With two freshmen among its key players during the 2015-16 season, the Beechcroft High School girls basketball team endured a 5-16 finish that included losing by 38 points in its district tournament opener.
Those two players, guard Aniah Brown and forward Grace Gales, are now seniors and have helped lead the Cougars to a third consecutive winning record. Now they're hoping for postseason success.
Beechcroft, which hasn't won a district tournament game since 2015, is the sixth seed for the Division II district tournament and opens with a second-round game Friday, Feb. 22, at home against 12th-seeded Olentangy Berlin or 14th-seeded Bloom-Carroll.
The winner plays third-seeded Big Walnut, 23rd-seeded Horizon Science Academy or 24th-seeded International in a district semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 26, at a site to be announced.
The district final is March 1 at Westerville Central.
"The girls are learning, understanding, growing and working hard in practice each and every day," Cougars coach Mike Moncrief said. "It's all started with Aniah Brown, one of our senior captains, and she's stepped up and been unbelievable defensively. She's doing her thing, and the seniors are starting to lead now."
Beechcroft enters the postseason with a 14-6 record that includes finishing as runner-up in the City League-North Division at 12-2.
Brown and freshman guard La'Larra Bays both were named first-team all-City-North, with sophomore guard La'Briar Franklin-Page making the second team and Gales and junior guard Syrai Armstead both making honorable mention.
Senior guard Shailin Hasty also has been a key player.
"La'Larra is a freshman, and she's our second-leading scorer," Moncrief said. "La'Larra wants to play in college and she will because she works so hard. La'Briar is a sophomore, and with La'Larra, Grace and Shaylin, it's been great to see these girls start to succeed because they work hard."
Also starting district tournament play Feb. 22 is Northland, which is the 12th seed in Division I and opens as host to 31st-seeded Watkins Memorial.
The winner plays seventh-seeded Upper Arlington or 25th-seeded Licking Heights in a district semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 27, at a site to be announced. That winner advances to a district final March 2 at Ohio Dominican.
Last season, Northland lost to UA 69-54 in a district semifinal.
The Vikings had 13 days of preparation before facing Watkins Memorial after losing to Africentric 64-36 on Feb. 9 in the City championship game.
Northland, which also had two first-team all-league honorees in senior guard Alexandria Hamilton and sophomore guard Azariah Binford, is 16-6 overall, including going 14-0 in the City-North. Senior guard Iyauna Bonner was second-team all-league and senior guard Jaylen Muldrow was honorable mention.
"(Losing to Africentric was) definitely a learning experience," Vikings coach Jaybee Bethea said. "We're not going to see anybody again with that big of a backcourt and frontcourt. We've got to get focused. There's no point in holding your head down. Up (until that game), we were playing very well. Our early schedule was good and tough for us."
Scots, Vikings shine in City wrestling
The Walnut Ridge wrestling team had all 12 of its competitors place in the top six in their respective weight classes and totaled 237.5 points to capture the title in the City tournament Feb. 16 at Mifflin.
It marks the fourth league championship in five seasons for the Scots, who placed ahead of Northland (132), East (122), Whetstone (106), South (100), Mifflin (89), West (86), Marion-Franklin (83.5), Linden-McKinley (69), Beechcroft (54), Centennial (27) and Briggs (7).
Capturing titles for the Scots were Yaniel Castillo (126 pounds), Sihlas Padmore (152), Mohamadou Diouf (170) and Nykese Averett (182), while Jenrri Molina (106), Angel Sambois (132), James Miller (195), Leonte Thomas (220) and Amarion Williams (heavyweight) each placed second.
Walnut Ridge coach Steve Ayers believes several of his wrestlers will contend for district berths from a 10-team Division I sectional Saturday, Feb. 23, at Watkins Memorial. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to district March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby.
"The kids have been working hard," Ayers said. "The big thing all year is finishing. We're looking forward to the sectionals."
Edwin Duran (113) and Correy Craddolph (220) captured titles and Ahmed Saleh (138) and Carlos Galdamez (152) placed second in the City tournament for Northland, which will be competing in a Division I sectional Feb. 23 at Marysville.
"(The work we did) was worth it," Vikings coach Joe Murray said. "I'm not sure the last time Northland finished in the top two (at the City tournament). I know the last time that Northland won the championship was 1982, so hopefully everyone who can return next season does and we can continue to build the program."
Earning a City title for Beechcroft was Alhaji Sidibe (195), while teammate Ibrahim Camara (160) was runner-up.
"It's been fun," Sidibe said. "We came here with the mindset that we were going to come in and do what we had to do, and we got two guys in finals."
Boys basketball teams prep for postseason
The South boys basketball team will try to follow its City championship by going on a Division II district title run.
The Bulldogs, who won district titles in 2015 and '18 and are the top seed for this year's tournament, open postseason play Monday, Feb. 25, at home against 23rd-seeded Olentangy Berlin.
On Feb. 16 at Africentric, South beat Northland 68-51 to win its second City title in three seasons.
"It's a surreal feeling," said Bulldogs coach Ramon Spears, whose team is 20-1. "We talked about it at the school and we just looked at our schedule and we couldn't fathom we'd be where we're at. ... Our stamina from just running and the style we play helps us tremendously."
City-South runner-up Walnut Ridge is 17-4 and seeded 12th for the Division I district tournament. The Scots open the postseason Saturday, Feb. 23, at home against 33rd-seeded Marysville.
Northland is 15-6 and the 19th seed for the Division I district tournament. The Vikings open the postseason March 1 at 16th-seeded Olentangy.
"We only have one guy with varsity experience, but we're trying to grow up," Vikings coach Sean Taylor said.
Northland and Beechcroft tied for first in the City-North at 12-2, but the Vikings held the tiebreaker to determine which team played for the City title because the Cougars had won last year's City championship.
Beechcroft, which is 16-4 and the sixth seed for the Division II district tournament, opens the postseason Feb. 25 at home against 19th-seeded Bloom-Carroll. The winner plays East on March 2 at the home of the higher seed.
Cougars, Warriors swim at district
The Beechcroft and Eastmoor Academy swimming and diving programs both had multiple competitors at the Division II district meet Feb. 14 at Ohio State.
Competing at district for the Cougars were junior Zora Whitfield and her sister, freshman Nyrobi Whitfield.
Nyrobi placed 17th in the 100-yard freestyle (58.81 seconds) and 26th in the 200 individual medley (2:31.88) and Zora was 29th in the 100 butterfly (1:12.56).
Nyrobi won the third heat of the 100 free.
"This is the first time my sister and I have been to districts, but I've been dreaming about it and this is kind of what it looked like," Nyrobi said. "I hate the 200 IM, but that's been the one that I've won the most in."
Zora is hoping to return to district next season.
"I really loved the experience because I practice with a lot of these kids on my club team," Zora said. "My overall season has inspired me to practice more for next year and do more weight training. We're trying to build our team."
For the Eastmoor boys team, freshman Daylen Allen placed 20th in the 100 breaststroke (1:13.32) and 28th in the 200 free (2:11.78) and joined junior Tristan Fountain and sophomores Kingston Hunt and Solomon Hunt on the 200 medley relay that finished 27th (2:06.62).
"It's the first time we've (had swimmers at) district since before I was coaching at Eastmoor, and I've been here for six years," coach Joe Crowley said. "Our boys took off time. We have a freshman, Daylen Allen, who was very happy to be representing Columbus (City Schools). Tristan is a junior who's come leaps and bounds since last year and his freshman year. He's looking forward to coming back next year. The Hunt brothers' older brother, Legend, made it to district (in diving the past two seasons), and they wanted to make it to district on their own."