After struggling to a 7-19 record last season, his first in the sport, Westerville Central wrestler Xavier Allen was determined to improve.
His strong work ethic has led to a transformation and hopes of advancing far in the Division I postseason.
Allen, a senior, is 26-8 at 220 pounds heading into the Warhawks' match at Westerville South on Thursday, Feb. 13.
"I know more," Allen said. "I know how to do more on my back, how to get myself out of situations and put myself in good situations. ... I'm a lot stronger."
In addition to those attributes, coach Jerry McSwords said increased confidence has been a key to Allen's improvement.
"This is only his second year in the sport," McSwords said. "He's more confident. He believes in what we're saying now. He's really gotten into wrestling. In the early summer, he was talking a lot about wrestling and looking forward to the season. He just jumped in and started memorizing people's names and where they were ranked."
Central is 1-3 in the OCC-Buckeye Division entering its match against South. Olentangy Liberty and Westerville North are tied for first at 4-0 entering their dual Feb. 13 at Liberty.
"I'm looking forward to the South match. It's a rivalry," said Allen, who expects to compete against Tyler O'Reilly at 220. "It should be fun."
Allen was a member of the Central football program for three years, but saw limited time on the defensive line in his senior season because of various injuries. He credits assistant wrestling and football coach James Schneider for piquing his interest in wrestling.
Allen, who plans to attend the University of Cincinnati to pursue a degree in athletic training, said he began wrestling to help his conditioning for football.
"I wanted to be better," he said. "I would do anything I could to be better in football. ... Now I like wrestling more."
Allen capped his junior wrestling season by going 0-2 in a sectional at 220, losing by pin and technical fall. He expects to fare better this season, which he hopes includes a trip to district March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby.
"I'm going to district," he said. "I don't like to lose."
Allen is seeded fourth in the Marysville sectional, which will be held Feb. 29. The top four wrestlers in each weight class advance to district.
"I always tell kids it doesn't matter what (opponents') names are or what they're ranked," McSwords said. "It matters that you know he's another kid and he can be beaten. The sport is 90 percent mental."
A highlight for Allen this season was going 4-1 in the Panther Invitational on Jan. 18 at Pickerington North to place fifth at 220, helping the Warhawks finish first (216) of 14 teams ahead of runner-up North (199).
Other standouts for Central this season include David Javier at 106 (37-2), Gary Steele at 145/152 (36-7), Josiah Mair at 195 (31-5), Tate Sterling at 152 (26-8), Zeke Healy at 182 (24-3), Caleb Scheideger at 132 (20-12), Logan Moore at 170 (18-8) and Braden Weimer at 195 (18-10).
"This team is fun to be around," McSwords said. "They're energetic. A lot of the kids have had a good turnaround like Xavier has had."
Bowling teams clinch league championships
The boys and girls bowling teams each captured a pair of league titles.
The boys shared the COHSBC-A title with Olentangy Orange at 10-1 and won the OCC-Buckeye at 7-0, ahead of second-place Orange (6-1). It was the team's sixth consecutive COHSBC-A and OCC titles.
Wesley Minke is third in the area with a 216.6 average, with Malik Curry-Brown fifth at 211.1 and Dominic Ferroni 15th at 201.4.
The girls won the COHSBC-A title at 10-0, ahead of runner-up Olentangy (9-1), and finished first in the OCC-Buckeye at 6-0, again ahead of Olentangy (5-1). It was the team's second consecutive COHSBC-A and OCC titles.
Reace Gonzalez is first in the area with a 206.7 average, while Payton Hartgrove is sixth (185.2) and Deja Curry-Brown is 12th (176.7).
Swimmers ready for district meet
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams will be well represented in the Division I district meet Thursday, Feb. 13, at Ohio State.
The Warhawks competed in a sectional Feb. 8 at Thomas Worthington, and Kiah Smith led the girls by finishing second in the 50-yard freestyle (23.88 seconds) and 100 butterfly (56.68). She is seeded third in both events at district.
Macey Swearingen was sixth in the 100 free (54.27) and 100 backstroke (59.52). She is seeded 13th in the 100 back and 16th in the 100 free.
Sophia Antonetz was ninth in the 50 free (25.48) and 10th in the 100 fly (1:00.4). She is seeded 21st in the 100 fly and 25th in the 50 free.
Smith, Swearingen, Ashley Hockstok and Chloe Stefan-Adams were third in the 400 free relay (3:47.8) and are seeded ninth at district. Swearingen, Antonetz, Hockstok and Mariella Wilson were sixth in the 200 medley relay (1:57.71) and are seeded 18th. Antonetz, Smith, Adams and Makayla Sampson were fifth in the 200 free relay (1:44.62) and are seeded 12th.
The girls finished fifth (114) of 13 teams at sectional behind champion New Albany (400).
Luke Radecki led the boys, finishing fifth in the 100 fly (55.35) to earn the 20th seed at district.
Radecki, Grant Radecki, Noah Palozzi and Luke Burky were eighth in the 200 medley relay (1:49.64) and are seeded 21st. Luke Radecki, Grant Radecki, Burky and Nick Van Allen were 10th in the 400 free relay (3:43.35) and are seeded 23rd, and they were 12th in the 200 free relay (1:39.71) and are seeded 27th.
The boys finished 10th (28) of 13 teams at sectional behind champion New Albany (257).
At district, the top two finishers in each swimming event automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 21 and 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded in each event based on district times statewide.
Two athletes announce college decisions
Two student-athletes officially committed to compete in college Feb. 5.
Maria Givens will play women's soccer at St. Francis (Indiana) and Kayla Jones will compete in women's track and field at Ball State.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 14 -- At Westerville South. The Warhawks lost to the Wildcats 63-61 in double overtime Jan. 10.
Feb. 18 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
Feb. 28 -- Home vs. 23rd-seeded Grove City or 24th-seeded Watkins Memorial in second round of Division I district tournament. The Warhawks are seeded 13th.
*Feb. 14 -- At South. The Warhawks lost to the Wildcats 72-33 on Jan. 10.
Feb. 15 -- At second-seeded Watterson in first round of Division I district tournament. The winner plays 33rd-seeded Hilliard Darby in second round Feb. 21 at home of better seed. The Warhawks are seeded 40th.
*Feb. 13 -- At South
Feb. 15 -- All-North Tournament at Dublin Jerome