After falling one place short of a Division I state tournament berth as a junior, Olentangy High School wrestler Nick Varanelli says his entire approach has changed this season.
"My freshman, sophomore and junior years, I'd wrestle to keep it close and not lose," Varanelli said. "This year, scoring more is a big emphasis. Every time before I go out on the mat, (coach Dennis Lyberger) slaps my hand and says 'score points.' That's what I try to do. I can score points by getting another takedown. Don't rest on bottom, get another takedown, that sort of thing."
Coming off a 30-15 season, Varanelli has combined that philosophy with a measured approach to lead the Braves in victories with a 27-10 record at 132 pounds. Classmate Brady Pethtel, who missed more than a month because of mono, is 22-4 at 145 and 152 as the Braves take a 2-1 record in the OCC-Buckeye Division into a Thursday, Feb. 7, home match against Westerville North.
Pethtel and Varanelli led Olentangy in the Division I, Region 5 team dual tournament Feb. 2 at Marsyville. Both won both of their matches as the fifth-seeded Braves went 1-1, defeating 12th-seeded Thomas Worthington 54-18 before losing to fourth-seeded Delaware 58-15 in a quarterfinal.
As successful as Varanelli has been, Lyberger said he wants to see him rolling up more points.
"He's a low-scoring guy and our goal is to score points, but he's not there yet," Lyberger said. "He is more a 4-3 or 5-4-type guy and I think he has to get to where he really wants to score points. He rode a kid (Delaware's Zach Raquepaw) for over four minutes (in a 9-1 win Feb. 2). If he took him down, maybe that's more points. I just want him to be more proactive with scoring."
Despite his illness, Pethtel passed last year's win total with his two victories Feb. 2.
He went 5-2 at 145 in the prestigious Medina Invitational Tournament that concluded Dec. 28, winning his first two matches and five of his first six despite feeling his energy ebb throughout the event.
Pethtel had to forfeit his third-place match against Grafton Midview's Andrew Philion because of illness. Three nights later, Pethtel went to bed at 7:30 p.m. and slept for 14.5 hours.
"I had some of my biggest wins of the year (at Medina) but I was super worn-out," said Pethtel, who originally thought he had strep throat. "I weighed 158 after Medina and I was 143 a week and a half later. I'm back up to 147, 148 now. At first, it was nice to have a break, but I started missing everything pretty quickly. I'd just gotten in the best shape of my life at Medina and then to have it all fall apart was pretty rough."
Pethtel was cleared to compete Jan. 31.
"How will he come back? We're still waiting to see," Lyberger said. "It's a matter of being in shape or keeping your mind right. He can't gradually get back. Sectional is coming up (Feb. 23 at Newark)."
The Braves are hopeful that Kent State recruit Jacob Sherman can return this week. Sherman, who placed fourth at state at 113 as a junior, has missed the entire season because of knee surgery. He is expected to compete at 126 once he returns.
"I've been drilling with him. He's been bringing it and I've been bringing it," Varanelli said. "It'd be great to have him back for the most important time of the year."
Hockey team wins division title
The hockey team clinched its second Capital Hockey Conference division championship in three years Feb. 2, defeating Springboro 3-2 at Chiller Easton, and will participate in the Blue Jackets Cup this weekend.
Olentangy is 17-11-0-3 overall and finished 10-6 in the league with 20 points, first in the CHC-White and two points ahead of second-place Orange (18, 9-6).
In its 18th season, the Blue Jackets Cup begins Thursday, Feb. 7, and concludes Sunday, Feb. 10, with the championship game at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The tournament includes all of the CHC's 16 teams.
The top five teams in the CHC-Red and the top two in the CHC-White are in the championship bracket, along with the winner of the regular-season matchup between the CHC-Red's sixth-place team and the third-place finisher from the CHC-White.
The other eight teams play in the consolation bracket.
Olentangy found out its postseason path during the district tournament draw Feb. 6.
Gymnasts prepare for league meet
The gymnastics team will compete in the OCC-Buckeye meet Saturday, Feb. 9, at Thomas, seeking its third consecutive championship in the event after going 4-0 in league dual meets this season.
Olentangy scored 140.5 points in last year's league meet to finish ahead of Liberty (128.15), Orange (124.75), Big Walnut (118.75) and Westerville Central (118.325).
Individually, Wen Holmes will attempt to defend her championship in uneven bars and improve on last year's second-place finish on vault.
The Braves are 31-2 this season and undefeated against central Ohio teams. The only teams to beat them are Mentor and Hudson, who finished first and second, respectively, ahead of Olentangy in the McGee Invitational on Jan. 12 at Dublin Coffman.
Weitthoff named volleyball coach
Six years after helping start the boys volleyball team, Travis Weitthoff is returning to the sidelines to become girls volleyball coach.
Weitthoff succeeds Sarah Polhemus, who resigned in November after two seasons to pursue a master's degree. She went 35-15 overall and 12-8 in the OCC-Buckeye with two Division I district runner-up finishes.
Athletics director Jay Wolfe announced the hire, which is pending school board approval, on Jan. 28.
Weitthoff was 30-38 as boys volleyball coach from 2013-15. More than half of those wins came in his final season, when the Braves went 16-9 and advanced to a Division I East Region semifinal. They had gone 8-14 in their inaugural season in 2013 and 6-15 in 2014.
Weitthoff is a business and marketing teacher at Olentangy.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and swimming & diving teams:
*Feb. 8 -- At Orange. The Braves lost to the Pioneers 66-65 on Jan. 4.
Feb. 12 -- At Marion Harding
*Feb. 8 -- Home vs. Orange. The Braves defeated the Pioneers 46-43 on Jan. 4.
Feb. 16 -- At 10th-seeded Liberty in first round of Division I district tournament. The Braves are seeded 32nd.
*Feb. 7 -- Big Walnut at Capri Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 9 -- Division I sectional meet at Kenyon College. The winner of each event automatically qualifies for the district meet Feb. 15 at Ohio State. In addition, 27 at-large district berths will be awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites. Divers do not compete until district.