The Groveport Madison High School wrestling team capped the season with unfulfilled expectations in the Division I district tournament.
The Cruisers, who won their third consecutive OCC-Capital Division title, had five wrestlers qualify for district, but only three competed in the tournament held March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby. None finished in the top four of their respective weight classes to advance to the state tournament, which runs Thursday, March 7, through Saturday, March 9, at Ohio State.
"It's a disappointing finish, but all five district qualifiers will be back, as well as 11 starters," coach Brian Brison said. "We achieved our primary goal of a three-peat in the league, had a strong dual team and also placed very well in our invitational meets. Then we had a good sectional, but it just didn't carry over at district. But we're young and gained experience."
Sophomore Jake Nelson placed sixth at district for the second season in a row. Competing at 195 pounds, he won his first two matches by pin before being pinned in 4 minutes, 22 seconds by eventual champion Seth Shumate of Dublin Coffman in a semifinal. Nelson then received an unsportsmanlike citation from officials for allegedly throwing a punch at Shumate while getting up from the mat.
Nelson finished the season 37-4, including two losses at district by disqualification.
"I had a bad angle, but one of the officials said Jake swung at the guy and they disqualified him for the rest of the meet," Brison said. "So he was done. He couldn't wrestle in the consolation semifinals to get to state or the placement match, so he basically finished sixth. He's got to control his emotions better."
The Cruisers' bad news actually began before the district tournament, as junior Muhamad Conteh (113) injured a shoulder during practice last week and was unable to compete and junior Tykel Hancock-Anderson (heavyweight) withdrew from the tournament because of a family obligation.
Junior A.J. Joyce (220) went 1-2 and finished 24-10 and sophomore Jason Pinkston (120) went 0-2 to finish 26-12. Conteh finished 33-4 and Hancock-Anderson finished 11-3.
Nelson finished first in a 10-team sectional Feb. 23 at Upper Arlington. Conteh and Joyce both placed second, while Hancock-Anderson was third and Pinkston was fourth.
Finishing fifth to be district alternates were seniors Jacob Cline (160, 20-12) and Ashton Reese (138, 11-19) and sophomores Dylan Blackburn (132, 9-16) and Johnathan Thompson (170, 23-11).
"I thought Jake Nelson and (Conteh) had good chances to qualify for state, but things happen sometimes," Brison said. "We're going to continue trying to build the culture that we can have success at district and stress to the guys that the state tournament can be a place where we can compete. I am excited about the future and what we have returning.
"We didn't have a lot of experience this year and with another year to grow and believe in themselves, these guys can put it all together next year at district. They'll do all that is necessary to get there."
Boys basketball team enjoyed turnaround
The 21st-seeded boys basketball team lost 63-52 at 17th-seeded Thomas Worthington in the second round of the Division I district tournament March 1 to finish 14-10 overall.
It was a turnaround season for the Cruisers, who went 8-15 a year ago.
"We may have five seniors, but we had so little experience," said coach Ryan Grashel, whose team beat 23rd-seeded St. Charles 50-40 in a first-round home game Feb. 23. "(Guard) Nakhi Taylor played good minutes last year and (guard) Javon Miller had limited minutes. (Forward) Deahmi Guinn barely got off the bench, (guard/forward) Martez Knight played on the j.v. and (forward) Tony Jackson wasn't in the program.
"But look at the growth they made in five months. I'm very proud of this senior class. You know, we were three points away from playing for a share of the (OCC-Capital) title in our league finale."
The Cruisers placed fourth in the OCC-Capital at 5-5, behind Newark (8-2), Canal Winchester (7-3) and Big Walnut (6-4). They handed Canal Winchester its first loss of the season, 70-64 on Jan. 25, and beat Newark 46-43 on Feb. 8.
A 51-49 loss to Big Walnut on Jan. 8 and a 56-55 loss to New Albany on Feb. 1 prevented Groveport from being tied for first place entering the league finale Feb. 15 at Big Walnut. Grashel thinks his team's focus would have been sharper in that game if the league title had been on the line. Instead, the Cruisers lost 53-40.
Against Thomas, Groveport led 19-13 in the second quarter before the Cardinals went on a 9-0 run and led 30-25 at halftime. The Cardinals had another 9-0 run in the third quarter to extend their lead to 39-28. The Cruisers never got closer than six points the rest of the game.
Junior guard Elijah Monroe had 13 points to lead the Cruisers. Taylor and Knight scored nine apiece and Miller scored eight.
"(Thomas') length was a challenge at the rim and I think we got ridden too much when we tried to elevate," Grashel said. "If we could've gotten to the free-throw line, that may have changed the way they defended us at the rim. Instead, we were trying to shoot over them from the perimeter."
Groveport did not attempt a free throw until just under two minutes remained and finished with four attempts. Thomas had 17 attempts.
Taylor averaged 14.1 points and was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Miller averaged 7.2 points and was honorable mention all-league.
Other expected returnees are juniors Tyrell Floyd (guard), Devin Singleton (forward) and Rachaun Whitfield (forward) and sophomores Elyjah Aekins (guard), Elijah Hawk (forward), Terrence Kee (guard) and Scotty Lomax (guard).
Monroe averaged 8.6 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
"I'm very excited with what we have coming back," Grashel said. "Lomax and Hawk, who played on the freshman team last year, played huge roles for us. They had no j.v. bump and that's impressive. Kee was j.v. year but played off the ball and he played on the ball this year.
"After seeing the growth of our seniors in five months, it's great to return three sophomores with experience and see where they'll be as seniors."
Deaner's bid to bowl at state falls short
Senior Leah Deaner of the girls bowling team finished 48 pins shy of advancing to the Division I state tournament Friday, March 8, at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Competing as an individual in the district tournament March 2 at HP Lanes, Deaner rolled a 533 series (179-195-159) to tie for 17th of 104 competitors. The top three individuals not on one of the three qualifying teams advanced to state. Delaware's Kelsey Rohrer rolled a 580 to place sixth overall and earn the third individual state berth.
It marked the end of a strong season for Deaner, who led the entire 46-team Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference with a 197.5 average in the regular season. A four-time district qualifier, she was the Cruisers' only district competitor.
Deaner was the lone senior on the girls team. Expected to return are juniors Jessica Clayton and Amanda Comehn, sophomores Makayla Harold and Kayla Sheets and freshman Suzie Francis.
The boys team, which ended its season at sectional, is losing one senior in Kyron Moses. Among the expected returnees are juniors Jeremiah Slonaker and William Lawson and sophomores Jeremiah DeLong and Sebashton Ferguson.