Pickerington Central Roundup: Tigers girls basketball team grows through struggles

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Olivia Cooper and Central won only three of their first nine games. However, the Tigers had played a tough schedule that included two losses to fourth-ranked Newark and another to 10th-ranked Reynoldsburg.

While acknowledging an uncharacteristically rough start to the season, Pickerington Central girls basketball coach Johnathan Hedgepeth is ready to remind his players of their ultimate goals if they ever become discouraged.

All Hedgepeth needs to do is point to the 2018 Division I state championship banner, the Tigers’ state runner-up finish from the next season and a run of district titles the team hopes to extend to six later this month.

Central stood at 3-6 overall and 1-3 in the OCC-Buckeye Division before playing Central Crossing on Jan. 29, having lost twice to fourth-ranked Newark and once to 10th-ranked Reynoldsburg in league play as well as Berlin Hiland, the top-ranked team in Division III.

Another opponent, Indianapolis North Central, which defeated Central 67-40 on Jan. 16 during the Lady Tigers MLK Classic, was top-ranked in Indiana last week.

“Not many people (outside the program) are going to pay attention to the schedule when it comes to wins and losses. But we talked to the girls that our challenge is to prepare them for the tournament,” Hedgepeth said. “It’s what we want to do here. The most important thing for us is the league schedule, then the district and regional. We’ve gotten better but there have been a lot of challenges.”

The Tigers faced a two-week COVID-19 quarantine in early January, and even after their return were without Bowling Green recruit Jocelyn Tate against Reynoldsburg and North Central.

On top of that adversity, many of Central’s top players are underclassmen who are continuing to mature. Tate and Purdue recruit Skye Williams are seniors but of the Tigers’ other starters, forward Olivia Cooper and point guard Madison Greene are sophomores and forward Berry Wallace is a freshman.

Greene is in her first season as a full-time starter after backing up 2020 graduate Nicole Stephens as a freshman. Stephens now plays at Columbia.

“I wanted to shoot more, get my stats up more and help the team,” Greene said. “(Stephens’) leadership ability and way of getting us hyped up before games is something I wanted to do on my own. She was one of the best point guards in the area. That’s what I want to be.”

Cooper’s 6-foot-2 frame allows her to play anywhere from small forward to center. She also cited learning from Stephens and Aarionna Redman, who now plays at Marshall, and said she has seen particular improvement this season in the Tigers’ defense.

“We’ve been competitive and we’ve come back from deficits when we’ve fallen behind,” Cooper said before mentioning a 48-36 loss at Newark on Jan. 22. “There were some possessions where we trapped well and that turned into points. Defensively, we were really good and that’s a big thing for our team. In most of our losses, turnovers have played a part.”

Onye Ikwuakam (left) and the Central wrestling team have had an up-and-down season, but as the Division I postseason approaches, "we're seeing some guys putting things together," coach Ryan DiSabato said.

Wrestling coach

emphasizes growth

Led by Cameron Griffith’s 8-6 record, the wrestling team sought its first OCC-Buckeye win when it took on Lancaster, which was the six-time defending OCC-Ohio champion before conference realignment, on Jan. 28.

Griffith started the season at heavyweight and recently dropped to 220 pounds, pacing a team that has had to forfeit a handful of matches in each of its duals because of turnout. 

Mekhi Hargrow was 6-6 at 160 before Jan. 28.

“We’re young and we’re small. The dual format has hurt us from a competition standpoint in giving up some forfeits, but coming toward the postseason, we’re seeing some guys putting things together,” coach Ryan DiSabato said. “ (Nick) Chesser and Hargrow have had some ups and downs, but I could see them getting hot by the end of the season. The signs have been there. They’ve competed well and they’ve been adjusting to their classes and different styles of wrestling.”

Central lost its league opener, 63-13 at Newark on Jan. 7, and fell to visiting Central Crossing 58-12 on Jan. 14 before a COVID-19 quarantine sidelined the team for about two weeks. A scheduled Jan. 21 league match at Groveport was postponed to Feb. 10.

“With our freshmen and sophomores, it’s been more process-oriented,” DiSabato said. “They’re getting valuable experience they might not have gotten in a typical year. We’re working on our work ethic and technique and building our style of culture here.”

Boys bowlers set

program record

Despite being just 3-6 overall and 3-5 in the COHSBC-B before a Jan. 28 match against Thomas Worthington and 1-4 in the OCC-Central entering a Feb. 3 match against Pickerington North, the boys bowling team already has achieved history this season.

Central set a program record Jan. 14 when it defeated Worthington Kilbourne 2,346-2,180 at Capri Lanes. That eclipsed the Tigers’ previous record of 2,337, set Jan. 22, 2020, against Marysville at Dragon Lanes. 

Jared Baden’s 432 series, a then-personal best that he eclipsed by 17 pins six days later against Whitehall at Holiday Lanes, led the Tigers.

Baden, who is one of three sophomores in the top five along with Alex Bookman and Brandon Bradley, led Central in average through nine matches at 193.4 pins per game. Freshman Myles Etherington was second (177.7), ahead of Bradley (164.3) and Bookman (160.1) among bowlers who had been in at least 11 games.

Led by Jaycie Arnet and Kylie Finan, the girls team was 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the COHSBC-B before Jan. 28 and 0-1 in the OCC-Central before Feb. 3.

Arnet and Finan averaged 164.5 and 160.9, respectively, in that span, ahead of Alex Tulius (146.3), Sydney Brown (144.6), Allison Whisman (135.4) and Mikayla Hodge (134.0).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave