Boys Basketball: 'Rough start' failed to ground Thomas Worthington Cardinals

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Omari Effiong was part of an eight-player senior class that helped Thomas go 18-5 overall and win the OCC-Cardinal championship at 10-0. He was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

The season didn’t end how the team wanted, but Thomas Worthington boys basketball coach Sean Luzader said the Cardinals have nothing to hang their heads about. 

Thomas started 2-4 before putting together a 15-game winning streak entering the Division I district tournament, where the fourth-seeded Cardinals hoped to repeat as champions. They defeated visiting and 37th-seeded Independence 84-53 in the second round Feb. 26 before falling to visiting and 13th-seeded Newark 53-45 in a semifinal March 3 to finish 18-5 overall. 

The Cardinals won the OCC-Cardinal Division title at 10-0. 

“(It was) certainly a successful season overall,” Luzader said. “From where we started to a 16-game winning streak (after beating Independence), the kids battled back from a rough start at the beginning of the year and overcame a lot of things.” 

Junior guard Cam Beatty, who was named special mention all-league, said there was a reason the slow start didn’t derail the Cardinals’ season. 

“I think the main factor to our success was the way we treated each other like a brother,” he said. “We were a family. That making us close and that bond is what got us our success. Trusting one another (was key).” 

The Cardinals lose eight seniors led by guard Jalen Sullinger, who averaged a team-best 18.1 points and had a team-high 32 steals. He was named first-team all-league and all-district.

Senior forward Tyrese Hughey averaged 12.4 points and led with 159 rebounds. He was first-team all-league and second-team all-district. 

Senior guard Omari Effiong contributed on both ends of the floor, averaging 7.0 points with 65 rebounds and 24 deflections. He was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. 

Senior guard Maurice Collins, a four-year varsity player along with Sullinger and senior guard Isaac Settles, was honorable mention all-league.

“Certainly I don’t want to disrespect any of our previous (senior) groups I’ve coached for many years ... but at the same time, I can’t say I’ve felt this way about any group we’ve ever had,” Luzader said. “I think they upheld the history and tradition of Worthington and Worthington basketball really well.”

Luzader said Beatty, sophomore forward Joey Zalewski and sophomore guard Caleb Miller are expected to play major roles next season. 

Zalewski averaged 9.2 points and was second in rebounds with 118. He was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

Luzader said the Cardinals’ youth next season and the loss of key seniors won’t be an excuse. 

“The No. 1 thing is the expectation doesn’t change,” he said. “The expectation is we (are still) a top team, that we win games and that we have a chance to win a league and a district championship.” 

Travis Mecklenburg was part of a seven-player senior class that helped Kilbourne finish 17-5 overall and win its first league title by going 12-2 in the OCC-Capital. He was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

Kilbourne enjoys

breakout season 

Like Thomas, Kilbourne experienced a lot of success while ultimately falling short of its district title aspirations. 

Eighth-seeded Kilbourne lost 51-49 at fifth-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a Division I district semifinal March 3 to finish 17-5 overall. But despite the end result, coach Tom Souder said this season is one he and the players will remember, as the Wolves won their first league title with a 12-2 record in the OCC-Capital. 

Souder said senior wing player Ian Schupp also became the first player in program history to earn league Player of the Year honors. And with senior wing player Travis Mecklenburg also being named first-team all-league, Souder said it was the first time Kilbourne had two first-team all-league players in the same season. 

“I’m just really proud of this group,” said Souder, who was league and district Coach of the Year. “In the end, we are all so proud of these kids and what kind of season we’ve been through with everything. This is a really, really special group of kids.”  

Souder said the Wolves were anchored by their seven seniors. 

Schupp, who also was first-team all-district, averaged a team-best 17 points. Mecklenburg, who also was honorable mention all-district, was second in scoring at 13 points per game. 

Senior guard Cayden Dougherty was special mention all-league and senior post player Brian Wilson was honorable mention all-league. 

Souder said the seniors, who also included Mitchell Tomasek, Mitchell Abahazie and Kenny Nally, had a camaraderie tailored for winning games.  

“You kind of knew and you kind of saw that they had something different when they were in the fourth grade,” Souder said. “They genuinely all care about each other. They want to see each other have success, and they don’t care who gets it done as long as it gets done. That’s special. That’s a special bond. 

“Everybody had a job, everybody had a role and everybody accepted that role, and they developed their own roles for the betterment of the group.” 

Souder said junior guard Ayden Parsons, who was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, projects to be among Kilbourne’s top returnees next year along with junior guards Luke Wolford, Jackson Judy and Nick Hirschy, junior post player Bryce Taylor and junior wing player/post player Cole Archual. 

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve

KILBOURNE

Record: 17-5 overall 

OCC-Capital standings: Kilbourne (12-2), Westerville South (8-2), Canal Winchester (8-5), Big Walnut (7-5), Westerville North (6-7), Delaware (3-7), Dublin Scioto (2-8), Franklin Heights (2-12) 

Seniors lost: Mitchell Abahazie, Cayden Dougherty, Travis Mecklenburg, Kenny Nally, Ian Schupp, Mitchell Tomasek and Brian Wilson

Key returnees: Cole Archual, Nicky Hirschy, Jackson Judy, Ayden Parsons and Luke Wolford

Postseason: Defeated Upper Arlington 50-43; lost to Olentangy Liberty 51-49 in Division I district semifinal 

THOMAS

Record: 18-5 overall 

OCC-Cardinal standings: Thomas (10-0), Marysville (7-3), Olentangy (6-4), Hilliard Darby (4-6), Dublin Jerome (3-7), Olentangy Berlin (0-10)

Seniors lost: Maurice Collins, Omari Effiong, Tyrese Hughey, Abass Kamara, Nick Moore, Isaac Settles, Jalen Sullinger and Kerwin Williams 

Key returnees: Cam Beatty, Caleb Miller and Joey Zalewski 

Postseason: Def. Independence 84-53; lost to Newark 53-45 in Division I district semifinal