When talk of Watterson High School reviving its wrestling program after a two-year hiatus began to surface, senior Michael Ritzenthaler was among those who immediately was on board.
He had no idea that he'd have so much company this winter, or that the team would have anywhere close to the success it has been enjoying.
Although it's not certain how many Eagles will compete in a Division II sectional tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Licking Valley, 13 wrestlers have gained experience this season -- most for the first time at the prep level.
"It's really good to see the new guys who haven't wrestled before or who haven't in a while, to see how they're doing on the mats and seeing what the coaches are teaching us and putting it into good use," Ritzenthaler said. "I was not expecting 13 guys to come out, honestly, with me being the only returning wrestler from the last team we had. It's a lot of freshmen and sophomores."
Ritzenthaler competed for the Eagles in the 2015-16 season when they had a pair of district qualifiers in 2016 graduates Ben Kring and Karrington Norwood.
Ritzenthaler had two older brothers who also wrestled for the program in 2016 graduate Jake Ritzenthaler and 2018 graduate Nick Ritzenthaler, and Michael had every intention of continuing with the program when it was announced that there wouldn't be a team for the 2016-17 season because of low numbers.
The Eagles' youth program, coached by former two-time state champion and Ready graduate Tommy Rowlands, has grown enough for the school to bring back the sport at the varsity level this winter.
On Jan. 23, the Eagles beat Whetstone 35-22 as Michael Ritzenthaler (152 pounds), sophomores Matthew Johnson (195) and Charlie McAdow (220) and freshmen Leo Pavell (138), Danny Siegel (160) and Brady White (182) all were winners.
The Eagles won't be competing in this year's CCL duals, but next year the CCL is expected to hold either an individual tournament or a dual tournament that will include Watterson.
To help continue with postseason preparation, Watterson competed in a junior varsity tournament Jan. 26 at Whitehall and faced Centennial on Jan. 29 in a dual and also will compete in j.v. tournaments Saturday, Feb. 2, at Madison Plains, Feb. 9 at Whetstone and Feb. 16 at Marysville.
The Eagles are coached by Felix Catheline, who previously was Columbus West's coach.
"It's going great," said Catheline, who also was an assistant football coach at Watterson last fall. "The kids are awesome and they're working hard. Our two seniors, Max Balyeat and Michael Ritzenthaler, are both doing pretty well. We've got 13 kids and our youth numbers are huge."
After the match against Whetstone, Siegel had a 7-1 record, with his only loss coming in the championship match of the Bobcat Classic on Jan. 5 at Grandview.
McAdow and White also have posted winning records, with White finishing third at the Bobcat Classic.
Also on the team are sophomores Santino Auddino (126), Kervin Auyer (152), Matthew Blank (145) and Nick Youell (170) and freshmen Theo Foley (182) and Patrick Randall (195).
Balyeat considered competing as a freshman but "wasn't feeling it." When talk of reviving the team began, he decided to give it another try.
"I kind of feel like it's a huge learning curve for everyone because there are only a couple guys who have wrestled in their entire life (before this season)," Balyeat said. "(Ritzenthaler and I are) the only two upperclassmen, so with everyone coming back, the next couple years they could have a couple guys really competing at a state level."
Hockey team stays serious on, off ice
The hockey team has just three games scheduled before it competes in the Blue Jackets Cup tournament in early February.
The Eagles were 7-17 overall and 4-8 in the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division after losing to Springboro 2-1 on Jan. 25 and falling to Thomas Worthington 5-1 on Jan. 26.
Two days after Watterson concluded the Toledo Walleye Winterfest Tournament by beating Parma Normandy 4-3 on Jan. 21, seniors Danny Kraft, Keegan Gibson and Kyle Hanley worked together in an off-ice activity.
The trio were among those involved with the program who visited Colerain Elementary on Jan. 23 to deliver food as part of "Eagles Feed Friends," a team effort that supports the Columbus City Schools' "Feed a Friend" program.
The food had been donated during the team's December and January home games, and the Eagles also raised more than $500 to be used to purchase household items.
Kraft's father, Brian Kraft, is a third-grade teacher at Colerain.
"Hockey is a tight-knit family, and our team recognizes as hockey players and Watterson students the importance of giving back to the community," said Kraft's mother, Nicole Kraft, who was among the parents who led the donation drive.
In the win over Normandy, Max Graham had a hat trick and Kraft scored the other goal.
Watterson, which lost to Normandy 4-3 on Jan. 20, returns to action Friday, Feb. 1, against Dublin Jerome at Chiller Dublin. Jerome was ranked first in last week's area coaches poll.
Swimmers prep for postseason
The swimming and diving teams begin the postseason Feb. 9 at Upper Arlington, with the boys competing in a Division II sectional and the girls in a Division I sectional.
On Jan. 26, the girls were runners-up (314 points) in the five-team CCL meet behind champion and host Columbus School for Girls (408) and the boys were last (111) of four teams as St. Charles (481.5) won.
Winning titles were Elizabeth Intihar in the 200-yard freestyle (1 minute, 59.34 seconds) and 500 free (5:18.16), Mia Brown in the 50 free (24.69) and 100 free (54.48) and the 400 free relay of Olivia Oyster, Lucia Cherok, Intihar and Brown (3:42.19) for the girls and Michael Vondran in the 50 free (22.48) for the boys.
Smith to return as boys soccer coach
The coach who guided the boys soccer team to the most successful period in its history is returning to the program.
Chad Smith, who went 63-34-8 from 2010-14 with four Division II district championships and a state runner-up finish in 2013, is taking over after Ed Mikula led the program the last four seasons.
The Eagles also were state semifinalists in 2010 and '14.
Under Mikula, Watterson went 27-35-8, including finishing 9-7-3 in 2016 and 9-7-1 in 2017 before going 3-10-4 last fall.
"Bishop Watterson is excited to announce that we've hired Chad Smith back as our head boys soccer coach," athletics director Doug Etgen said. "Chad was our coach from 2010-14 and was instrumental in leading our program to four district championships in five years. During that time, coach Smith gained high praise and respect from all his teams, (the players') parents (and) our community. We look forward to welcoming coach Smith back to lead our soccer team in the future."
Below are the coming schedules for the Watterson boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey and swimming & diving teams:
*Feb. 1 -- Home vs. St. Charles. The Eagles beat the Cardinals 53-46 on Dec. 21.
*Jan. 31 -- Home vs. Hartley. The Eagles lost to the Hawks 33-31 on Jan. 10.
Feb. 2 -- Home vs. Bexley
Feb. 4 -- At Jonathan Alder
*Jan. 31 -- Columbus East at Eastland Lanes
*Feb. 5 -- Ready at Game of Western Columbus. The boys team beat the Silver Knights 1,533-1,497 and the girls defeated the Knights 1,765-1,580 on Jan. 24.
*Feb. 1 -- Dublin Jerome at Chiller Dublin
*Feb. 2 -- Cincinnati Moeller at Northland Ice Center
*Feb. 3 -- Olentangy Orange at Chiller Dublin
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 1 -- At Thomas Worthington