:14.22) and the 400 free relay of Olivia Bobak, Olivia Haegar, Jackson and Megan Luallen (4:29.88).
For the boys team at the Central Ohio Splash Invitational, Daniel Walker finished seventh in the 50 free (25.31) and 100 free (57.39) and joined DeAndre Hodge, Joseph Sheridan and William Sheridan on the ninth-place 200 medley relay (2:04.5). The 400 free relay of Joseph Sheridan, William Sheridan, Dominic Motter and Bobby Sisson also was ninth (4:45.9).
Wrestlers prep for state duals
The OHSAA team dual tournament begins Feb. 2 for the wrestling team, which will be competing in Division III, Region 22, along with a group of schools that includes Amanda-Clearcreek, Columbus Academy and Liberty Union from the Central District.
Last season, Hartley lost in a Region 21 semifinal.
The Hawks beat Marion Harding 54-18 on Jan. 16 as senior Griffin Rathburn (195 pounds) earned his 100th career victory.
The CCL tournament is Feb. 13 at Ready.
"We started the season off strong," coach Kevin Petrella said.
"The wrestling season is a long season and the middle of it might be the most difficult part. There's always excitement when you first get started and then definitely when the postseason begins. It's difficult for anyone at this time of year to continue to work hard, stay interested and have fun. I think our guys have done a tremendous job of doing that. Our guys are even more excited for the state duals tournament and the opportunity to possibly compete at St. John Arena. Our young guys are going to be the key there and they've really stepped up to the plate."
Below are the coming schedules for the Hartley boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 25 -- Home vs. Ready. The Hawks beat the Silver Knights 60-44 on Dec. 14.
Jan. 26 -- At Westerville North in The Challenge
Jan. 28 -- Home vs. Grove City Christian
*Jan. 24 -- Home vs Ready. The Hawks beat the Knights 64-34 on Jan. 5.
Jan. 26 -- Pickerington North in Nubian Classic at Africentric
*Jan. 29 -- At Columbus School for Girls
*Jan. 25 -- Watterson at Holiday Lanes
*Jan. 28 -- DeSales at Holiday Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 26 -- CCL meet at CSG
Jan. 30 -- At Hamilton Township with Thornville Sheridan