Notebook: Westerville North Warriors girls basketball team enters tourney as league champs
The Westerville North girls basketball team was luckier than many squads entering the uncertainty of the 2020-21 season.
The Warriors returned a veteran lineup that helped them navigate the unpredictable environment caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Since the players knew the systems put in place by seventh-year coach Lamont Tillman, the limited preseason practices and the late start to the season didn’t have as much of an impact on the team.
North was able to maneuver through the obstacles to win its first league championship since earning back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. It was 16-4 overall and 12-1 in the OCC-Capital before closing the regular season Feb. 12 against Worthington Kilbourne.
“I think we had an advantage by having a large number of returners from last year and that allowed us to get off to a good start to the season,” Tillman said. “Our defense has put us in position to be successful. We’ve gotten stops when we needed to and our players made plays.”
Senior guard Imari Martin said the team’s hard work has paid off.
“It’s been exciting (to win a league title) because none of us have done this before,” she said. “We’ve tried to play faster and change our style of play, and we’ve been winning games so it shows it’s working.”
The Warriors are seeded fourth in the Division I district tournament. They had a first-round bye and will advance to a district semifinal because their second-round opponent, 35th-seeded Groveport, decided to forfeit rather than play its j.v. team Feb. 19 after the Cruisers’ varsity was put into quarantine because of the coronavirus.
The district semifinal is scheduled for Feb. 24 at home against seventh-seeded Pickerington Central, 31st-seeded Upper Arlington or 37th-seeded Licking Heights.
The 12-day stretch between contests will allow the Warriors to heal some nagging injuries.
“Kayla (Curry-Brown) twisted an ankle against Watterson (45-34 loss Feb. 6) and Emoni (Finch) hasn’t played since New Albany (55-54 overtime loss Jan. 30) after pulling a muscle near her shoulder,” Tillman said. “Hopefully this will help us get back to 100 percent because our girls have been logging a lot of minutes over the past few weeks.
“We haven’t been able to practice on consecutive days for quite a while because of our schedule. This will help us do that, and do our best to reset and stay fresh.”
Charia Smith believes winning the league title could help lead to another banner – the program’s first district title since 2005.
“I think it will help us gain more confidence,” she said. “We lost in a district semifinal (to Reynoldsburg 59-39) last season and getting this league title should help boost our confidence.”
•The North boys basketball team is seeded 22nd in the Division I district tournament and opens at home against 28th-seeded Grove City on Feb. 23.
The winner plays at 12th-seeded Westerville South on Feb. 26 in the second round.
North was 7-7 overall before playing Zanesville on Feb. 13 and 5-4 in the OCC-Capital before facing Canal Winchester on Feb. 15. It closes the regular season with league contests at Dublin Scioto on Feb. 19 and Kilbourne on Feb. 20.
Through 14 games, Camden Ledford was averaging a team-high 13.6 points, followed by Noah Lawrence (10.3) and Caleb Iheukwu (9.4).
•The Central gymnastics team will compete in the OCC-Central meet Feb. 20 at Thomas Worthington and the district meet Feb. 27 at Kilbourne.
“The OCC is always fun and we have a bigger division than what we’ve had in the past few years and a couple of tough teams,” coach Shea Stammen said. “Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Bradley are both looking really strong.”
At district, the top three teams advance to the state team meet March 5 at Bradley, while the top eight finishers in each event and the all-around qualify for the individual state meet March 6 at Bradley.
“We continue to increase our team score,” Stammen said. “They continue to improve every meet and the scores keep going up. … We have less experience than other teams, but they’re continuing to learn.”
Central turned in a season-best score of 111.85 to finish seventh behind champion Bradley (132.8) in the Warhawk Invitational on Feb. 5 at Worthington Youth Boosters Gymnastics.
Freshman Taylor Hinder finished seventh in the all-around (31.0) to lead Central.
“Taylor added bonus into her beam and floor routine and she had a full-start value on beam finally. Izzy (Muccio) and Joli (Myers) put new tumbling in and are getting their higher start values on floor.”
•The South boys basketball team returned to action Feb. 12 following its fourth delay because of COVID-19.
With the majority of the team still in quarantine, senior Peter Pedrozo and junior Drey Carter were joined by junior varsity players in facing Franklin Heights.
Since Pedrozo and Carter had previously recovered from the virus, they were allowed to continue playing.
South entered the game 6-2 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Capital.
“This is the most bizarre stuff I’ve ever had to deal with,” coach Ed Calo said. “We would have missed 63 practice days (as of Feb. 12). That’s unprecedented. Everybody depends on practice. Everybody’s practice is important. Ours are critical to develop and build what we want to build. We can’t miss days. It really affects every aspect of our game, but especially our defense.”
Seeded 12th in the Division I district tournament, the Wildcats will play host to 22nd-seeded North or 28th-seeded Grove City in the second round Feb. 26.
“It could have been so much better if we’d had a different type of year,” Calo said of his team’s seeding. “On the other side, I’m thankful that they seeded us that high. There wasn’t a lot of information that would merit that. I appreciate the respect that the coaches gave our program.”
•Central boys bowling coach Tony Gonzalez expects his team to have a strong showing in the postseason. The team, which has been a combination of boys and girls, will compete in a Division I sectional Feb. 19 at HP Lanes.
The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on a qualifying team advance to district Feb. 22 at HP Lanes.
“This is what we’ve been working for,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve seen improvement throughout the whole year.”
Gonzalez said the girls decided to remain with the boys team for the postseason instead of competing individually in the girls tournament.
“I let the girls decide which route they wanted to go and they decided since we’ve had a pretty good year, they want to make a run as a team with the boys,” Gonzalez said. “It would be fun if we can make it all the way (to state) as a team with the way they’ve bonded and come together and grown. That’s the goal.”
The Warhawks went 7-4 in the COHSBC-A to finish fourth behind first-place Olentangy Orange (11-0) and 3-4 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish fifth behind champion Orange (7-0).
Zack Smock led with a 212.5 average. Kyle Richardson (194.5), Payton Hartgrove (189.9), Stephanie Showalter (174.3), Ben Cantieri (164.4) and Logan Henslee (160.2) also have contributed.
•The South boys and girls bowling teams are preparing for the postseason.
“Both teams can make a lot of noise if we go out and play like we’re capable,” coach Jamie West said. “If we play up to our capability, both teams could be right there.”
The boys will join Central in the sectional Feb. 19 at HP Lanes.
The Wildcats, who were 7-4 overall before playing Lancaster on Feb. 13, finished fifth in the COHSBC-A at 7-5 and fourth in the OCC-Buckeye at 4-3.
Through 29 games, Dominic Candella led South with a 201 average, followed by Ethan Gary (197.8), Henry Tran (186.5) and Jacob Spiegel (174.7).
The girls competed at sectional Feb. 17 at HP Lanes, with the top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on a qualifying team advancing to district Feb. 22 at HP Lanes.
South, which was 9-3 overall before playing Lancaster, went 8-3 in the COHSBC-A to finish fourth behind champion Olentangy (10-1) and 4-2 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish third behind champion Big Walnut (6-0).
Through 27 games, Taylor Hughes led South with a 177.7 average, followed by Alexzandria Stewart (166.5), Addison Poulsen (163.1) and Jessica Applegate (156.4).