Keeping the big picture in perspective paid off for both the Northland and South high school boys basketball teams this winter.
On the opening night of City League-South Division action Dec. 11, the Bulldogs lost 78-74 at home to a rising Walnut Ridge team that features one of central Ohio's top juniors in VonCameron Davis.
The Vikings, who lost four City-North games a season ago and returned just one player with significant experience in senior guard N'Keeley Elmore, lost twice in the first round of league play.
Despite those early obstacles, South will meet Northland in the City championship game at noon Saturday, Feb. 16, at Africentric. The contest represents a rematch of the 2017 title game, which the Bulldogs won 65-51 to capture their first City championship since 1980.
"We're really inexperienced, so I'm elated," Vikings coach Sean Taylor said. "If you'd have told me we'd (be in this position) after losing our first two games (of the season) ... I'm happy with our progress."
Northland won seven City titles in a row from 2007-13 and also captured championships in 2015 and '16.
South, which was competing in its first City final since 1988 when it won the title two years ago, avenged the loss to the Scots by winning the second-round league matchup 56-46 on Jan. 18.
The Bulldogs, who were 19-1 overall before playing Linden-McKinley on Feb. 12, finished 13-1 to win the City-South as Walnut Ridge went 11-3.
South wrapped up the City-South title with a 68-42 victory over host Africentric on Feb. 5. The Nubians are 10-10 overall but upset Walnut Ridge 65-62 on Feb. 4, and the Scots also lost to Eastmoor Academy 55-53 on Feb. 5.
South was first in the Division II area coaches poll and third in the state poll last week.
"I told the guys from the word go, 'Everybody has to play everybody (in the City-South) twice," Bulldogs coach Ramon Spears said. "I just kept the guys engaged and told them the goal was still to be in first place. But the main thing was that we were still fighting and hoping that something would happen."
Elmore averages 20.5 points, sophomore guard Makhale Massey averages 14 and freshman guard Robert Dorsey averages 10 to lead the Vikings, who are 15-5 overall and finished first in the City-North at 12-2.
Beechcroft was 11-2 in the City-North before closing the league schedule Feb. 11 against International, but the Vikings hold the tiebreaker since the Cougars appeared in the City final more recently. Beechcroft defeated Eastmoor 71-66 in last year's championship game.
After losing to Centennial 69-63 on Jan. 15, Northland trailed Beechcroft by one game in the league standings, but the Vikings took control of the City-North by defeating the visiting Cougars 73-70 on Jan. 29.
Needing to win its final three games in league play, Northland blew out Mifflin 68-42 on Feb. 5 but needed overtime to beat East 71-62 on Feb. 7 and then got 27 points from Elmore to edge Centennial 58-56 on Feb. 8.
Senior guard Treohn Watkins was averaging 14.5 points through 20 games to lead South. Also for the Bulldogs, junior guard Taquan Simington was averaging 13.5 points and junior forward Marcus Johnson was averaging 11.5.
"I've got a good group of guards that have been together since their (junior varsity) days," Spears said. "The community is backing us. We're playing for something that's bigger than South High School."
Nubians girls beat Vikings for City title
With a 64-36 victory over Northland on Feb. 9 at South, the Africentric girls basketball team earned its 11th City championship in its 16-year history.
The Nubians, who built a 35-14 lead by halftime and improved to 20-0 with the win, are the No. 1 seed for the Division III district tournament and open the postseason Tuesday, Feb. 19, at home against 22nd-seeded Fairbanks.
The defending state champion, Africentric has won two state titles in the past three seasons and six overall.
According to coach Will McKinney, it's uncertain when or if junior starting guard Nyam Thornton will return from an injury sustained in late January.
"We have a lot of fight in us," said senior guard Jordan Horston, who had 11 points and nine assists against the Vikings. "We don't want to let anybody down. We have a lot of pressure on our shoulders trying to make history and I just feel like we're all locked in. We're all ready to play as a team and play together."
Northland, which fell to 16-6 with the loss to Africentric, got 12 points from Azariah Binford and seven apiece from Alexandria Hamilton and Jaylen Muldrow against the Nubians.
The Vikings are seeded 12th for the Division I district tournament and have a first-round bye. They will play host to 31st-seeded Watkins Memorial in the second round Feb. 22.
"All we're going to do is get ready for Watkins Memorial," Northland coach Jaybee Bethea said. "If we make a run in the tournament, no one's going to remember (losing in the City final)."
Scots capture City dual wrestling title
For the fourth time in the six-year history of the City dual tournament, the Walnut Ridge wrestling team came out on top.
The Scots beat defending City champion and host Mifflin 51-19 and Whetstone defeated West 54-36 in semifinals Feb. 7. That same night, Walnut Ridge beat Whetstone 63-15 for the championship.
"Repetition and experience had a lot to do with it," said Scots junior Sihlas Padmore, who competes at 152 pounds. "We have a lot of experienced guys. A couple years back when we won, I didn't contribute a lot, so it felt good to contribute to the win this time."
The City individual tournament will be held Saturday, Feb. 16, at Mifflin.
Last season, Mifflin scored 186.5 points to win the City tournament, with East (174), West (162), Whetstone (141.5) and Walnut Ridge (136) rounding out the top five.
"Coach (Steve Ayers) worked on our conditioning day after day after day the entire season," said Walnut Ridge senior Nykese Averett, who competes at 182. "As long as we can last six minutes, you win half the battle there. It feels so much better to come back and beat the team that won it last year in the first round."
Cougars swimmers do well at sectional
At a Division II sectional swimming meet Feb. 9 at Columbus Academy, Beech-croft's sister duo of junior Zora Whitfield and freshman Nyrobi Whitfield turned in strong performances.
Nyrobi Whitfield finished 13th in the 100-yard freestyle (59.91 seconds) and 18th in the 200 individual medley (2:32.02) and Zora Whitfield was 18th in the 100 butterfly (1:13.05).
The district meet is Thursday, Feb. 14, at Ohio State. The top two finishers in each swimming event automatically advance to the state meet, which runs Wednesday, Feb. 20, through Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
For district, Nyrobi Whitfield is seeded 23rd in the 100 free and 29th in the 200 IM and Zora Whitfield is seeded 29th in the 100 fly.
"The whole (Whitfield) family comes (to the meets), it's phenomenal," coach Dan Zedeker said. "(Nyrobi is) the best in the City in every event there is. We've won some meets this year and we haven't done that in a couple years. We were going with four girls and winning meets with four girls. We went up to Marion and took third of nine teams and some of those teams had 30 kids. That's how good we're doing."
Also competing at sectional for the Cougars were freshman Lily Braaksma of the girls team and senior Luke Bocook and juniors Jaime Cornejo and Preston Ratcliff for the boys squad.