Friends since fifth grade and teammates for most of that time, it's fitting that Westerville South girls basketball players Gabby Hutcherson and Anyssa Jones will continue their journey together at the next level.
The seniors hope to lead the Wildcats on another long postseason run before joining the Ohio State women's program later this year.
"Going to Ohio State and being with one of my closest friends is something where who wouldn't be happy," Jones said. "We're going to help each other grow (and) get through all the tough times in college together. We can get through a lot of things and push each other to the best of our ability."
If they contribute as much at Ohio State as they have at South, the Buckeyes are in for a run of success.
The Wildcats, who were 16-3 overall before playing Upper Arlington on Feb. 4, clinched their third consecutive OCC-Buckeye Division title with a 71-31 win at Olentangy Orange on Jan. 31. South is 8-0 in the OCC-Buckeye and has won 29 consecutive league games.
Aja Austin scored 17 points and Jones added 15 to lead the Wildcats.
"(Hutcherson and Jones) have a lot of talent," first-year coach Jermaine Guice said. "They have been responding to what we've been teaching, and that's important. When you have talent, it's just trying to put it all together for them and they've been coming out and competing and that's how we've been getting wins."
Hutcherson and Jones have helped South win back-to-back Division I district titles, eventually losing to Pickerington Central 60-52 in a regional final in 2018 and falling to the Tigers 71-44 in a regional semifinal last season.
Central went on to win the state title in 2018 and was state runner-up last season.
South is seeded third for the district tournament and opens with a second-round home game Feb. 21 against 30th-seeded Lancaster or 32nd-seeded Walnut Ridge.
"If we play together and play how we come in here and practice and how hard we compete, this team could go so far," Hutcherson said. "We just work so much harder. There's so much more heart. When you have a young team like this, they're fresh and they want to work for their seniors, they want to work for their coaches, and they want to work for the upperclassmen. It gives us a different type of grit."
Hutcherson and Jones' friendship began when they joined the Ohio Lady Hoopsters in fifth grade as they started competing at the AAU level. They later joined Sports City U before their sophomore season, and Jones moved to All Ohio before this season.
They were opponents as high school freshmen as Jones competed at South and Hutcherson played at Westerville North. Hutcherson transferred to South before her sophomore year.
"I've known them for a long time, so I knew they had talent and ability," said Guice, who is the program director for Ohio Lady Hoopsters. "It's just a matter of trying to coach them up and get that out of them."
Jones, who was averaging 12.4 points through 19 games, joined another elite club last season when she reached 1,000 career points during a 70-58 win over Gahanna in a district final.
Jones also has been able to play with her sister, Leila, a freshman forward, and for her father, Bryant, who is in his first season as an assistant coach.
Hutcherson was averaging a team-best 14.3 points through 19 games.
Jones, a 5-foot-11 guard, began receiving college offers as a freshman before committing to Ohio State as a junior.
"When I was younger, I always wanted to go to Ohio State," she said. "Going through that whole recruiting process, you go to different schools, going on different visits, sometimes you're torn between different schools. At the end of the day, when it came down to making my decision, Ohio State has always been the top school. Their style of play is how I love to play."
Hutcherson, a 6-2 forward, also had several offers before choosing the Buckeyes.
"When I was younger, I didn't understand the recruiting process," said Hutcherson, who received offers before her freshman season. "At some point, though, I said I'm going to Ohio State. I'm ready to go play basketball at Ohio State. This is where I was supposed to go."
Hutcherson's mother, Mindy Smith, is a 1990 Ohio State graduate who played basketball for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff has attended several South games to watch his recruits.
"Anyssa and Gabby are great kids, and we're really excited to have them come in," McGuff said during halftime of South's 59-57 overtime victory over visiting Watterson on Jan. 25. "They're going to bring a lot to our program. ... The neat thing about both of them is they really fit our style of play. They can play fast. They have the athleticism and skills to play in our system. They both should be very impactful."
Hutcherson's rebound basket at the buzzer won the game for the Wildcats.
Boys basketball team to battle North
The boys basketball team will look to remain in first place in the OCC-Buckeye when it visits North on Friday, Feb. 7, for a rematch of a game it won 60-57 on Jan. 3.
The Wildcats were 12-6 overall before playing UA on Feb. 4. They are tied for first in the league with Olentangy Liberty at 6-2, one game ahead of Westerville Central at 5-3.
Jaiden Guice scored 20 points, Peter Pedrozo had 17 and Tabari Howard added 14 in a 62-54 win over visiting Orange on Jan. 31.
Guice scored 27 points, Drey Carter had 15 and Howard added 14 in a 78-53 win over visiting Licking Heights on Jan. 28.
Bowlers prep for postseason
The bowling teams are preparing for Division I sectional play.
The boys were 6-4 overall and in the COHSBC-A before facing New Albany on Feb. 5.
The Wildcats lost to Marysville 2,195-2,138 on Jan. 28. Craden Kelley led South with a 395 two-game series, followed by Ethan Gary (365) and Dominic Candella (344).
Kelly had a 414 series in a 2,056-2,044 win over Big Walnut on Jan. 27. Henry Tran followed with a 375.
South, which was 3-3 in the OCC-Buckeye before closing league play against New Albany, will compete at sectional Feb. 21 at HP Lanes.
The girls were 5-4 overall and in the COHSBC-A and 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye before facing New Albany.
Taylor Hughes had a 354 series and Brenda Diaz added a 293 in a 1,638-1,564 win over Marysville.
Diaz had a 341 series and Hughes had a 325 in a 1,679-1,621 win over Big Walnut.
The Wildcats will compete at sectional Feb. 22 at HP Lanes
Below are the coming schedules for the South boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 7 -- At Westerville North. The Wildcats defeated the Warriors 60-57 on Jan. 3.
Feb. 11 -- Home vs. Johnstown
*Feb. 7 -- At North. The Wildcats defeated the Warriors 52-34 on Jan. 3.
Feb. 8 -- Lancaster at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 8 -- Division I sectional at Kenyon. Winner of each swimming event and 27 at-large qualifiers in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites advance to district Feb. 13 at Ohio State. There is no diving at sectional.
*Feb. 6 -- At Olentangy Liberty
Feb. 8 -- Ninth-seeded Thomas Worthington in second round of Division I, Region 5 team dual tournament at Marysville. Winner faces top-seeded Dublin Coffman in quarterfinal. Semifinals and final will be later that day. Regional champion advances to state Feb. 16 at Ohio State. The Wildcats are seeded eighth.