The defensive play that helped it earn a share of the CCL championship and knock off one of the district's best teams in Division II during the final week of the regular season has the Watterson High School boys basketball team feeling optimistic as it begins the Division II district tournament.
The Eagles, though, aren't taking for granted a system that helped them beat Jonathan Alder -- the second seed in the district -- 40-31 on Feb. 19 and hold two other teams under 30 points.
"We've been game-planning, working on shooting and on our defense," senior guard Stephen Garrett said. "Our defensive effort right now is our strong part and our offense is getting better each game. Our defense is what's winning us games."
The seventh-seeded Eagles, who had a first-round bye in the district tournament, will play host to 24th-seeded Lakewood in a second-round game Saturday, March 2.
Despite being just 8-13, the Lancers gave eventual LCL champion Granville all it could handle before losing 49-42 on Jan. 18 and 39-38 on Feb. 15. The fact isn't lost on Eagles coach Vince Lombardo.
While Watterson has just one player averaging in double figures in senior guard Zach Sawyer (15 points per game), Lakewood has two players averaging 10 points in senior wing player Jacob Coffey and junior guard Austin Bowman and four others who average eight, including 6-foot-4 forward Zaven Boland.
"They've got a couple kids inside with some good size and three or four kids that shoot it pretty well," Lombardo said. "That'll be our first order of business, to defend them very well.
"Overall, I'd say we're playing pretty solid basketball right now. We've been pleased with our progress and I'm hoping we can continue it. Now is a good time to be playing good basketball."
Watterson is 13-8, having won seven of its last eight games.
The Eagles continue to adjust to the loss of sophomore guard Davis Boone, who emerged as one of their scoring leaders (8.0 ppg) but was lost to a left ankle injury Feb. 12 against Worthington Kilbourne.
According to Lombardo, Boone could return to the court if Watterson makes a deep postseason run.
The Watterson-Lakewood winner plays sixth-seeded Beechcroft, 17th-seeded Columbus East or 19th-seeded Bloom-Carroll in a district semifinal Tuesday, March 5, at a site to be determined. The district final is March 9 at Ohio Dominican.
Beechcroft is a defending district champion that was 17-4 before playing Bloom-Carroll on Feb. 25.
"We're starting to heat up at the right time," junior guard Mike Bruzzese said. "We've had a tough schedule, so that's really helped us."
Swim teams close season at state meet
The swimming and diving program had four individuals and one relay in the state meet last week at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Representing the boys team Feb. 21 and 22 in Division II was junior Michael Vondran, who finished 14th in the 50-yard freestyle (22.19 seconds) as the Eagles finished 53rd (3 points) behind champion Hunting Valley University School (331) as 61 teams scored.
"It's gone pretty well," Vondran said. "At the beginning of the season, I wasn't expecting us to have much of a team because we lost four seniors so it was nice to be able to put together a (boys relay) and have them with me at districts. Being (at state) the last two years was a big help. It was pretty much showing me how to handle the situation and keep my nerves down. With the experience I've had, I feel like I'm more ready than I have been."
Leading the girls team in the Division I state meet Feb. 22 and 23 was senior Elizabeth Intihar, who finished ninth in the 500 free (5:00.01) as the Eagles tied for 39th (99) behind champion Mason (204) as 55 teams scored.
Also competing at state were junior Mia Brown in the 50 free (18th, 24.22), freshman Olivia Oyster in the 100 free (20th, 53.09) and the 400 free relay of Intihar, freshman Lucia Cherok, Oyster and Brown (18th, 3:35.27).
According to Oyster, advancing in the postseason was "a good experience," particularly for the team's freshman class that also included Molly Shanahan, Lucy Loudon and Cailin O'Reilly.
At the district meet Feb. 15 at Ohio State, Shanahan joined Cherok, Brown and Oyster on the 200 medley relay that placed ninth and Loudon and O'Reilly joined senior Alyssa O'Sullivan and Intihar on the 200 free relay that finished 17th.
"We're looking good for the future," first-year coach Dan Cherok said.
Vondran was one of four boys swimmers in the program along with sophomore Luke Franckhauser and freshmen Max Latshaw and Mateo Pitones, and that group teamed up to place 15th in the 200 medley relay and 11th in the 200 free relay at district Feb. 14 at Ohio State.
Girls basketball team continues postseason
With a 37-31 victory over 20th-seeded Pickerington North on Feb. 22, the fourth-seeded girls basketball team advanced to a Division I district semifinal Feb. 27 against 13th-seeded Hilliard Darby.
The winner will face second-seeded Newark or 27th-seeded Westerville Central in a district final Saturday, March 2, at Ohio Dominican.
The district champion plays Upper Arlington, Northland, Reynoldsburg or Teays Valley in a regional semifinal Tuesday, March 5, at Otterbein. The regional final is March 8 at Otterbein.
Watterson, which beat Darby 52-36 on Dec. 23 at Quicken Loans Arena, had won 11 games in a row and was 22-2 after beating North, which finished 8-15.
Newark, which features two college commits in Morgan Sharps (Miami University) and Katie Shumate (Kent State), won the OCC-Capital Division title this season and was a regional semifinalist last season.
Watterson has been competing without seniors Lauren Lucki and Julianna DiSab-ato, both of whom were lost to season-ending injuries in late January.
Against North, Paige Woodford had 12 points and Grace Jenkins scored 10.
"We have to turn mistakes (the other team makes) on offense into points for us," coach Tom Woodford said.
Four wrestlers place at sectional
In its first postseason since the 2015-16 season, the wrestling team didn't have any Division II district qualifiers but did have four placers at the 23-team sectional Feb. 22 and 23 at Licking Valley.
Watterson finished 17th (32 points) behind champion London (235.5) as Kurvin Azor (145 pounds), Brady White (170), Matthew Johnson (195) and Max Balyeat (220) each placed sixth.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to district Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2, at Heath.
Also for the Eagles, Leo Pavell (132) went 2-2, Danny Siegel (160) and Nick Youell (182) both went 1-2 and Mike Ritzenthaler (152) finished 0-2.
Girls bowlers qualify for district tourney
With a 12th-place finish (3,060) behind champion Westerville Central (3,777) at the 37-team Division I sectional Feb. 22 at HP Lanes, the girls bowling team qualified for the district tournament Saturday, March 2, at the same site.
Leading the Eagles was Mary Pulsinelli, who placed 18th with a 523 three-game series.
At district, the top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to the state tournament March 8 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
The boys team finished 39th (2,819) in the 42-team sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes behind champion Marion Harding (4,336) as the top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district. Evan Donahue led the Eagles with a 108th-place finish (482).