Columbus Academy boys basketball coach Jeff Warstler wanted to provide another tribute to his four seniors.
As he prepared for the Division III district tournament draw Feb. 9, Warstler hoped the Vikings would receive a high enough seed to earn a final home game in their postseason opener.
Academy received that opportunity thanks to a strong finish to the regular season, and the 12th-seeded Vikings capitalized on it Feb. 28 with a 52-41 win over 13th-seeded Marion Pleasant in the second round of the Division III district tournament.
"I really wanted those seniors to go out at home with a victory," said Warstler, whose team went 5-2 in February. "It was really important to me. We wanted to send them off the right way."
The Vikings were 11-12 before playing top-seeded Harvest Prep in a district semifinal March 3. Last season, Academy lost to the eventual state-champion Warriors 71-67 in a district final.
This year's winner plays second-seeded Worthington Christian or eighth-seeded Galion Northmor in a district final Friday, March 6, at Ohio Dominican. The Vikings lost to Worthington Christian 58-31 on Jan. 17 and 55-28 on Feb. 14 in MSL-Ohio Division play.
The district champion plays Chillicothe Zane Trace, Frankfort Adena, Winchester Eastern or Ironton in a regional semifinal Wednesday, March 11, at Ohio University.
Against Pleasant, Carter Warstler led Academy with 17 points and Kevin Reeves added 10.
The Vikings trailed 13-4 in the first quarter, but outscored the Spartans 14-5 in the second for a 22-18 lead at halftime. Academy led 38-25 after three quarters.
The contest marked the return of senior Mitch Priest, who missed the previous 14 games with a broken right arm.
"It was such a bittersweet feeling (playing my final home game)," Priest said. "It's been a true privilege to play for coach Warstler and Academy basketball for three years. I'll never forget a minute of my experience and it felt amazing to get a win in our final game on our court. Battling back has been one of the hardest experiences of my life."
Academy also received valuable minutes from junior Brady Hess, who has been battling a back injury all season.
"I thought Brady had a little explosion," coach Warstler said. "He's not 100 percent, but he's well above 50 at this point. That's the healthiest I've seen him. I thought he looked spry. He made a couple of great passes. He looked more like the Brady Hess I was used to seeing in the preseason."
Coach Warstler said it's that type of mentality that makes him proud of his program.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "Brady could have packed it in. Mitch could have packed it in. It's unreal. Carter twisted his (left) ankle (Feb. 24). It would have been easy for Brady to tuck it away and get ready for baseball. It says something about the character of these guys. Even the guys who weren't playing are all in. It's a special group."
Hockey team wraps up season
The hockey team's season was highlighted by winning its first league title.
Academy went 7-7-1-1 in Capital Hockey Conference play, giving it 16 points to finish first in the CHC-Blue, ahead of second-place Watterson (14, 7-9).
Seeded 18th for the district tournament, the Vikings defeated 19th-seeded Cincinnati Sycamore 7-4 on Feb. 22 before losing to second-seeded St. Charles 8-3 on Feb. 23 to finish 10-13-1-2 overall.
"We're very happy with the season," coach Corey Taber said. "We lost so many seniors last year, we didn't know what to expect and the guys had just an absolutely great season. We were excited to win the division and make progress as a program, and keep knocking down objectives. We had a goal of winning a game in the (district) tournament, so we're really happy with how the season wrapped up."
Academy loses just one senior in forward Philip Soderberg.
Junior forward Campbell Gwin led the Vikings in league play with 20 goals and 11 assists, and sophomore forward Jake Carlin had 14 goals and 13 assists. Both were named first-team all-CHC-Blue.
Sophomore forward Andrew Zaki had 10 goals and eight assists, junior forward Luke Budzik had nine goals and sophomore defenseman Allen Koganov had nine assists.
Junior goaltender Max Crane allowed just 13 goals in CHC-Blue play.
Other players eligible to return are juniors Patrick Daly (defenseman), Andrew Golden (defenseman), Suzy L'Hommedieu (defenseman), Nate Rausch (forward) and Xander Wood (forward), sophomores Jack Carlin (forward), Connor Harris (defenseman), Cassidy Jones (forward), Arden Preza (forward), Alex Sterkowicz (forward) and Max Walker (defenseman) and freshman Ethan Kim (forward).
Girls squad closes season
The girls basketball team finished 8-15 overall and 3-11 in the MSL-Ohio under first-year coach Heather Rakosik.
Seeded 14th for the Division III district tournament, the Vikings had a first-round bye and lost at eighth-seeded North Union 53-42 in the second round Feb. 22.
The Vikings were outscored 22-11 in the fourth quarter.
"We felt like we had chances to win that game," Rakosik said. "We did a lot of what we needed to do. We didn't close it out, but we definitely stuck to the game plan, which was a plus."
Sophomore guard Sophie Spolter scored 21 points to lead the Vikings. She averaged a team-high 14.9 points and was named first-team all-league and third-team all-district.
Junior guard Kayla McClendon averaged 10.8 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Other players eligible to return are sophomore forward Claudia Warstler and freshman forward Claire Cahall.
"We have some kids who can make things happen, so we want to continue to build," Rakosik said.