After becoming Pickerington High School North wrestling coach last May, Derek Oney quickly came to depend on 170-pound senior Elliot Mahaffey as one of his leaders.
That is largely because Mahaffey is willing to go above and beyond on and off the mat, even against his coach.
"He's been blessed with strength and an ability to listen and adapt," Oney said. "He just beats people up. I call him 'The Butcher' because he makes people bleed. He's made me bleed on countless occasions. He made me bleed today (Jan. 15). We like hard-nosed kids who work hard. It's synonymous with the sport."
Mahaffey owns a team-best 13-4 record this season after going 28-14 at 160 and reaching his second consecutive Division I district tournament last year. He is 64-43 in his career.
"Last season I was good, but not as technically proficient as I feel this year and that's due to the fact that we have gone back to basics (in practice)," Mahaffey said. "I am just focused on trying to improve on the little details. Those are what really matter to get you to the next level and that's where I want to be in a few weeks."
North takes a 2-0 record in the OCC-Ohio Division into league duals against Grove City and Lancaster on Thursday, Jan. 24, at Pickerington Central.
Mahaffey is home schooled, as is his younger brother, Titus, who competes for the Panthers at 138. According to teammate Josiah George, Elliot Mahaffey's work ethic remains as hard-nosed as ever.
"When we were in eighth grade, I'd get mad at him because he would just keep going even when I wanted a break," said George, who wrestles at 182. "Elliot and I push each other. He always wants to work 100 percent. I appreciate it now because now we go at each other and it's made both of us better."
Mahaffey feels that his improvement is a direct result of Oney's coaching style, which emphasizes repeated work on technique.
"He has a very basic style of coaching in the sense that he drills technique over and over again until you have mastered it," Mahaffey said. "We drilled every move, all the basic moves, 1,000 times over the summer. It's not about the super-difficult moves, more about the moves you can take and focus on and master to become a good wrestler, (as opposed to) learning 100 different moves and not knowing any of those all that well.
"We've probably only drilled 10 moves this year, all year, doing the same ones and taking them down to the basics so we can hit it in our sleep."
According to Oney, Mahaffey's soft-spoken personality meshes well with his businesslike demeanor on the mat.
"If I tell either of my two captains (George and Mahaffey) that something needs done, it's going to get done," Oney said.
"You don't have to be very vocal to be a good leader. You can lead by example. Just outwork people and do the right things and they do the right thing daily. You have to get the work done daily."
Boys team pulls into first-place tie
The boys basketball team did something against second-ranked Central on Jan. 18 that it was unable to do in the crosstown rivals' first meeting Dec. 7 -- take control early and never give it back.
Led by Jack Sawyer's 28 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals, North led 14-5 after the first quarter and saw a 13-point fourth-quarter lead whittled to five in the final minute before upsetting the host Tigers 65-55. The win pulled North into a first-place tie with Central atop the OCC-Ohio as both teams are 5-1, one game ahead of third-place Reynoldsburg (4-2).
North was 10-3 overall before playing Groveport on Jan. 22 and resumes league play Friday, Jan. 25, at home against Gahanna.
"Things got rough late, but we came together, made our free throws at the end and didn't get rattled," Sawyer said. "We kept our heads in the game. We couldn't focus on anything else. We kept grinding the game out and we got a huge win."
Chris Scott added 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists for the Panthers, who were coming off a 67-44 home loss to Logan on Jan. 15.
"Unfortunately, sometimes teams learn better when they lose ... and we dissected the Logan film as a group and figured out what we could have done differently," coach Jason Bates said. "After that, they were just locked in. I can't remember many times we've played against Central and not played well. I am proud of they executed and stuck to our script."
Earlier on Jan. 18, the girls basketball team fell to top-ranked Central 79-34. Saige Glover had 10 points to lead the Panthers, who gave up an 18-0 run spanning the first and second quarters and trailed 43-16 at halftime.
The Panthers were 6-8 overall before playing Groveport on Jan. 22 and are 4-3 in the league heading into a Jan. 25 home game against Gahanna.
Boys bowlers posting high scores
As far as bowling coach Mike Rossi is concerned, perhaps the best indicator of how tough his boys team's schedule has been is the fact that in each of the Panthers' first two losses, they knocked down more than 2,200 pins.
North was 6-2 overall, 6-1 in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B and 2-2 in the OCC-Central before a Jan. 22 match against Hilliard Davidson. The Panthers averaged 2,205.4 pins per match before Jan. 22, including a 2,308-2,208 loss to Marysville on Dec. 18 at Tiki Lanes and a 2,391-2,256 loss to Gahanna on Jan. 15 at Rule 3.
North's season-best output through eight matches came in a 2,318-2,217 win over Lancaster on Jan. 17 at Tiki Lanes.
"We've settled into a good routine with our top six guys and we're doing a little better than I expected," Rossi said. "We bowled well against Gahanna, but they rolled off about four or five strikes in a row in the Baker games and that really helped them pull away. We hung right with them most of the way, though. It was the same way against Marysville. We've been showing up well in practice and that has translated into matches."
The Panthers' average of 915.1 pins per game was fifth-best in the COHSBC through Jan. 18.
Justin Turnau had a team-best 203.6 average through eight matches, ahead of Steven Vance (200.4), Alex Zumock (175.9), Ethan Yurko (172.3) and Kyle Mace (166.3).
Alana Robinson's 138.7 average led the girls team through eight matches, ahead of Kathryn VanCourt (125.5), Sienna Reedus (117.7) and Evy Vance (105.4). The Panthers were 1-7 overall, 1-6 in the COHSBC-B and 1-3 in the OCC-Central before a match against Davidson on Jan. 22.
Their only win entering the week came against Marysville, 1,611-970 on Dec. 18.
"We've had some good teams around here, but this is one of our best years as far as competing in practice and that helping our overall approach," Rossi said. "In past years, maybe only a few spots were up for grabs. The lineup is even more competitive this year."
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 25 -- Home vs. Gahanna. The Panthers defeated the Lions 85-77 on Dec. 14.
Jan. 26 -- Olentangy Liberty in Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play by Play Classic at Pickerington Central
*Jan. 25 -- Home vs. Gahanna. The Panthers defeated the Lions 63-59 on Dec. 14.
Jan. 26 -- Hartley in Lady Nubian Classic at Africentric
Jan. 28 -- Home vs. Thornville Sheridan
Jan. 30 -- At Logan
*Jan. 29 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 26 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Upper Arlington
*Jan. 24 -- Grove City and Lancaster at Pickerington Central
Jan. 26 -- Watkins Memorial Invitational