The Hilliard Darby boys bowling team has had a strong season thus far, and senior Josh Larsen has had a lot to do with its success.
Larsen was averaging 204.4 pins per game through 12 matches to lead the Panthers, who were 9-3 overall and 7-2 in the COHSBC-B Division before a match against Lancaster on Jan. 27 and finished 5-2 in the OCC-Cardinal.
His average ranked eighth in the entire COHSBC entering the week. Before Jan. 27, he had a game high of 257 and a two-game series high of 472 on the season.
Larsen has come a long way since his freshman year, when he had a 146.5 average.
"When I started bowling, I kind of didn't know a lot about it. I just kind of started doing it for fun," he said. "But then I got my own ball after my first season, and I kind of realized it was something I could run with."
Larsen said the summer after his freshman year, he started to take the sport very seriously, bowling two to three times a day every day of the week to improve his performance and consistency.
"I constantly want to improve and I constantly want my average to go up, and I think that's really what drives me to be a better competitor," he said.
Larsen has improved his average by more than 50 pins since his freshman year. He had a 178.9 average as a sophomore and a 195.8 average as a junior.
This season, he averaged 200 or better in eight of the Panthers' first 12 matches.
"His work ethic is unbelievable," coach Jill Logan said. "He will practice outside of our scheduled practices on his own for hours on end. He just puts a lot of extra effort into what he's doing."
Larsen said he has made some minor tweaks and subtle edits to his form since his freshman year. He used to utilize four steps in his approach and would roll the ball relatively slowly, but now he takes an extra step during his approach to gain a little more power and puts a good amount of speed on the ball when he throws it. A right-handed bowler, he rolls his ball relatively straight and doesn't put many revolutions on it and utilizes his legs during his approach to create a little bit of leverage.
"(I put) a little bit of spin (on the ball), and I can put more on it if I need to," he said. "I consider myself a pretty versatile player, but usually playing straight up on the lanes is what works best for me."
With key contributions from Larsen, Darby has risen out of obscurity in the area over the course of his career. After finishing just 1-18 in 2017, the Panthers improved to 9-5 in 2018 and went 8-5 last season.
He said the highlight of his prep career to this point was the Panthers winning the Central District Preview tournament in 2018, beating out defending state champion Westerville Central in the process.
Larsen averaged 174 and knocked down 522 pins in that tournament to contribute to the Panthers' 6,320 score.
"That remains the best moment of my career, just because we knew as a team we could do it and we pulled it off," he said. "I think since then, I never give up in any situation.
"We were down and we came back against a team (Central) that had (multiple) guys averaging in the 200s and our highest average was in the 170s. So that's really fueled me just to get better because I know we can accomplish things like that."
Larsen plans to continue his bowling career at Bowling Green, where he will study sports management.
"I think the best thing about it is scoring high and getting strikes," he said of bowling. "That never gets old."
Boys basketball team seeking consistency
Boys basketball coach Chris Maul said his team has been plagued by a lack of consistency in the second half of the season.
The Panthers were 4-11 overall and had lost six consecutive games before playing Watterson on Jan. 28. Entering the contest against the Eagles, they hadn't won since Jan. 3, when they beat Dublin Jerome 43-41.
Maul said his team has been in games and has been executing well on offense and defense for the majority of contests, such as when Darby didn't have any turnovers in the second half of a 51-50 loss to Delaware on Jan. 17 or when the Panthers were up 36-23 in the second half against Dublin Scioto on Jan. 21 but lost 40-38.
"We've been playing good basketball. We've had some of our three or four best quarters lately," Maul said. "But we've got to finish games. We've put ourselves in a position to be successful, but we're not closing out games."
To combat this, Maul said his team has been working on situational basketball in practice similar to scenarios they would encounter at the end of games.
"We're down two with the ball, 48 seconds left, what exactly are we trying to accomplish? What does that look like?" Maul said, referencing some of the situations the Panthers have been going over in practice.
Through 15 games, senior guard Parker Hambel was averaging a team-high 7.3 points, followed by sophomore guard Gio Roberts (7.2).
Boys swimmers take second in OCC meet
The boys swimming and diving team won five events and amassed 328 points in the OCC-Cardinal meet Jan. 26 at Kenyon College to finish second, behind Jerome (543.5) and ahead of Olentangy Berlin (257), Thomas Worthington (240), Delaware (180), Dublin Scioto (179.5), Worthington Kilbourne (168) and Bradley (69).
Mason Peck won two individual events to lead the Panthers, finishing first in both the 200-yard freestyle (1 minute, 44.13 seconds) and 100 butterfly (52.57).
In other individual events, Mason Irwin won the 500 free (4:48.1) and was runner-up in the 200 free (1:46.45), Jared Hopkins won the 100 breaststroke (59.6) and placed eighth in the 200 individual medley (2:03.35), Casey Maruniak was runner-up in the 100 breast (59.76) and placed fourth in the 200 IM (2:01.75), Hayden Apel was runner-up in diving (473.2), Braden Bower placed third in both the 200 free (1:50.18) and 500 free (5:00.04) and Chase Ellis was seventh in the 50 free (23.36) and ninth in the 100 backstroke (1:02.41).
The Panthers also won the 200 medley relay (1:38.85) with Irwin, Peck, Hopkins and Maruniak and placed second in both the 200 free relay (1:33.2) and 400 free relay (3:18.01). The 200 free relay consisted of Maruniak, Hopkins, Ellis and Bower, and the 400 free relay was comprised of Peck, Irwin, Bower and Ellis.
The girls team finished behind seventh (145) in the league meet, behind Jerome (499), Berlin (361), Delaware (315), Kilbourne (273), Thomas (185) and Bradley (157) and ahead of Scioto (54).
Keira Porter was runner-up in diving (354.55), Natalie Wood placed eighth in the 50 free (26.70) and ninth in the 100 free (58.43) and Morgan Morcher-Thaller finished eighth in the 500 free (5:52.43) and ninth in the 200 free (2:11.83).
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 31 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome. The Panthers defeated the Celtics 43-41 on Jan. 3.
*Feb. 4 -- At Olentangy Berlin. The Panthers defeated the Braves 56-44 on Dec. 20.
*Jan. 31 -- At Jerome. The Panthers lost to the Celtics 37-17 on Jan. 3.
*Feb. 4 -- Home vs. Berlin. The Panthers lost to the Braves 54-43 on Dec. 20.
*Feb. 3 -- Home vs. Bradley, Davidson, Dresden Tri-Valley and Westerville Central
*Jan. 30 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
Feb. 5 -- At Utica