Pickerington North swimming and diving coach Justin Dortch reminded his teams before and after the OCC-Ohio Division meet Jan. 26 at Kenyon College that "small things" would determine whether they would reclaim the league championships.
At the same time, he also emphasized that he did not expect or want to see their best performances of the season, hoping instead that they save those for the postseason, which begins with a Division I sectional Feb. 8 at Upper Arlington.
Still, the meet was bittersweet, especially for the boys team, which led Gahanna by 30.5 points with three events left but was overcome by the Lions' depth to finish second and fall short of its first OCC-Ohio title since 2016.
Spencer White won the 200-yard freestyle (1 minute, 52.01 seconds) and 500 free (5:00.95) and helped the 200 free relay (1:34.85) and 200 medley relay (1:43.42) to wins as North amassed 468 points to finish second behind Gahanna (484.5) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (284), Grove City (229), Pickerington Central (205.5) and Lancaster (202).
"I'm proud of my guys. We gave our hearts to it, but we're extremely disappointed," White said. "Overall, I did OK. They're not my best times, but we're coming off a hard week with hard practices. I wasn't expecting great times from all of us, but I was expecting all of us to get up and race and that's exactly what we did."
Also finishing Nicholas Clemons finished first in diving (325.75) for the Panthers.
Gavin Mumma, Nathan Ojeda-Pesa and Marcus Schwartz rounded out the 200 free and 200 medley relays.
"It comes down to personnel and things like touch-offs. If (the 200 free relay) goes the other way, maybe so does the meet," Dortch said. "It's about how you can change things up and still be competitive. It's about getting out-touched by a guy, especially if he's from Gahanna. It's all about the little things and we talked about that on the way up here. Those things will come into play again (in the postseason). Meets like this are a great time to learn."
Connor Daniel placed second in both the 100 backstroke (55.71) and 200 individual medley (1:34.85), Braden Hopkins was runner-up in the 100 butterfly (56.81) and Schwartz was second in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.65), a race in which Gahanna swimmers claimed four of the top six finishes.
The 400 free relay of Daniel, Hopkins, Mumma and Schwartz also finished second (3:24.73).
Gahanna also denied the girls team its third league championship in four years.
Rylee Kreinbrink was runner-up in both the 50 free (25.29) and 100 fly (1:00.08) and helped the 200 medley (1:50.23) and 400 free (3:50.83) relays to second place, leading the Panthers to 473 points and second place behind the Lions (624) and ahead of Lancaster (230), Grove City and Reynoldsburg (both 197) and Central (129).
Emily Harness placed second in the 100 back (1:04.21) and was on the 400 free relay, which was rounded out by Lindsey Keaton and Lauren Vinson. The 200 medley relay consisted of Sydney Hopkins, Keaton, Kreinbrink and Regan Turnbull.
"We were stressed coming into this, but we pushed each other through this even though we knew it'd be tough to get first. It was a good day for us even though we got second," Harness said. "I haven't had (achieved a new) best time in the 100 back in over a year, so this was a big deal for me. I was a little bit in shock."
Moultair steps up for girls basketball team
After missing her sophomore season because of an injury, Jada Moultair is taking advantage of being a consistent contributor for the girls basketball team.
While Moultair, a 5-foot-11 junior forward/center, is averaging 5.2 points, that average includes a recent stretch in which she was the team's leading scorer six times in a seven-game stretch. She had 10 points in a 44-29 home loss to Central on Jan. 17, a game coach Silas Williams called the team's best defensive effort of the year after the Panthers fell behind 10-0 to start.
Moultair played at Westerville South the past two seasons, in which the Wildcats won Division I district championships. Williams coached at South during Moultair's freshman year before resigning and eventually being hired at North.
"New coaching and starting off fresh has really helped me progress as a player, and coach Silas is an amazing coach," Moultair said.
"He teaches us every skill we could need. That's why I am the player I am right now. I definitely just wanted to come in, be a leader and help my team out through the year. We may not win every game, but our effort and our defense keep getting better. That improvement is all that matters."
North is 2-17 overall and 0-8 in the OCC-Ohio entering a Friday, Jan. 31, home game against Lancaster.
"(Moultair) is a banger. We've known her for a little while now and now it's just about her getting the speed of the game," Williams said. "She's realizing what she can do and coming into her own."
Wrestlers set for first-place showdown
Off to its first 3-0 start in the OCC-Ohio in five years, the wrestling team will play host to perennial power Lancaster on Thursday, Jan. 30.
The Golden Gales are seeking their sixth consecutive league championship. North hasn't won the league title since 2013.
The Panthers remained unbeaten in the OCC-Ohio with a 36-30 win at Grove City on Jan. 23. North got victories from Lee Anderson (132 pounds), David Carte (138), Kyle Coffey (170), Josiah George (182), Erik Gomez (126), Titus Mahaffey (145), Micah Norwood (160) and Braden Watts (220).
North also finished second (180.5) of 14 teams in the Mason Boyd Memorial Wrestling Tournament on Jan. 25 at Watkins Memorial behind Springboro (298.5).
Norwood won the title at 160, defeating Watkins Memorial's Jeff Cameron 9-2 in the final. Anderson, George and Watts earned runner-up finishes, Carte placed third and Coffey and Macston Reed (113) both finished fourth.
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 31 -- At Lancaster. The Panthers defeated the Golden Gales 71-43 on Dec. 20.
Feb. 4 -- At Canal Winchester
*Jan. 31 -- Home vs. Lancaster. The Panthers lost to the Golden Gales 57-25 on Dec. 20.
Feb. 4 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
*Jan. 29 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Rule 3
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 31 -- Lancaster and Pickerington Central at Robert K. Fox Family YMCA
*Jan. 30 -- Home vs. Lancaster