The Groveport Madison High School boys basketball team is hoping to bottle the magic it displayed in its second upset win this season and disperse it during the Division I district tournament.
The Cruisers defeated Newark 46-43 on Feb. 8 for their first win over the Wildcats in 14 years.
"It shows that when we execute on both ends of the floor, especially on defense, and stick to the game plan, we give ourselves a chance to beat anybody," coach Ryan Grashel said. "We hadn't beaten (Newark) since 2005 and they only had five losses coming in. Now we've beaten the top two teams in the (OCC-Capital Division)."
The Cruisers beat Canal Winchester 70-64 on Jan. 25, handing the Indians their first loss of the season. The Indians and Wildcats both are 7-2 in the OCC-Capital entering their showdown in the league finale Friday, Feb. 15, at Newark.
Groveport is 13-8 overall and 5-4 in the league entering its regular-season finale Feb. 15 at Big Walnut. The Cruisers, who lost to the Golden Eagles 51-49 on Jan. 11, and Big Walnut are tied for third in the league at 5-4.
"I think we are playing some pretty good basketball right now and that's despite a spate of injuries that has kept our trainer busy," said Grashel, whose team has won five of its last seven games. "I think our guys are trusting each other and making plays for their teammates. Nakhi Taylor has become more aggressive and has taken ownership of this team. He's averaging over 20 points per game since the Canal Winchester game and is doing the job on the defensive end as well."
Taylor scored 11 of the team's first 14 points against Newark.
"It's my last year and I don't want it to end," Taylor said. "I want us to play as long as we can. (Grashel) came to me and asked me to do more, to play harder and to take control and that's what I've been trying to do. It's not just about scoring. It's about playing harder the entire game at both ends of the floor. He told me if I did that, my teammates would follow and they have."
"Nakhi came out aggressive against Newark, just like he has in the second half of the season," Grashel said. "He's shooting it well and getting to the free-throw line. He wasn't getting to the line like that in the first half of the season. We're getting him the ball in better situations where he can utilize his skills. He was getting face-guarded and still scored 11 points early (against Newark) and that set the tone."
The Cruisers did not allow an offensive rebound in the first half against Newark. The game was tied at 20 at halftime.
"The guys followed the game plan and everyone was doing their share, playing their roles," Grashel said. "Javon Miller had a big game on the offensive and defensive boards and Elijah Hawk also rebounded well. Scott Lomax gave us great minutes off the bench and Terrence Kee and Elijah Monroe are making the right plays at big times. We're jelling at the right time of the season."
The Cruisers are seeded 21st of 47 teams in the district tournament and will play host to 23rd-seeded St. Charles in the first round Feb. 23, with the winner playing at 17th-seeded Thomas Worthington in the second round March 1.
Wrestlers seeking outright league title
The wrestling team will be seeking the outright OCC-Capital championship when it visits Newark on Thursday, Feb. 14, in its league finale.
The Cruisers clinched at least a share of their third consecutive league title by outlasting New Albany 28-25 on Feb. 7, handing the Eagles their first league loss. Groveport improved to 4-0 in the OCC-Capital while New Albany fell to 3-1.
"It was well over a two-hour dual and it was intense wrestling throughout, but we did just enough to pull it out on senior night in front of a loud crowd," coach Brian Brison said. "Everyone here was on the edge of their seats all night long, with so many 50-50 matches.
"It's a testament to the kids for their hard work because we've prepared for these one- and two-point matches all season and tonight most of the matches were like that. We had a few matches where we battled off our backs and came back to win. It was gutsy stuff."
Groveport lost the first three matches against New Albany and trailed 13-0 before battling back. The Cruisers took their first lead, 22-19, on a pin by Eli Jackson at 106 pounds. Jason Pinkston then overcame a third-period deficit to beat Dominic Vyas 8-4 at 113 to make it 25-19 and Muhamad Conteh clinched the Cruisers' victory with a 5-3 win in two overtimes at 120 against Colin Swincicki.
"That was one of the hardest matches I've had all year and I was losing the whole match," Pinkston said. "I couldn't shoot, but I finally got up and out a few times. This is one of the greatest feelings I've ever had. I think next year could be a better one when we win our fourth in a row."
Others posting wins included Marshaun Armstrong at 152, Jake Nelson at 195 and A.J. Joyce at 220.
"This means so much to us as a team and to me individually," Conteh said. "(Swincicki) beat me 7-6 last year in the Licking Valley sectional and was a district qualifier. I had to step up for my team and it's good for my confidence if I see him again (in the postseason)."
"Nelson beat one of their district qualifiers and Conteh beat one of their best wrestlers to clinch it in dramatic fashion," Brison said. "Every point mattered and everyone in our lineup did their share, whether that was staying off their backs or whatever."
Keane to swim in three district events
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams both will be represented in the Division I district meet Friday, Feb. 15, at Ohio State.
Leading the way for the boys team is senior Spencer Keane, who is seeded sixth in the 100-yard breaststroke and 19th in the 100 freestyle and is on the 29th-seeded 200 free relay with Jordan Murphy, Carl Gidden and Trevor Keane.
The lone district qualifier for the girls team is Madison Newsom, who is seeded 25th in the 500 free.
The top two finishers in each swimming event automatically qualify for the state meet Feb. 21-23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large berths will be awarded in each event based on times statewide.
Groveport competed Feb. 9 in a sectional at Upper Arlington, with Keane placing third in the 100 breast (59.73 seconds) and seventh in the 100 free (49.37), the boys 200 free relay placing ninth (1:43.38) and Newsom placing seventh in the 500 free (5:35.54).
All of the Cruisers' district qualifiers advanced with at-large berths.
Divers begin their postseason at district. The boys compete Thursday, Feb. 14, and the girls compete Feb. 15 at Ohio State. The top four boys and top five girls qualify for state.
Girls team to battle top-seeded Tigers
The girls basketball team will play at top-seeded Pickerington Central in the first round of the Division I district tournament Saturday, Feb. 16.
The winner faces 10th-seeded Hamilton Township in the second round Feb. 22.
The Cruisers, who are seeded 38th of 45 teams, lost to Lancaster 46-27 in their home finale Feb. 5 and lost 80-32 at Newark in their regular-season and league finale Feb. 8 to drop to 5-17 overall.
Groveport finished 2-8 in the OCC-Capital.
Landaverde resigns as boys soccer coach
Ivan Landaverde has stepped down after two seasons as boys soccer coach.
The Cruisers finished 9-6-3 last fall after going 10-4-4 in 2017.
"Ivan did a great job for the program, but does not work in the school system," athletics director Steve Petros said. "Unfortunately, his work schedule won't allow him the time needed to coach after his work schedule changed."
Petros said he hopes to have the position filled by the end of the month.