With the exception of freshman Kelcey Dew, who has wrestled since she was young, the other six girls in the Delaware Hayes wrestling program didn't know what to expect when they embarked on their first season in the sport.

Now they wish they'd tried it sooner.

"I think we all love it," said senior Ari Avant, who competes at 131 pounds. "None of us knew we would have this much fun."

Avant said she enjoys the contact and aggressive nature of the sport the most.

"I've always wanted to play a contact sport. I've always thought the whole idea of it was cool," she said. "My favorite thing, I'm going to be honest, is slinging people around. I like the feeling of just lifting someone up and pounding them on the mat."

Avant leads the girls team with a 9-1 overall record. She placed first at both the girls Pioneer Classic Memorial tournament Jan. 4 at Olentangy Orange and a girls tournament at Morral Ridgedale on Jan. 11, combining to go 8-0 in the two events with eight pins.

Avant and Dew (121) are joined on the team by seniors Chloe Diehl (145) and Akima Cain (121), junior Jordan Rutherford (106) and freshmen Meredith Milligan (126) and Madelyn Graham (111).

Most of the girls entered the season not knowing much about the sport, if anything at all. That's changed drastically over the course of the last few weeks.

"We've improved a lot," Diehl said, who placed second at Ridgedale. "We started off not knowing anything. I knew a little (jiu jitsu), but it's literally not the same."

Now, the girls have their eyes set on the inaugural girls state tournament, which will be held Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Davidson.

"That's the big goal that everybody commonly shares," said Rutherford, who is 2-7 overall and placed fourth at Ridgedale. "I think all of us have different tiny goals, but we would all like to place at states."

"The fact that it started with us and that the program is only going to get bigger and for us to be the first girls at Hayes that, as a collective, wrestle together, I think it would be cool for us to make a statement while we're here," Avant said. "I know Chloe and (Akima) and I, it's all three of our senior years, and we just started, so we might as well leave a mark."

Coach Kevin Rieman said the program has had girls participate before, but never at this scale. He said this year's participation from this many girls materialized when Dew suggested to other girls that they give the sport a try.

Word spread from there, and interest piqued when it became more-widely known that the area's first girls state wrestling tournament would take place this year, as well as the rising trend of all-female competitions that have begun to transpire throughout the sport.

"They're doing a great job," Rieman said. "We didn't know exactly what to expect. We've had (a female wrestler) here and there, but never a whole group like that.

"These girls, they're all about it. They're showing up every day and their results are showing. We have girls winning tournaments (who) are in their first year."

Rieman said the boys have been extremely supportive of their female teammates.

"Pretty much the whole varsity team showed up (at Orange), plus some," he said. "They love it, they're supportive of it."

The girls appreciate the support they receive from their male teammates.

"All the senior boys are really supportive," Diehl said. "If they see we're doing something not exactly right, they say, 'Do this. This will help you.'"

"Some of them will even stay after practice and help us," Avant said. "They're super supportive and kind to us."

The girls offered some advice for future female wrestlers who wish to try out the sport. They said don't underestimate yourself, embrace the experience and go for it.

"Don't be scared. This is the first year to have girls states. This is the time to do it," Diehl said. "You can be part of the new generation of girls wrestling."

Girls team seeing defensive improvement

Girls basketball coach Lou Tiberi said he has been pleased with his team's defensive improvement this season.

"We've seen a real improvement on the defensive end the last couple of games," Tiberi said. "Our intensity has been much better, we've been mixing defenses up a little bit more trying to keep teams off balance. So far it's been good."

Delaware was 8-6 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing Hilliard Darby on Jan. 17. The Pacers entered the contest against the Panthers having won their previous two games, beating Olentangy Berlin 61-44 in a league game Jan. 10 and Caledonia River Valley 47-34 on Jan. 11.

"If we keep plugging away at the things we need to work at, we'll be all right," Tiberi said.

Through 14 games, junior guard Alexis Amabile was averaging a team-high 13.8 points, followed by sophomore guard Chloe Jeffers (11.1).

Boys team eyeing second-half surge

After starting the season 0-5, the boys basketball team won six of its next eight games and was 6-7 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Darby on Jan. 17.

With the team now healthy following early season injuries to senior guards Nate Griggs and Addison Harvey, coach Adam Vincenzo said the Pacers are eyeing a second-half push.

"We're trying to move forward and finish that second half strong and get where we want to be and peaking right at (Division I district) tournament time" Vincenzo said. "I'm very confident in us now that we're healthy. We know it's a process and we're not quite there yet, but we'll be there when it definitely matters for that postseason."

Griggs has led the team in scoring in multiple games since returning from injury Dec. 20, including a 28-point performance in a 66-58 loss to Olentangy Liberty on Jan. 14 and a 14-point effort in a 48-45 victory over Archbold on Jan. 11.

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Delaware Hayes boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

*Jan. 21 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington. The Pacers lost to the Cardinals 65-43 on Dec. 13.

*Jan. 24 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto. The Pacers lost to the Irish 39-27 Dec. 10.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

*Jan. 21 -- At Thomas. The Pacers defeated the Cardinals 58-34 on Dec. 13.

*Jan. 24 -- At Scioto. The Pacers lost to the Irish 56-36 on Dec. 10.

BOWLING

*Jan. 16 -- Westerville North at Sequoia Pro Bowl

Jan. 24 -- New Albany at Colony Lanes

SWIMMING & DIVING

Jan. 26 -- OCC-Cardinal meet at Kenyon College

WRESTLING

*Jan. 23 -- At Worthington Kilbourne

Jan. 24 -- At Olentangy Liberty

*League contest