Bilal Sow expected that vigorous offseason work last summer would translate into a memorable junior campaign for the Canal Winchester High School boys basketball team.
It has so far, as Sow has been a primary reason why the Indians were 20-4 before playing fifth-seeded Pickerington North in a Division I district semifinal March 6 at Groveport.
But the 6-foot-4 junior forward did not expect to be the team's leading scorer through 24 games, no matter the margin. Sow had 458 points before March 6, 31 more than senior guard Brady Snyder, who was the team's leading scorer by a wide margin as a junior.
"I did not expect that at all. I'd have thought that would be Brady by a lot," said Sow, who had a career-high 32 points in the 10th-seeded Indians' 75-48 rout of 25th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley in a second-round game March 1. "I worked on both my offense and defense pretty much equally (last summer), but knew I had to improve on defense and take more pride in that. I think I run the floor better. When I watched film, I'd always get blown by on my first step (getting back on defense). I'm much better at that now."
Sow also averages 8.0 rebounds, second on the team to Cole Metzler's 9.5. Sow's defensive improvement impresses coach Lyndell Snyder even more than his offensive contributions.
"We're a tough matchup and Bilal is a major part of why," coach Snyder said. "I knew last summer that he was going to have a good year because he worked so hard at it and he is a coachable, coachable player. He is good at what we ask him to do. I have to kick him out of the gym every night because he wants to shoot until I turn the lights off. Defensively, he has really improved. We knew he could score inside and outside, but he is long (with a 6-7 wingspan) and gets rebounds. I am glad he's playing for Canal Winchester."
Brady Snyder averaged a team-high 17.8 points last season, 10 more than the second-leading scorer, Metzler (7.8).
Among Sow's biggest plays this season was the game-clinching rebound in a 60-59 overtime win over 18th-seeded Dublin Jerome in a first-round home game Feb. 23. The Indians had led in the final seconds of regulation before the Celtics' Dan Lee hit a long 3-pointer just inside half-court.
"We got one more point than (Jerome) did and one huge rebound," coach Snyder said. "That's all you need this time of year."
Sow also cited his 26-point, eight-rebound, two-block performance in a 67-61 win over Newark on Jan. 11 as one of his biggest games of the season. That win kept Canal Winchester undefeated at 11-0, although the Indians still finished a game behind Newark in the OCC-Capital Division in second place at 7-3.
The Canal Winchester-North winner will play second-seeded Hilliard Bradley or 17th-seeded Thomas Worthington in a district final Saturday, March 9, at Greater Columbus Convention Center. The district champion faces Dublin Coffman, Newark, Olentangy Orange or Walnut Ridge in a regional semifinal Wednesday, March 13, at Ohio Dominican.
The regional final is March 16.
The Indians lost their second meeting with Newark, 42-33 on Feb. 15.
"We're still thinking about building on last year (when the Indians lost in a district semifinal)," Sow said. "We've grown a lot. We're ready for the challenge."
Wrestling season ends at district
Both of the wrestling team's representatives in the Division I district tournament March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby, junior Chance Brown and freshman Gabe Sanfillipo, went 0-2.
Competing at 152 pounds, Brown was pinned by Franklin Heights' Dane Fenice in 5 minutes, 47 seconds in the first round and lost 5-4 to Westerville North's Caden Crist in a first-round consolation match to finish 27-12.
At 113, Sanfillipo was pinned by Upper Arlington's Daniel Beam in 39 seconds and Westland's Trent Jude in 2:04 to finish 25-23.
Canal Winchester did not score as a team. Coffman (170) won the team championship ahead of runner-up Olentangy Liberty (133) as 36 teams scored.
The district tournament ended a season in which the Indians went 0-5 in the OCC-Capital to place sixth behind champion Groveport (5-0).
Junior Jared Mattox (160/170) led the team in wins at 28-11. Freshman Ethan McGlone (138) was 25-13 and freshman Connor Well (heavyweight) went 20-14.
Top players expected back for girls team
The top three scorers for the girls basketball team, which saw its coach placed on administrative leave after two games but still managed to finish 13-10 overall and place third in the OCC-Capital, are eligible to return in juniors Shalea Byrd (forward), Amanda Rarick (guard) and Natalie Rarick (forward/guard).
Natalie Rarick averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, Byrd averaged 8.6 points and 11.3 rebounds and Amanda Rarick averaged 10.7 points and 5.4 rebounds as the Indians went 6-4 in the OCC-Capital to finish behind Newark (10-0) and Big Walnut (8-2) but fell short of a postseason victory.
Seeded 18th, Canal Winchester lost 59-53 in overtime at 11th-seeded Teays Valley in the second round of the Division I district tournament after having a first-round bye.
Byrd and Amanda Rarick both were named first-team all-league as well as honorable mention all-district along with Natalie Rarick, who was second-team all-league.
Senior center/forward Kynadee Anthony was special mention all-league and senior guard Ariana Coleman was honorable mention all-league.
Assistant coach Hillary Kessler led the Indians for their final 21 games after head coach Willie Jordan was placed on administrative leave Dec. 11 because of allegations of inappropriate conduct.