2020 Year In Review: Pandemic altered central Ohio sports landscape

From staff reports
ThisWeek
1. Olentangy Orange's Michael Clouse (14) and Jake Burre stand in formation for the national anthem before the Pioneers' opener against Olentangy on Aug. 28. Scenes like this happened throughout central Ohio as teams followed protocols put in place for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

UPDATE: In an earlier version of this story, Upper Arlington's Dan Peterkoski was not listed among the coaches who retired in 2020. 

The memories of 2020 – many filled with mixed emotions – won’t soon be forgotten by central Ohioans who are involved in high school, college and professional sports. 

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has shaped the way all of us have lived since March, forcing those in athletics at every level to make adjustments to keep hopes, dreams and livelihoods alive. 

People's resilience – particularly from high school athletes whose seasons ended prematurely, were temporarily paused or never happened at all – has shined throughout the last nine months.

Here’s a look at the sports year in central Ohio through the eyes of the ThisWeek sports staff: 

1. Hilliard Bradley boys soccer players wear masks while spaced 6-feet apart on the sideline, according to COVID-19 protocols, before a game against visiting Hilliard Darby on Aug. 21.

1. PANDEMIC ALTERS LANDSCAPE – With the state girls basketball tournament about to begin March 12, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced it was postponing the remainder of the winter sports season because of the pandemic.

Unfortunately for the athletes, it was only the beginning of an unprecedented situation as the state tournaments in girls basketball, wrestling and hockey and the regional and state boys basketball tournaments were canceled March 26. 

“We are just devastated that the tournaments cannot be completed,” then-OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass said at the time.

In what ended up being the final winter event in central Ohio, Hilliard Bradley beat Walnut Ridge 59-32 in a Division I boys basketball regional semifinal March 11 at Ohio Dominican. That closed the prep career of the Scots’ VonCameron Davis, who would later be named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball. 

Also in basketball, the Harvest Prep boys and Africentric girls were on track to defend Division III state titles before the pandemic dashed their hopes. Harvest Prep’s Christopher Anthony closed his career with 2,395 points to rank first all-time in the Central District. The Warriors’ final game was a 58-46 win over Chillicothe Zane Trace in a regional semifinal.

The Grandview and Wellington boys teams had reached Division IV regional finals when the season ended.

In hockey, New Albany lost its chance to compete in the state tournament for the first time after upsetting top-seeded Upper Arlington 3-2 in a district semifinal and third-seeded Olentangy Liberty 4-2 in the final. The fourth-seeded Eagles handed UA its only loss and finished 21-14-2.

In wrestling, Dublin Coffman's Seth Shumate was 43-0 heading into the Division I state tournament, where he won the 195-pound title in 2019.

When it became official April 20 that students would continue distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year and that buildings would not be reopened, the OHSAA announced the spring sports season also would be canceled. Teams were allowed to begin practicing in small groups May 26.

With pandemic protocols in place, non-contact sports were permitted to start on time during the fall season, while field hockey, football and boys and girls soccer programs waited until Aug. 18 before receiving the OK to begin competing against other schools. Although all fall OHSAA sports completed their championships, there were numerous events canceled along the way. 

The OCC then postponed the beginning of the winter league schedule until Dec. 18 because of the pandemic, and the City League announced its athletes would not begin practicing or competing until at least Jan. 2.

“It’s been a process. It’s ever-evolving. You're just trying to figure it out one step at a time,” Pickerington North athletics director Molly Feesler said early in the fall season. “We all need to help each other.”

2. DeSales players take the field for the Division III state championship game against Chardon on Nov. 21 at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon. The Stallions lost 31-28 in double overtime.

2. STALLIONS GALLOP TO FINAL – Following a regular season in which it beat Hartley twice to win its first CCL championship since 2016 and won five of six games, the DeSales football team captured the Division III, Region 11 title with another win over the Hawks, 38-7 on Nov. 6. 

The Stallions then beat Kettering Alter 23-13 on Nov. 13 in a state semifinal and held a two-touchdown lead in the state final Nov. 21 but lost 31-28 in two overtimes to Chardon to finish 9-2.  

