Rodney Beneker said he will rely mostly on his heart when he represents the Hilliard Darby High School wrestling team in the Division I state tournament that runs Thursday, March 7, through Saturday, March 9, at Ohio State.
The senior has been nursing a sprained meniscus and MCL injury suffered during the All-North Tournament on Feb. 9 at Dublin Jerome. On top of that, he injured his left shoulder during the district tournament held March 1 and 2 at Darby.
"About all I have left is my heart and will to place at state, but I don't know how realistic that is," said Beneker, who placed fourth at district at heavyweight and is 37-8 entering a first-round match at state against Uniontown Lake's Michael Mather (45-2). "I've got braces on my left knee and left shoulder and I'm pretty banged up and tired. It's tough because I haven't really been able to drill for two or three weeks now, so I also feel pretty tired when I'm competing on back-to-back days like we did at district and like we'll do at state."
Beneker was one of seven Panthers to compete at district, but was the only one to qualify for state.
"Rodney and I will be adjusting his goals all during the week leading into state, so it'll be a day-to-day thing and we'll see how he's feeling," coach Brendan Moody said. "He's been overcoming adversity for a while now and it's a shame he's not fully healthy to close his senior year. But I never count him out because he has a warrior mentality."
Also at district, senior Ben Brown went 2-2 at 132 pounds and finished 32-13, senior Muneeb Ajlouni (145) went 1-2 to finish 27-17, senior Isaac Richards (126) went 0-2 to finish 24-9, sophomore Blayne Barnes (220) went 0-2 to finish 26-13 and sophomore Kole Kendall (182) went 0-2 to finish 13-17.
Sophomore Bradley Weaver (195) was unable to compete at district and finished 25-9.
The top four finishers in each weight class at district qualified for state.
"Ben wrestled in a very tough weight class and he went out with his work boots on," Moody said. "He wrestled tough and never backed down and didn't want to see his season end. His losses were to the champion (Westerville North's Connor Euton) and the third-place finisher (Mount Vernon's Triston Bowens).
"Realistically, we only gave one match away that we felt we should've won and our kids wrestled well even in losses. We were tough outs for our opponents."
Darby totaled 25.5 points at district to finish 25th behind champion Dublin Coffman (170) as 36 teams scored.
Hassay competes in state gymnastics meet
Anne Hassay represented the gymnastics team in the state individual meet March 2 at Bradley.
The freshman placed 17th on floor exercise with a 9.15 and placed 22nd on balance beam with an 8.85. She also competed in the all-around, finishing 34th with a 34.325.
"We're very proud of Anne to get to state as a freshman and hopefully she'll get there a few more times in the future and maybe some of her teammates can join her," coach Carol Eskay said.
Hassay qualified for state by placing fourth on both beam (9.075) and floor (9.125) and tying for fifth in the all-around (35.7) in the district meet Feb. 23 at Worthington Kilbourne, where the top eight finishers in each event and the all-around advanced.
The Panthers, who are losing two seniors in Reema Ayesh and Hailey Hacker, finished fifth (135.175) of 24 teams at district as Thornville Sheridan (145.205), Jerome (139.8) and Olentangy (139.65) advanced to the state team meet March 1 at Bradley.
Other expected returnees include junior Scarlett Evans, sophomores Laurel Bonn, Jenna Hartwell, Kate Kline and Bailey Miller and freshman Annamarie Bayer.
Girls basketball team falls in district semi
The girls basketball team never found a rhythm during a 52-26 loss to fourth-seeded Watterson in a Division I district semifinal Feb. 27 at Franklin Heights.
The Panthers, who won their first league championship since 2007, finished 19-6 overall.
"We missed a lot of close shots and didn't shoot 20 percent (from the field)," coach Tay Tufts said. "We tried to force the ball inside and that resulted in a lot of turnovers, so we fell behind and didn't have the patience to work for good shots and chip away. It seemed like we were trying to get back into the game with a big knockout punch."
The 13th-seeded Panthers trailed 20-11 at halftime, but pulled within 22-16 early in the third quarter before Watterson pulled away.
Senior point guard Sydney Wyngarden had 12 points and senior post player Annie Rauch scored seven for Darby.
The Panthers finished 12-2 in the OCC-Cardinal Division, two games ahead of runner-up Dublin Scioto (10-4).
"It was a great season once the girls started believing in themselves and believing they could win the league championship," Tufts said. "Nobody can take that away from us and I'm so proud of our two seniors for their leadership, hard work and for truly being great young women who will do big things for their college teams. They really led a young group and showed them the ropes and I think set the foundation for us to build on these past few years."
Rauch averaged 17 points and was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district. Wyngarden averaged 13.8 points and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Among the expected returnees are juniors Teddie Coe (forward), Jenna Rasul (guard) and Briana Turner (forward), sophomores Sofia Gentile (center), Sophia Iosue (guard) and Sophie Williams (guard) and freshmen Tayen Brown (guard) and Alexis Finnegan (guard).
Coe, Gentile and Williams all missed a good portion of the season with injuries.
Iosue was special mention all-league and Finnegan was honorable mention all-league. "I really like what we have coming back and our middle school team went 20-0 and has some height," Tufts said. "I think the future looks very bright even though we are losing two of the program's all-time greats. The goal now is to mold them together and really get to work in the offseason."
Season concludes for bowling teams
Led by senior Nick Carter and junior Josh Larsen, the boys bowling team finished seventh in the Division I district tournament March 2 at HP Lanes.
Carter rolled a 614 (178-192-244) series to place 14th of 106 competitors and Larson finished 49th with a 554 (216-164-174) as the Panthers totaled 3,705 pins to place behind champion Westerville Central (4,243).
Westerville South (4,015) earned the third and final team berth to the state tournament Saturday, March 9, at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl, while Whitehall's Jason Kefauver (654) earned the third and final individual state berth.
Also competing at district were seniors Mason Bowers and Jalen Clisby and juniors Michael Beard and David Maleh.
Rounding out the roster were seniors Christian Meister and Nate Ryan and sophomore Zach Brandewie.
Senior Emily Betteridge represented the girls team at district, finishing 35th of 104 competitors with a 481 (158-185-138). Delaware's Kelsey Rohrer (580) earned the final individual berth to the state tournament Friday, March 8, at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Betteridge was the Panthers' lone senior. Among the expected returnees are sophomores Sarah Leming, Callie Mann, Jayde Martin and Lyndsey Seagraves and freshmen Emily Decker, Jamie Lavigne and Claudia Rodriguez.