From a bump on the head to a broken hand and even hard-to-find music, nothing came easy for the Olentangy High School gymnastics team during the state team and individual meets last weekend at Hilliard Bradley.
Still, after the Braves finished seventh in their fourth consecutive team meet appearance March 1 and had four competitors in the individual meet the next day, coach Misty Lloyd-Matthews thinks the program's foundation and future are as solid as ever.
"The whole group, they just know how to handle this (atmosphere)," Lloyd-Matthews said. "They go hard for each other. Our freshmen, our underclassmen, all of them are doing the same thing. I hope that keeps driving them. The seniors have set a good bar for them."
Freshman Lillian Towles' all-around score of 34.975 on March 1 led Olentangy to 138.35 points and seventh of 12 teams behind 16-time defending champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights (147.65). The Braves finished ninth at state in 2016, seventh in 2017 and fifth last year.
Floor exercise was Olentangy's top event with a score of 35.15, followed by uneven bars (34.725), vault (34.425) and balance beam (34.05).
Senior Madeline Vouis' 9.075 on floor was the Braves' top score of the meet, followed closely by senior Wen Holmes' 9.025 on beam.
Vouis managed that score on floor despite having her performance delayed several minutes while meet officials tried to locate the music for her routine.
"It's the first time I've encountered that in seven years of gymnastics. It didn't stress me out but I went out there and had fun," said Vouis, who also bumped her head on the mat after her first vault attempt. "We had a little bit different of a night but even after coming off bars and beam that weren't our absolute strongest, we came back (into the fieldhouse) and had a giant dance party. We're always having fun with each other."
Freshman Jaedyn Tucker led Olentangy in the state individual meet with a tie for eighth on floor (9.275). Competing as an alternate after Dublin Jerome's Grace Krouse tore her right ACL and meniscus in the district meet Feb. 23, Towles finished 16th on bars (8.875), 31st on floor (8.775) and 35th on beam (7.85) before suffering a broken hand on her first vault attempt.
"I've done so much better than I thought I would this year," Towles said. "This is nothing like anything else I've done. I was hoping to fit in with my team but it's gone very well."
Vouis tied for 20th on beam (8.9) and Holmes tied for 27th on vault (8.825).
This season also included Olentangy's third consecutive OCC-Buckeye Division championship. The Braves went 4-0 in league duals and totaled 20 points by also winning the league meet Feb. 9 at Thomas Worthington with 136.3 points, ahead of runner-up Orange (134.425).
Three wrestlers heading to state
For the second consecutive year, three Olentangy wrestlers will compete in the Division I state tournament Thursday, March 7, to Saturday, March 9, at Ohio State.
Coming off a district championship March 2 at Hilliard Darby, Jacob Sherman will represent the Braves at 120 pounds. Nick Varanelli finished second at 132 and Brady Pethtel placed third at 145.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Sherman, who placed fourth at 113 last year, is in his third state tournament. Pethtel and Varanelli earned their first state berths.
Sherman did not compete until Feb. 7 because of a right knee injury and is 13-0 this season. He went 4-0 at district, beating Lancaster's Aiden Agin 8-1 in the final.
"I didn't even know if I would have a senior season. I am just very grateful," Sherman said. "I am at 100 percent right now. I am trying to be a little smarter this year. I've had two knee surgeries since last season and I think part of that was overworking myself. I am trying to work smarter, not harder, and it's paying off."
Varanelli went 3-1 last weekend and fell to Westerville North's Connor Euton 6-0 in the final. He is 33-12 on the year.
"I really wanted to win that final and be a district champ, but it's going to be great have my name up on the wall (of state qualifiers in the wrestling room)," Varanelli said. "I've kept my intensity up and kept the pressure on people with my hand-fighting."
Pethtel, who is 30-7 after going 5-1 at district, overcame what he said was a hyperextended left elbow suffered during practice Feb. 25.
"If you really want something, (the pain) will just fade away," Pethtel said. "It was like an adrenaline rush. This was four years in the making."
Olentangy finished ninth (73) behind champion Dublin Coffman (170) as 36 teams scored.
Also competing but failing to advance were Colton Doup (182, fifth, 4-2), Nick Boyarko (170, 1-2) and Vaughn Fowler (113, 1-2).
Bowling season ends at district tournament
The boys and girls bowling teams' seasons ended in the Division I district tournament March 2 at HP Lanes.
Led by Addison Starr's 502 series and a 27th-place finish, the girls finished sixth (3,210) of 16 teams behind champion Westerville Central (3,785). Also competing were Kristen Mullins (tied for 43rd, 467), Savannah Claar (49th, 458), Ana Oliverio (51st, 455) and Hannah Lamar (tied for 57th, 435).
Michael Lamar was 15th (613) to pace the boys, who placed 14th (3,573) of 16 teams behind the champion Warhawks (4,243). Lamar was followed by Tyler McMaster (48th, 555), Nick Madaris (78th, 474), Ahmed Mohiuddin (85th, 334), Noah Johnson (94th, 284), Jacob Rinehart (96th, 201) and Josh Gernert (101st, 171).
Boys basketball team rolls into semifinal
Sean Marks shouldered the load for the boys basketball team in its Division I district tournament opener March 1 against Northland, scoring 16 of his 38 points in the first quarter as the 16th-seeded Braves rolled past the 19th-seeded Vikings 78-47.
Austin Brown had 14 points and Tavian James added 10 for Olentangy, which was 14-9 before playing sixth-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a district semifinal March 6 at Marysville.
Marks was 10 points shy of becoming Olentangy's all-time leading scorer regardless of gender before March 6. Kelly Meade had 1,410 points for the girls team from 2012-16.
The Olentangy-Davidson winner will play fourth-seeded Liberty or 22nd-seeded Westerville North in a district final Saturday, March 9, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The winner will advance to a regional semifinal March 14 at Ohio Dominican.
Olentangy lost to Liberty 64-53 on Jan. 11 and 83-62 on Feb. 15 and split with North, winning 65-63 on Nov. 30 and losing 72-62 on Jan. 25.
CHC title highlights hockey season
Although the hockey team loses 12 players to graduation, including its second- through fifth-leading scorers and one of its top defensemen, the Braves expect to return their top scorer and goaltender from a squad that won the program's second division championship in three years and two district tournament games.
Sophomore forward Landon Johnson had 26 goals to lead Olentangy, which went 19-13-0-3 overall and 10-6 in the Capital Hockey Conference-White to edge runner-up Orange (18, 9-7). Seeded seventh in the 26-team district tournament, the Braves lost to second-seeded Upper Arlington 4-1 in a district quarterfinal Feb. 23 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Senior forward Gabe Zipser had 20 goals and 23 assists, senior defenseman Dakota Falk had 18 goals and 29 assists -- tied for the team lead with senior forward Cam Stevenson -- and senior forward Kyle Gavin also scored 18 goals. Senior forward Brendan Johnston had 13 goals and 16 assists.
Among the players eligible to return are juniors Alec Rieser (defenseman) and Dominik Rusnak (goalie) and sophomore Mitch Berger (forward).
Also last week, coach Mike Ross was named the winner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association's Ohio Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award. He will be recognized during the state championship game Saturday, March 9, at Nationwide Arena.