Pickerington North Roundup: Panthers' Elijah Hawk grateful for final basketball season
Elijah Hawk entered high school loving basketball more than football, although the latter became the sport for which he earned a scholarship to Western Michigan.
Hawk fully intended on playing his senior season of basketball after helping the football team to the OCC-Ohio Division championship, but wanting to focus on preparing for college and potentially avoiding injury during basketball, he temporarily stepped away from the team before the season.
Although he missed the Panthers’ first three games, Hawk didn’t stray for long.
“Coach (Jason Bates) gave me some time to think. It’s my senior year and you only get one senior year, so I figured I’d play basketball. I like it and I wanted to finish that way,” said Hawk, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound center. “I knew one day, I’d regret not playing this year. I didn’t want to have that feeling.”
Hawk returned two weeks into the regular season and has become the Panthers’ linchpin in the middle, averaging 5.3 points and 7.0 rebounds through 15 games. North was 11-4 overall and 7-2 in the OCC-Ohio before wrapping up league play Feb. 19 at Gahanna.
Seeded seventh in the Division I district tournament, the Panthers will play host to 34th-seeded New Albany or 41st-seeded Franklin Heights in the second round Feb. 26.
Hawk is the latest in a line of Division I football recruits to play big roles on the basketball court in recent years for North, joining center Jack Sawyer (Ohio State) and guards Chris Scott (Cincinnati) and Ty Wiley (Toledo and Ohio Dominican).
Bates reassured Hawk that playing basketball could help his future in multiple respects.
“There’s a lot you can get out of a basketball season, even if you’re not going for a scholarship or playing at the next level,” Bates said. “There’s the camaraderie, the competition, the lessons you learn and the adversity you go through. That’s what sold him on it. He’s a great teammate. He loves being around the team and he’s a great competitor. I just wanted to make sure he saw those benefits.”
Generally not counted on for scoring in a guard-heavy lineup, Hawk reached double digits just once through 15 games, a 10-point performance in a 40-34 win over New Albany on Jan. 8.
“I am just a lot more comfortable with the system now,” said Hawk, who started several games last season. “One of my biggest things this year is defense, and then passing the ball, too. I think I am passing the ball much better (and) causing less turnovers.”
A three-year starter at tight end and defensive end in football – the past two at North after his sophomore season at Groveport – Hawk is projected to be an outside linebacker at Western Michigan.
If the Panthers win their postseason opener, they will play 11th-seeded Olentangy Orange, 26th-seeded Big Walnut or 42nd-seeded Logan in a district semifinal March 3 at the home of the better seed. District finals are March 6.
“We had to pick between (potential district finals against) Westerville Central and Gahanna and only having played Gahanna once at the time of the draw, not knowing what that game looks like whereas we’d played Westerville Central twice, I have a better feel for what that game might look like,” Bates said. “I like to be able to pick my matchups. I think we picked a good route.”
Behind wins from all three boys relays and two wins each from three boys swimmers, the boys and girls swimming squads swept the team titles in a Division I sectional Feb. 13 at Upper Arlington.
Braden Hopkins won the 100-yard backstroke (54.51 seconds) and 100 butterfly (52.53), Chase McCluskey finished first in the 200 freestyle (1:49.23) and 500 free (4:51.48) and Marcus Schwartz won the 100 breaststroke (58.31) and 200 individual medley (1:55.55). The 200 free relay (1:31.25), 200 medley relay (1:40.44) and 400 free relay (3:30.98) also finished first as North scored 398 points, well ahead of runner-up Pickerington Central (193).
Elizabeth Bush won the 200 free (1:49.23) and the 200 free relay was first (1:42.56) for the girls team, which scored 372 points to edge runner-up Watterson (365).
In the district diving meet Feb. 15 at Jefferson Country Club, North’s three competitors fell short of state berths. Aidan Eberhardt of the boys team finished 11th (342.3), and on the girls side Macy Muetzel was 15th (309.15) and Lainey Mack placed 20th (214.15).
The wrestling team will participate in a Division I sectional Feb. 27 at Watkins Memorial, hoping to build on qualifying six competitors to district a year ago.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to district March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby.
Kyle Coffey (160 pounds) and Erik Gomez (132) will attempt to qualify for district for the third consecutive season. David Carte (145) was a state alternate last season at 138 before the tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Maggie Mann competed in the inaugural girls district tournament Feb. 14 at Orange but went 0-2.