As a player who does many things well, Travis Mecklenburg has become an important part of the Worthington Kilbourne boys basketball team's rotation.
Coach Tom Souder expects even more from the 6-foot-4 junior forward as the season progresses.
"I look for his role to continue to grow," Souder said. "He's a great defender, he can shoot it, he can rebound it, he's a smart player and good passer, and he's going to stay within himself and help his team get better.
"He's so long. He's kind of a matchup problem for people."
Everything positive happening now for Mecklenburg wouldn't have been easy to predict a year ago, as he tore his right ACL during a game against Canal Winchester in January 2019.
"It was very tough to think about the fact that it was nine months until I could play again, and I'd have to work to get back to where I was," Mecklenburg said. "There was a lot of repetitive stuff (I had to do to recover), and it was tough."
Mecklenburg had surgery to repair the ligament toward the end of that month. Afterward, the long, tedious road to rejoin his teammates began.
Recovery from an ACL injury typically features significant hours of physical therapy that includes range-of-motion exercises to recover movement in the knee, followed by strength-building exercises to rebuild the atrophied muscles in the leg, among other things.
This was followed by running and horizontal movements, once Mecklenburg was cleared to do so.
It was an arduous process. But it started to pay dividends for Mecklenburg after a while.
"After I got a little bit of range of motion, I started to get my quad back," he said. "I gained muscle there, and for about four months I trained to get the muscle back."
The doctors told Mecklenburg that if everything went according to plan, he could return to full-speed athletic activity in October. He stuck to his recovery plan and returned on schedule, and his first game back with the Wolves was a 59-55 season-opening loss to Briggs on Nov. 29.
"There weren't really any setbacks, recovery was pretty smooth," Mecklenburg said. "(The main challenge) was about trying to get over the mental barrier of getting my confidence back."
Souder said Mecklenburg followed his recovery plan religiously.
"Travis followed every direction, he pushed every opportunity to speed up the process while not overdoing it," Souder said. "I don't know if I've ever seen a kid follow the rehab process to a tee. He didn't miss a rehab appointment. He didn't miss stretching or doing whatever was asked of him to do. Travis did everything they asked him to do."
Souder said he's happy to have Mecklenburg back to help out the Wolves, who were 7-4 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing Olentangy Berlin on Jan. 7.
"I'm just excited for him because of what he's done and what he's been through," Souder said.
Kilbourne entered the Berlin game coming off a 56-45 league win over Dublin Scioto on Jan. 3 and a 71-47 win over Teays Valley on Jan. 4. Juniors Ian Schupp and Mitchell Tomasek led the way in both games.
Schupp and Tomasek scored 19 points and 16 points, respectively, against Scioto. Against Teays Valley, Tomasek scored 18 and Schupp scored 16.
Throughout his recovery process, Mecklenburg said he discovered the resilience required to stick to a task and do what's required to get the job done.
"You have to go through the process to achieve what you really want," he said.
Girls basketball team continues to impress
Heading into a Jan. 7 league contest against Berlin, the girls basketball team had won seven games in a row to improve to 8-3 overall and 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.
The Wolves were two wins shy of last season's total and living up to their goal of climbing the league standings under first-year coach Stephanie Jones.
"We've just been focused on building strong relationships with each other, playing team basketball, trusting each other on the court, and things are just starting to flow by doing those little things of building trust and relationships among the girls in the program," Jones said.
Sophomore guard Lauren Scott was averaging 17.3 points, but Jones said she has been receiving contributions throughout the roster, often in ways that can't be measured on the stat sheet.
"We focus on the little things often, and there's so many kids contributing," she said. "They may not make it in the box scores, but they're doing things on the defensive end (such as turning) defensive stops into points."
Still, Jones said there is room for improvement, and coaches want to see the players be more consistent when boxing out.
"That's one of our challenges, to finish a defensive stop with a box-out instead of giving teams second and third opportunities," she said.
Swimmers stay busy with training
With no meets between Dec. 21 and Jan. 8, the swimming and diving program still stayed busy.
Coach Keeler Callahan said it's one of the most important preparation and practice regimens of the season.
"Winter training is definitely the time of year where we're really hammering the training," he said. "We're getting after it every day."
Callahan said winter training encompasses a variety of workouts, including short swim sets, long swim sets and sessions in the weight room. This ensures athletes maintain their edge for when competition resumes.
"It's kind of the main training part of the season," he said. "I like this part of the year a lot because the kids get school off, so it's a little more time to focus on swimming, and we hammer it a little bit harder."
Callahan said he's impressed with how his athletes have performed.
"It was a very fast start," he said. "We had like six meets in two weeks and a couple invitationals, but they swam really well with how many meets we were doing back to back."
For the boys, Callahan said senior Mitchell Fisher, senior Aaron Chen and freshman Nathan Ambler have stood out.
For the girls, he said junior Lauren Richner, sophomore Evie DeCarlo and sophomore Nanami Campbell -- all members of last year's state-qualifying 200-yard freestyle relay -- have impressed, while freshman Paige Delma may be making strides to earn that fourth spot.
"She's had some really good races and is kind of starting to make it seem like she'll be the one to fill those relay spots," Callahan said.
Below are the coming schedules for the Kilbourne boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 10 -- At Thomas
*Jan. 10 -- At Thomas
Jan. 14 -- At New Albany
*Jan. 10 -- Hilliard Bradley at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 15 -- Dublin Scioto at Capri Lanes
Jan. 16 -- Pickerington Central at Capri Lanes
Jan. 9 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 15 -- Westerville North at Thomas
*Jan. 9 -- Home vs. Jerome