Nathen Eberhardt shook up his routine for his final day as a Pickerington High School Central swimmer and ended up being one of the first Division I state meet competitors to arrive at Branin Natatorium in Canton on Feb. 22.

Still, the senior said his early arrival didn't overcome whatever simply felt off as he finished 17th in the 100-yard backstroke (52 seconds) and tied for 23rd in the 200 freestyle (1:45.22).

"My swims were just all right, nothing great," said Eberhardt, who was a state qualifier for the second consecutive season. "I don't know if my focus was just off. I changed a few little things. I did one big butterfly after the 100 mark (in the 200 free) when I usually do two. My coaches mentioned to me that I should be awake four hours before a race so I got up at 5:30 (a.m.) and was (at Branin) at 6:15 in the morning. I was the first swimmer here. It was just little stuff like that I changed to see if it would work."

Eberhardt, who also said he battled a cold earlier last week, missed the consolation final in the 100 back by one spot and .01 of a second. That was the same margin by which he fell short of the district championship seven days earlier at Ohio State when he finished second to New Albany's Jimmy Lapsley in 51.14.

Eberhardt, the Tigers' only state qualifier, tied Ben Neff of OCC-Ohio Division rival Lancaster in the 200 free.

Central did not score at the meet. Cincinnati St. Xavier (310) won its 10th consecutive state championship and 40th overall as 49 teams scored.

"Nate had an incredible season. One meet does not define his season in any way, shape or form. He did everything we asked of him," coach Justin Dortch said. "He wanted to try a few different things (last weekend). I think it was a lesson learned for him. He learned more about himself throughout his career. He sees what works and what doesn't, but he's pushed through everything. He's one of the 24 fastest kids in the state in two events."

Seven district qualifiers are eligible to return, four of whom are on the boys team in junior Sam Bechert (200 medley relay) and sophomores Brett Eberhardt (200 free, 200 free relay, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay), Braeden Lehrman (200 free relay, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay) and Alex Rowles (200 free relay).

Junior Paige Christy of the girls team competed at district in the 100 back, 100 butterfly, 200 medley relay and 400 free relay. Freshman Bella Jones also competed in the 400 free relay as well as in the 200 free relay and 200 free, and freshman Makenna Garn competed in the 100 breaststroke and 200 medley relay.

Eberhardt, a Cleveland State recruit, marveled at the last two seasons, which included a 16th-place finish at state in the 100 back as a junior. According to Dortch, Eberhardt owns every individual record at Central except the 50 free and 100 fly.

"They've been amazing," Eberhardt said. "As a freshman, I was 30th in the 100 back at district. I dropped six seconds my sophomore year and another two seconds (as a junior) to get to state and then I dropped another second or so this year. If you'd have told me when I was a freshman that I'd be second at district as a junior, I'd have said you were crazy. I loved high school swimming, every minute of it."

Nine wrestlers advance to district tourney

Nine members of the wrestling team will compete in the Division I district tournament Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2, at Hilliard Darby.

Trevor Mangahas won the 126-pound championship in a 10-team sectional Feb. 23 at Upper Arlington, going 3-0 and pinning the Golden Bears' Jacob Shanklin in 1:32 in the final. That led the Tigers to 172 points and third place behind champion UA (237).

Central got runner-up finishes from Bo Branson (120) and Keaton Middendorf (160), third-place finishes from Kaleb Mangahas (106), Silas Pearson (182) and Marcus Zullo (152) and fourth-place finishes from Dae'vion Hargrow (170), Garrett Meek (heavyweight) and Holden Walters (132).

The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to district.

Branson also finished second at sectional last year before placing third at district to earn his first state tournament berth.

Also competing but failing to advance were Blake Benson (145, fifth, 2-2), Alex Epps (220, sixth, 1-3), Cameron Griffith (195, sixth, 1-3) and Carter Wade (138, sixth, 0-3).

At district, the top four finishers in each weight class qualify for the state tournament March 7-9 at Ohio State.

Arnet, Merkel prep for district bowling

While neither the boys nor girls bowling teams qualified for their respective Division I district tournaments Saturday, March 2, at HP Lanes, Jaycie Arnet and Kate Merkel of the girls team will compete as individuals.

Merkel tied for 19th (522) of 222 individuals and Arnet was 54th (459) at sectional Feb. 22 at HP Lanes, leading the Tigers to 23rd place (2,772) behind champion Westerville Central (3,777) as 37 teams scored.

The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district.

Also scoring for Central were Kathy Burgess (110th, 373), Kiara Kozak (tied for 114th, 363), Allison Whisman (171st, 220) and Frankie Moore (215th, 88).

At district, the top three individuals not on one of the three qualifying teams advance to the state tournament March 8 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.

The boys team finished one spot shy of advancing from their sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes, placing 17th (3,620) behind champion Marion Harding (4,336) as 42 teams scored. Central finished 24 pins behind 16th-place Olentangy Orange.

Grant Gilkey was 60th (540) to lead the Tigers, followed by Christian Kirton (73rd, 526), Evan Tailford (80th, 520), Jamison Stoniosis (81st, 518) and Travis Allasi (tied for 101st, 491).

Boys basketball team routs Cougars

Jahvon Garcia's 23 points led a balanced effort as the third-seeded boys basketball team began the Division I district tournament with an 85-33 home victory over 45th-seeded Westland in a first-round game Feb. 23.

Coleton Landis added 15 points, Garner Wallace scored 14 and Tahleik Walker scored 11 as Central improved to 22-1. The Tigers will play host to 44th-seeded Columbus West in a second-round game Friday, March 1.

The winner will play 15th-seeded Gahanna or 26th-seeded Big Walnut in a district semifinal Wednesday, March 6, at a site to be announced. The district final is March 9 at Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Central defeated Gahanna twice in OCC-Ohio play, winning 63-54 on Jan. 11 and 72-45 on Feb. 15.

Girls team advances to district semifinal

The top-seeded girls basketball team played 17th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 27 at Central Crossing, needing two wins to capture its fourth consecutive district championship.

The Tigers were not threatened in a 92-15 home rout of 44th-seeded Hamilton Township on Feb. 22, as they led 33-5 after the first quarter and 59-8 at halftime.

Maliya Perry had 23 points, Madison Greene scored 13 and Jada Tate added 10 for Central, which improved to 23-1.

Through 24 games, the Tigers had played just three games all season decided by fewer than 10 points and had won four of their previous five games by an average of 58 points. The exception was a 61-50 win over Newark on Feb. 9.

The Central-Scioto winner will play ninth-seeded Hilliard Davidson or 10th-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a district final Saturday, March 2, at Ohio Dominican.

The district champion faces Dresden Tri-Valley, Dublin Coffman, Gahanna or Westerville South in a regional semifinal Tuesday, March 5, at Otterbein. The regional final is March 8 at Otterbein.

Central defeated Gahanna 61-43 on Dec. 4 and 71-52 on Jan. 11 and beat South 61-42 on Jan. 8.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave