Marie Belli didn't let her first experience at the Division I district swimming and diving meet overwhelm her Feb. 13 at Ohio State.
After earning a sectional runner-up finish in the 200-yard individual medley Feb. 8 at Thomas Worthington, the Gahanna Lincoln freshman swam nearly four seconds faster and finished in 2 minutes, 3.13 seconds to place second and advance to state.
"I kind of surprised myself," Belli said. "I wasn't expecting to get top two. As a freshman, I reached my goal. I think I did very well. I'm very happy."
Led by Belli, the girls team finished fourth (216 points) at district behind champion New Albany (378) as 26 teams scored and the boys were ninth (76) behind champion Upper Arlington (381.5) as 23 teams scored.
The top two placers in each swimming event automatically advanced to state Friday, Feb. 21, and Saturday, Feb. 22, at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on times statewide.
Here's a list of state qualifiers.
The girls team also will be represented at state Thursday, Feb. 20, by junior diver Ashleigh Provan, who placed fourth (407.15) at district to earn the final state-qualifying berth.
Belli, who placed third in the 100 butterfly (55.3) to put herself in strong position to earn an at-large state berth, missed the program record in the 200 IM by .03 of a second. The record is held by her sister, Morgan.
Belli also swam on a pair of relays that reached the podium at district.
She joined sophomores Eloise Fisher, Sami Kiss and Kendall Hitler on the fifth-place 200 medley relay (1:47.45) and sophomores Regan Reetz and Gwyneth Payton and freshman Stella Brofford on the sixth-place 400 freestyle relay (3:36.45).
Also placing sixth were Hitler in the 200 IM (2:08.29) and Reetz in the 200 free (1:53.88), while Fisher was seventh in the 100 breaststroke (1:06.44), Kiss was eighth in the 100 breast (1:06.7) and the 200 free relay of Fisher, Kiss, Hitler and Reetz was eighth (1:39.33).
Also competing at district were freshman Benita Alli in diving (17th, 216.85), Brofford in the 500 free (14th, 5:17.49), Hitler in the 100 fly (ninth, 57.79), Kiss in the 200 IM (ninth, 2:10.67), freshman Vicky Miller in diving (14th, 307.2), Payton in the 200 free (13th, 1:57.88) and 500 free (18th, 5:21.02) and Reetz in the 500 free (ninth, 5:07.72).
"As a team, we really care for each other and it makes swim meets more fun," Belli said. "It's going pretty well."
Belli's brother, Johnny, led the boys team at district with a fifth-place finish in the 50 free (21.22). Johnny, a senior, also swam on the fifth-place 200 free relay with junior McCord Riegler, senior Derek Yu and junior Nathan Vogelgesang (1:28.45) and the eighth-place 400 free relay with Yu, Vogelgesang and Riegler (3:14.93) and finished 10th in the 100 backstroke (54.09).
Belli's time in the 50 free broke the program record held by his older brother, Major.
Also competing at district were Riegler in the 100 breast (12th, 58.9) and 200 IM (18th, 2:00.05), Vogelgesang in the 100 free (29th, 51.07), freshman Jayden Wells in diving (22nd, 134.3) and the 200 medley relay of junior Caleb Gilger, Yu, Vogelgesang and senior Darin Fields (17th, 1:46.87).
"I got fifth (in the 50 free), so (I'm pleased)," Johnny Belli said. "With my time, I got the school record. McCord Riegler also swam well in his 200 IM."
Boys team earns outright OCC title
When the boys basketball team met Pickerington Central on Jan. 11 in the first round of OCC-Ohio Division action, Maceo Williams scored the game-winning basket off a pass from Sean Jones with 32.7 seconds left for a 44-42 victory.
The second matchup between the teams was less dramatic but more impactful.
On Feb. 14, the Lions had a double-digit lead cut to six points with less than a minute left before holding off a rally attempt to beat the Tigers 55-46. With the victory, Gahanna wrapped up the outright league championship at 9-1.
"I wouldn't say defensively we're doing anything differently than in previous years, but I just think this group is really committed to the defensive end," coach Tony Staib said. "In our league and with the teams we play, you need that every single night. Anytime you get the Pickeringtons and Gahanna together, it's a rivalry game. This decade, we've had some really good battles."
Gahanna enters the postseason at 21-1 overall and is the top seed for the 49-team Division I district tournament. The Lions will play host to 45th-seeded Olentangy Berlin in the first round Saturday, Feb. 22, with the winner playing host to 46th-seeded Independence in the second round Feb. 28.
Gahanna, whose previous outright league title came in 2010, has won five games in a row since falling 51-49 to Pickerington North on Jan. 24.
Hockey team preps for district tourney
The 20th-seeded hockey team opens the district tournament against 21st-seeded Centerville on Saturday, Feb. 22, at Chiller North.
The winner plays third-seeded Olentangy Liberty in the second round Sunday, Feb. 23, at Chiller North, with that winner to face seventh-seeded Berlin, eighth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller or 25th-seeded DeSales in a quarterfinal Feb. 29 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Gahanna was seeded 16th for the Blue Jackets Cup consolation tournament and lost to 15th-seeded Watterson 5-0 in a first-round game Feb. 12 at Chiller Dublin to drop to 10-21-1 overall.
The Lions, who finished 5-12 in the CHC-Blue Division, had split their two league games against the Eagles, winning 3-0 on Dec. 7 and losing 6-1 on Dec. 14.
The bowling teams open the postseason this week at HP Lanes.
The boys team will compete in the Division I sectional Friday, Feb. 21, with the girls competing the following day.