Israel Foston and Corey Hill both had experience in wrestling when they joined the Olentangy Berlin program last season as juniors, but neither had served in a leadership role.

A year later, the two seniors have grown into the leaders that a young Bears squad needs in its second season.

Entering a match against Upper Arlington on Feb. 19, Hill was 30-7 at 170 pounds and Foston was 24-9 at 160.

"I think it was a lot of learning for me because I didn't have much of a leadership role as a sophomore (at Olentangy)," said Hill, who began wrestling at 4 years old. "I like the motto that to teach somebody to swim, you have to throw them in the water. To teach me how to be a leader, I got thrown into the deep end. But I had coach (Josh Heffernan), (assistant) coach (Luke) Moore and the football coaches to help me with that. It's something I had to teach myself to help fill that position. As time went on, I got better.

"That pressure let me know that I couldn't take a second off on the mat. I had to be that role model and show everyone the culture that we're trying to build. You can't be a good team with lousy leaders."

Foston, a Campbellsville University commit, began competing in the sport in middle school and was stuck behind four-time state-qualifier Xander Gore at 145 two years ago at Olentangy.

"I feel like there are a lot of young guys this year who need a lot of help," said Foston, whose father, Reggie, was a longtime assistant at Columbus Academy. "We were kind of cast into the role last year (when the team had no seniors), but this year we show the new people what we learned."

Heffernan said it wasn't an easy process, but his two standouts are better for the experience.

"It was a real struggle because they were forced to be leaders as juniors before they were ready," he said. "That was throughout the school. The juniors really struggled last year embracing that leadership role. We had a handful of kids who did a tremendous job, but that's asking a lot of a kid.

"To go from being a sophomore that didn't compete on varsity to step up and be that kind of leader is difficult. There's confidence that comes with it and maturity factors into it and very few kids have innate leadership skills. It's a learned thing. We try to take a very systematic approach that's purposeful on how we teach leadership and laying those expectations, and Corey and Izzy have done a great job."

Heffernan said Foston is a takedown specialist who has worked on his all-around performance on the mat. He had 118 takedowns last season and 89 through 31 matches this winter.

"Izzy is very talented on his feet and he has been working to make himself a complete wrestler," Heffernan said. "He knows that when teams look at him, they are trying to take away his No. 1 (takedown move) on his feet. They want him to beat them with some of his other stuff.

"When you have a weapon on your feet like Izzy has, he really worked to diversify his portfolio. He wants to take his No. 2 and No. 3 (moves) and his mat wrestling up to the same level (as the No. 1). He has made huge gains this year with his mat wrestling and his mental approach."

Hill, who had a team-high 31 wins last season, wrestles more like someone in a lighter weight class.

"Corey is a high-pace chain wrestler," Heffernan said. "He can tie a lot of moves together and is good in a flurry. Both he and Izzy like scoring points.

"They came from Olentangy and when I think about the leaders when he was a freshman and sophomore, their leaders were smaller guys who were takedown artists with leg attacks. That was their influence and hopefully we added to what they do and helped them become better leaders."

Butcher, Robinson lead swimmers

Brogan Robinson and Grace Butcher led the swimming and diving teams in the Division II district meet Feb. 13 at Ohio State.

Butcher placed fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 4.64 seconds) as the girls team finished 13th (62 points) behind champion New Albany (378) as 26 teams scored.

Staci Nation finished eighth in the 200 individual medley (2:09.94) and joined Butcher on the ninth-place 200 medley relay (1:48.56) with Audrey Butcher and Callista Rousher.

Robinson placed sixth in the 500 freestyle (4:43.63) and eighth in the 200 IM (1:54.91) as the boys team tied Hilliard Davidson for 12th (57) behind champion UA (381.5) as 23 teams scored.

He also joined Zach Lambert, Garrett Graybill and Ben Paull on the eighth-place 200 free relay (1:30.64).

The top two finishers 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 district times statewide.

Here's a list of state qualifiers.

Hockey team preps for district tourney

The hockey team is seeded seventh in the district tournament behind top-seeded UA and has a first-round bye.

The Bears will face eighth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller or 25th-seeded DeSales in the second round Sunday, Feb. 23, at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The winner plays third-seeded Liberty, 20th-seeded Gahanna or 21st-seeded Centerville in a quarterfinal Feb. 29 at the Ice Haus.

Berlin enters the postseason at 20-9 after losing to second-seeded St. Charles 5-2 on Feb. 13 in the opening round of the Blue Jackets Cup. Luke DeChristopher and Carson Jankowski scored for the seventh-seeded Bears.

Postseason update

The boys basketball, bowling and gymnastics teams will open their postseasons this week.

The 45th-seeded boys basketball team visits top-seeded Gahanna on Saturday, Feb. 22, in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

The boys bowling team will compete in the Division I sectional Friday, Feb. 21, at HP Lanes, with the girls competing the following day at the same venue.

The gymnastics team will compete in the district meet Feb. 22 at Worthington Kilbourne.

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen