Led by first-year coach Erick Herzberg, the Westerville South High School girls basketball team remained one of the elite squads in central Ohio.
The season was highlighted by the Wildcats earning their second consecutive Division I district title, defeating Gahanna 70-58 on March 2 at Ohio Dominican.
South saw its season end for the second consecutive year against Pickerington Central, as the Tigers cruised to a 71-44 win in a regional semifinal March 5 at Otterbein.
The Wildcats, who finished 19-6 overall, led 7-0 and 12-4 before Central took control in the second quarter, outscoring South 25-10 for a 34-25 halftime lead. The Tigers continued to pull away in the third, outscoring the Wildcats 24-8.
Junior guard Anyssa Jones led South with 18 points, followed by sophomore post player Aja Austin with 11.
Last season, the Wildcats lost to Central 60-52 in a regional final.
"I thought they did a great job coming down to the end (of the season)," Herzberg said. "We did a lot of good things. We fixed a lot of things that we were doing wrong, but against a team like Pick Central, you can't make the mistakes that we made."
Jones averaged a team-high 15.7 points and was named OCC-Buckeye Division Player of the Year and first-team all-district. The Ohio State recruit reached 1,000 career points during the district final.
Senior guard Sommer Pitzer was first-team all-league and second-team all-district after averaging 11.4 points. Pitzer, who will play at Indiana State, was league Player of the Year the previous three seasons.
"I'm happy with my career, but this hurts," she said of the latest loss to Central. "If we were going to do anything it was going to be this year, going far. We definitely had the pieces. We just couldn't put it together at the end."
Pitzer became the program's all-time leading scoring with 1,154 points, surpassing 2015 graduate Chenelle Moore, who finished with 1,142.
"That's nice, but what makes me feel even better is the relationships I made with the girls. That's everything to me," said Pitzer, who was one of four seniors on the team. "These girls now are my best friends, so I'm going to take that with me forever."
Senior guard Peyton Guice, who will play at Ohio University, averaged 10.1 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Junior post player Gabby Hutcherson, who averaged 12.1 points, also was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. She also is an Ohio State recruit.
After missing part of the season with a stress fracture in her right leg, Austin averaged 7.7 points and was honorable mention all-league.
South captured its second consecutive OCC-Buckeye title, going 10-0, and has won 21 consecutive league contests.
Others eligible to return are juniors Asaya Bulgin (post player), Neveah McClure (guard) and Mira Randolph (guard) and sophomores Iman Benlemlih (guard), Jada Moultair (post player) and Megan Rispress (guard).
Herzberg replaced Tomeka Brown-Whitehead, who was approved by the school board in June but stepped down Sept. 10 because of personal reasons.
"I enjoyed myself," Herzberg said. "It was a little hectic coming in so late and jumping into relationships and establishing a coaching staff and getting all the scrimmages. We felt a little rushed and a little behind, but with this talent it will be much better for next year having the summer and the offseason to get on the same page."
Morton places fourth at state
Junior wrestler Aaron Morton concluded his third year in the sport by finishing fourth at 160 pounds in the Division I state tournament March 7-9 at Ohio State.
Morton went 4-2 at state and finished 41-5 for the season. He became the program's first state placer since 2006 when Anthony Ciraky won the title at 160.
"This feels good, it's another goal accomplished," Morton said. "We have a ton of people working in our program who help me."
After opening with a 12-5 win over Medina's Ethan Silvis, Morton lost to Harrison's Brett McIntosh 3-2 in a quarterfinal.
He bounced back to defeat Huber Heights Wayne's Jaden Hardrick 9-3, Macedonia's Salvatore Perrine 8-5 and Wadsworth's Dom Loparo 8-2 before losing to McIntosh 10-8 in overtime in the third-place match, during which Morton was assessed four penalty points for illegal locking of hands.
Morton accounted for the Wildcats' 12 points at state, as they finished 33rd behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (194.5) as 72 teams scored.
Morton originally was expected to miss the postseason because of a suspension but was reinstated Feb. 20. He finished second at district March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby, where he was joined by senior Jacob Shalvey (182) and sophomore Brian Tennant (113).
Shalvey went 2-2 to finish 27-23, and Tennant went 1-2 to finish 15-24.
Other key wrestlers eligible to return are junior Brendan Cleaver (220), sophomores Frankie Achambeng (heavyweight), Fuanyi Fobellah (106, 34-8), Zion Gitonga (120, 16-17) and Nick Ifju (132, 24-17) and freshmen Karson Lane (152) and Tyler O'Reilly (195, 25-22).
"We have so many people helping us," coach George Crooks said. "If we could just keep kids interested and realize we have a good thing going, maybe we'll get more kids and keep this running."
Bowling teams compete at state
The boys and girls bowling teams closed their seasons at the Division I state tournament.
Competing March 8 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl, the girls finished 10th (2,927) of 16 teams during preliminary play behind first-place Stow-Munroe Falls (3,265) as the top eight teams advanced to championship play.
Senior Emily Grise tied for 32nd of 104 bowlers with a 532 series to lead the Wildcats. Senior Maggie Van Scyoc was 35th (528), followed by sophomore Taylor Hughes (51st, 490), junior Kenzie Gearheart (83rd, 310, two games), senior Piper Lane (88th, 191, one game) and junior Brenda Diaz (89th, 188, one game).
Gearheart is slated to graduate in May. Sophomore Alexia Steele also is eligible to return.
The boys finished 16th (2,957) during preliminary play March 9 at Wayne Webb's behind eventual champion Vandalia Butler (3,668).
Senior Cameron Voigt finished 25th of 100 bowlers with a 601 series to lead South. Senior Colton Rice was 75th (514), followed by junior Tristan Mathis (87th, 318, two games), senior Callan Van Scyoc (88th, 286, two games), junior Montana Svoboda (94th, 161, one game), freshman Dominic Steele (99th, 141, one game) and sophomore Henry Tran (100th, 130, one game).
Freshman Ethan Gary also is eligible to return.
"I told them they got here because they're one of the best teams," boys coach Bill Hanson said. "Obviously, we didn't have the day we wanted to have. It was probably our worst performance of the season. Maybe they were just too anxious about the day. What they accomplished to get here with nobody on this team averaging 200, which is the standard, that's a phenomenal achievement."