On Nov. 19, the OHSAA announced that the DeSales-Chardon game as well as the other five remaining state title contests would be moved from Fortress Obetz to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon after Franklin County Public Health recommended that those games not be held in the county. 

Junior Jonathan Thompson (RB/LB), who was the district’s Defensive Player of the Year, and senior Quintell Quinn (RB/LB) led the Stallions. 

3. Pickerington Central's Lorenzo Styles Jr. stiff-arms Mentor's Chase Hull during the Tigers' 38-31 win Nov. 6 in a Division I state semifinal at New Philadelphia. A week later, Central lost to Cincinnati St. Xavier 44-3 in the state final.

3. TIGERS AGAIN BATTLE FOR TITLE – The Pickerington Central football team’s hopes of winning a third Division I state championship in four seasons and second in a row ended with a 44-3 loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier in the title game Nov. 13. 

Before playing in the first championship game held at Fortress Obetz, the Tigers had no trouble dominating central Ohio competition, winning all six regular-season games and the Region 3 title by an average of 34.8 points. 

Central then beat Mentor 38-31 on Nov. 6 in a state semifinal and took a 22-game winning streak into the matchup against St. Xavier. The Tigers finished 11-1.

Senior Lorenzo Styles Jr. (WR/DB), a Notre Dame recruit, led an experienced squad which reached at least a state semifinal for the fifth consecutive year. 

4. SAYING GOODBYE – After 32 seasons as Coffman’s baseball coach, Tim Saunders announced Jan. 24 that the 2020 season would be his final one before retiring. 

The spring sports season later was canceled, leaving Saunders with a career record of 589-393 that included 10 league titles and a Division I state title in 2001. He’s a member of the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. 

Upper Arlington's Dan Peterkoski retired after 17 seasons in which his girls water polo and girls swimming and diving teams won a combined 23 state titles – 12 in water polo and 11 in swimming.

Tom Woodford stepped down as Watterson girls basketball coach after 19 seasons, concluding a 25-year career that included winning 417 games and leading the Eagles to one district title and five district runner-up finishes. 

Byron Mattox left the Walnut Ridge football program after a 15-year tenure in which his teams went 106-42 with five playoff appearances. 

Others who left their programs after successful tenures included Earl Devanny (Olentangy girls soccer), Kelly Giroux (Dublin Jerome girls soccer), Sam Krafty (Liberty girls basketball) and Josh Stratton (Canal Winchester football). 

5. Dublin Coffman's Ellie Andrews (center) hoists the Division I girls state swimming and diving championship trophy with teammates Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. The Shamrocks won their first state title while having only six competitors.

5. SMALL BUT MIGHTY – At the Division I state swimming and diving meet that concluded Feb. 22, the Coffman girls team won its first championship despite having only six competitors. 

Ellie Andrews won the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke and swam on the winning 200 medley relay. 

Also winning state girls titles were Liberty’s Olivia Lynch (diving) in Division I and Columbus School for Girls’ Nyah Funderburke (100 backstroke, 100 butterfly) and Worthington Christian’s Lena Morgan (diving) in Division II. 

New Albany’s Noah Duperre won the Division I boys diving title, and Wellington’s George Callanan won the Division II boys diving title. 

6. The stands were packed at Hilliard Davidson on Feb. 22 for the first girls state wrestling tournament.

6. GIRLS GRAPPLE ON STATE STAGE – There were 234 competitors in the first Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association girls state tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Davidson, and central Ohio programs delivered in a big way. 

Olentangy Orange earned a runner-up finish (122.5) and Marysville placed third (99.5).

Individually, Orange’s Taryn Martin (137), Coffman’s Ayala Wolak (150) and Grove City’s Francesca Lanese (160) won titles, and Olentangy Berlin’s Maia Crumb (150), Big Walnut’s Aliya Martin (137) and Bradley’s Sol Franco (160) were runners-up. 

Casstown Miami East (149.5) captured the first team championship.

7. Alex Picolo (left), Grace Cantwell, Cailin O'Reilly and Zoe Coleman of the Watterson field hockey team celebrate a goal against Hudson during the state final Nov. 7 at Thomas Worthington. The Eagles won 3-0.

7. EAGLES SOAR TO TITLE – The Watterson field hockey team won its fourth state championship, including its third under coach Janet Baird. 

