Whitehall-Yearling High School wrestling coach Steve Pennington hopes a busy late-season schedule provides valuable experience for his team, which is coping with several injuries heading into the postseason.
"Anytime we're on the mat it's good," Pennington said. "The kids are getting better every time we get on the mat."
The Rams will prepare for a 10-team Division I sectional Feb. 23 at Newark by playing host to the four-team MSL-Ohio Division tournament Saturday, Feb. 16. Whitehall opens against Grandview, followed by matches against Columbus Academy and Bexley.
"I would like to get more teams in the league or maybe get aligned with some Division I schools," Pennington said. "That would give us better preparation for sectional. Down to just four teams wrestling, it's not good."
At sectional, the top four finishers in each weight class advance to district March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby.
The Rams competed in a tri-match Feb. 9 at Mount Gilead, defeating Marion Elgin 42-30 and losing to the host Indians 36-33.
Although his team continues to be hit hard by injuries, Pennington is looking for several individuals to have strong showings in the postseason.
Senior Raashad Strickland, who missed his junior season with a right knee injury sustained during football, leads the Rams with a 31-5 record at 120 pounds. Other top performers are Mike Dawkins (29-8, 132), Alex Rodriguez (28-13, 138), Carlos Rodriguez (20-16, 195) and Shea Jordan (19-15, 106).
Jordan has steadily improved throughout his freshman season and is looking forward to the postseason.
"We're pretty young," he said. "We don't have a full lineup, but we're still doing pretty well. I'm hoping to at least get to district. I expect tough matches (at sectional). I'm working to improve."
Jordan's father, Tim, is in his first season as an assistant coach with the program. The former coach at Utica, he was a Division II state qualifier for Ravenna before graduating in 1996 and also competed as a walk-on at Ohio State.
"Shea does a lot of work in the offseason and he's a great kid," Pennington said. "His biggest problem is he only weighs 99 pounds, so he gets muscled out when he's wrestling bigger 106 pounders, but he has a ton of technique and he knows what he's doing. He's one of the hardest-working kids we have and he's somebody that's worth building the program around."
Pennington said Andrew Dickens (220) and Mike Miles (182) continue to battle concussions, while Bradley Holley (160) is out with a shoulder injury and Jace Peck (145) has missed action with a knee injury.
"I still have a lot of injuries," Pennington said. "We don't have a ton of numbers, so it's tough. If I could have everybody healthy and in the lineup, we could be a lot more competitive, but the lack of depth is what kills you when injuries happen."
Boys basketball team winding down season
The boys basketball team saw its MSL-Ohio title hopes take a major hit with a 70-48 loss at Worthington Christian on Feb. 9.
Taylon Cofer led the Rams with a game-high 25 points. Whitehall dropped to 9-10 overall and 3-3 in the league.
Academy leads the league at 5-2, followed by Worthington Christian (4-3) and Whitehall.
The Rams visit Academy on Friday, Feb. 15, before playing host to Hartley on Saturday, Feb. 16, and Grandview on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in a makeup from Feb. 1.
Whitehall lost to Academy 42-40 on Jan. 23 and fell to Grandview 60-52 on Dec. 22.
The Rams are seeded 31st of 47 teams in the Division I district tournament and have a first-round bye. They play ninth-seeded Newark or 32nd-seeded Central Crossing in the second round March 1.
Girls basketball team to open tournament
The girls basketball team is seeded 10th in the Division II district tournament and plays host to 21st-seeded Columbus East in the first round Wednesday, Feb. 20. The winner plays at fourth-seeded Jonathan Alder in the second round Feb. 22.
The Rams were 11-9 overall before playing Beechcroft on Feb. 12. They are 4-3 in the MSL-Ohio and close the regular season Friday, Feb. 15, at Grandview in a makeup from Jan. 31. The Rams defeated the Bobcats 51-44 on Dec. 15.
Jewel Watkins scored 15 points and Brooklynn Greer added 12 in a 58-29 win over visiting Academy on Feb. 8.
Athletes announce college commitments
Four student-athletes anno-unced their college commitments Feb. 6.
Michael Bivens will play football at North Carolina A&T, Raymell Byrd will play football at Ashland, Chris Charles will compete in men's cross country at Tiffin and Keon Freeman will play football at Charleston.