Pickerington North wrestler Josiah George found himself looking for a sparring partner this season after the graduation of the teammate who formerly filled that role, Elliot Mahaffey.
At one point, George was competing against his coaches.
Then Micah Norwood joined the team after finishing as Division II state runner-up at 138 pounds last year at Hartley. A growth spurt pushed Norwood from 5-foot-8 to 5-11, which allowed him to set his sights on competing at 160 and even 170, which is near George's class of 182.
"I have people who push me, like Micah. He's really the only one who does push me in (the wrestling room)," George said. "My whole high school career until this year, I sparred with Elliot Mahaffey and he's graduated so I was just wrestling coaches. Micah is a good addition. He's definitely made me quicker and better from scrambling positions just because he's such a fast guy in general."
Coach Derek Oney considers George and Norwood two of his top three wrestlers as the Panthers prepare to begin OCC-Ohio Division competition Thursday, Jan. 9, at Gahanna.
Norwood, a junior, started the season 12-0 and suffered his first loss Jan. 4 in the 170 final of the Kevin Cleveland Invitational at Dublin Scioto. Norwood, who was sick last week and unable to cut weight to 152 or 160, lost to Watkins Memorial's Cole Foor 8-1.
George is 12-3 and was runner-up at 182 last weekend, losing to Licking Heights' Cody Wilson 11-9 in the final.
David Carte was fifth at 145, helping North to 91 points and ninth place out of 21 teams as Oregon Clay won (248).
"It was pretty rough, especially in my early matches. People were just overpowering me," Norwood said. "I couldn't hit my doubles and I got thrown on my back once (in a 13-6 semifinal win over Mount Vernon's Wyatt Gregory). In the final, I just couldn't pick up my shots. The weight was a lot more obvious and I could feel it. But it was a good challenge. I like challenging myself like that. It was a great experience. ...
"If I take a loss, I take a loss. It's not the postseason. This is all to get better and see what I can work on."
Oney said speed and willingness have made Norwood an elite wrestler and helped improve the entire team.
"He will wrestle with anybody. When he gets into his correct weight class, he will be a handful for anybody," Oney said. "He goes nonstop. That's how he is in practice. He is one of the hardest workers in the room and you can tell that out here. He wants to wrestle the best kids possible. He doesn't care about wins and losses. He just wants to see where he is.
"(George and Norwood) feed off each other. When good kids come into the room, it makes the room better. That is what we're trying to develop, a high-level room where someone comes in and everybody gets something out of it."
North went 2-3 in the league last year to finish fourth behind champion Lancaster (5-0).
"We have a lot of new guys, but they are starting to understand how these varsity tournaments work," George said. "We're doing well overall, I think."
Bowling teams resume season
After winning two of three matches in December, the boys and girls bowling teams had their first matches in more than three weeks and began a busy stretch Jan. 7 when they competed against Reynoldsburg at Rule 3.
Both teams entered the match, which was their first in OCC-Central play this season, at 2-1 overall and in the COHSBC-B.
Ethan Yurko led the boys team in average before Jan. 7 at 181.7, ahead of Alex Zumock (176.7), Jacob Dollmatsch (172.3), Caden Thieken (171.3) and Kyle Butterfield (161). Yurko's 225 game in a 2,134-1,744 loss to Hilliard Bradley on Dec. 12 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl was the team's best game of the season entering the week, and Zumock had a team-best two-game 389 series -- with games of 224 and 165 -- in a 1,988-1,624 win over Dublin Scioto on Dec. 16 at Sawmill Lanes.
Alana Robinson was the girls' top bowler in December with a team-leading 143.3 average as well as its best series and game. She achieved both marks in the season opener Dec. 4, when a 181 game and 332 series led the Panthers to a 2,018-1,788 win over the Rams at Holiday Lanes.
Kathryn VanCourt was second in average at 132.3, followed by Sienna Reedus (127.8), Evy Vance (126) and Piper Clark (119).
The match against Reynoldsburg was the first of four in as many days this week for both teams and seven in 10 days.
Boys basketball team lengthens streak
The boys basketball team extended its winning streak to six games Jan. 4 with a 56-54 victory over visiting Northland in The Challenge and remains near the top of the OCC-Ohio as the first half of league play winds down.
Hunter Shedenhelm had 15 points, Casey George 14 and Chris Scott 10 against the Vikings.
The Challenge, a four-game event, was in its fourth season pitting OCC and City League teams. It alternates between North and Africentric, which is coached by Michael Bates, the brother of Panthers coach Jason Bates.
The previous night, Scott and Shedenhelm each had 16 points in a 50-37 league win at Reynoldsburg. The Panthers took control by outscoring the Raiders 14-9 in the second quarter and 16-10 in the fourth.
North was 8-3 overall before playing Dublin Coffman on Jan. 7 and is 3-1 in the OCC-Ohio entering a Friday, Jan. 10, game at Grove City. The Panthers and Pickerington Central are tied for second place in the league, one game behind Gahanna (4-0), which defeated North 44-42 on Dec. 13.
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 10 -- Home vs. Grove City
Jan. 11 -- At Logan
*Jan. 10 -- At Grove City. The Panthers lost to the Greyhounds 40-35 on Dec. 3.
Jan. 11 -- At Olentangy Liberty
Jan. 14 -- Home vs. Hartley
*Jan. 9 -- Lancaster at Tiki Lanes
*Jan. 10 -- Marysville at Dragon Lanes
*Jan. 14 -- Pickerington Central at Rule 3
*Jan. 15 -- Gahanna at Rule 3
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 10-11 -- Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
*Jan. 9 -- At Gahanna