The Eagles lost 4-1 in a regular-season game to Hudson but beat the Explorers 3-0 on Nov. 7 for the title. Watterson also avenged a pair of regular-season losses to Thomas Worthington with a 2-1 win that gave the program its 11th district title. 

Alex Picolo scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over two-time defending state champion Columbus Academy in a state semifinal. She then scored along with Cailin O’Reilly and Zoe Coleman in the title game. 

8. Aditya Reddy helped the Columbus Academy boys golf team capture its fourth consecutive Division II state championship. The Vikings shot a 615 on Oct. 16 and 17 at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
8. Emerson Purcell helped the New Albany girls golf team capture its third consecutive Division I state championship. The Eagles shot a 586 to win by 41 strokes Oct. 23 and 24 at Ohio State's Gray Course.

8. LINKS LEADERS – In golf, the Columbus Academy boys team won its fourth consecutive Division II state title, and the New Albany girls squad captured its third Division I championship in a row. 

Stephen Ma shot 144 on Oct. 16 and 17 at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course to earn the state individual title while helping Academy finish with a 615. 

The New Albany girls shot 586 to win state by 41 strokes Oct. 23 and 24 at Ohio State's Gray Course. The Eagles' Madison Spiess won the individual title with a 141, and teammates Anna Ritter (fifth, 149) and Kary Hollenbaugh (151, tied for sixth) also shined. 

Wellington’s Carsten Judge tied for second (147) in the Division III boys tournament Oct. 16 and 17 at NorthStar, and Jerome’s Tyler Groomes tied for fifth (150) to lead the area in the Division I boys event Oct. 23 and 24 at the Scarlet Course. 

9. Gahanna's Kaitlyn Mundschenk high-fives teammates during the Division I girls state tournament March 7 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl. The Lions captured their second state title in three seasons.

9. LIONS ROAR AGAIN – In the final state tournament event of the 2019-20 school year, the Gahanna Lincoln girls bowling team beat Fairborn 3-1 on March 7 at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl to capture its second state title in three seasons. 

Lilu Smith finished 10th (592), Kaitlyn Mundschenk was 17th (577) and Addison Watson placed 27th (548) to lead the Lions. 

Briggs’ Dakota Fink finished sixth (616) to join Smith as a second-team all-state honoree. 

10. SUCCESS ON THE PITCH – The New Albany boys soccer team made it to a state championship game for the first time, falling to Cleveland St. Ignatius 4-1 in the Division I final Nov. 14 at Mapfre Stadium. 

Led by Kameron Kist, who finished with 12 goals and 10 assists and was OCC-Ohio Division Player of the Year, the Eagles went 18-4-1. 

They got a boost from volunteer assistant coach Aidan Morris, a 2019 New Albany graduate and midfielder for Crew SC who helped Columbus win the MLS Cup championship with a 3-0 win over Seattle on Dec. 12.

11. Rachel Austin of the Olentangy girls soccer team accepts the Division I state runner-up trophy after the Braves' 3-1 loss to Strongsville on Nov. 13 at Mapfre Stadium.

11. BRAVE RUN FALLS JUST SHORT – With seniors Kylee Beinecke and Rachel Austin leading the way, the Olentangy girls soccer team finished 18-3-2 to set a program record for wins and reached its first state tournament, where it lost 3-1 to Strongsville in the Division I title game Nov. 13 at Mapfre Stadium. 

Devanny stepped down after the season, ending a four-year tenure in which the Braves won two district titles and went 55-12-8. 

In Division III girls soccer, Columbus Academy reached a state semifinal for the second consecutive season and fell 4-1 to Cincinnati Country Day to finish 11-4-2.

12. RACING FOR GLORY – Central Ohio’s premier girls cross country program continues to be Davidson, which finished as the Division I state runner-up (138) behind Centerville (128) on Nov. 7 in the first state meet held at Fortress Obetz.  

While Dillon Sweetman (17th, 18:39.2) and Caitlyn Jones (19th, 18:41.1) led the Wildcats, Gahanna’s Alyssa Shope was the top central Ohio runner with a fifth-place finish (18:10.1) despite missing the season’s first six weeks with an injury. 

For the boys, Grandview’s Derek Amicon finished third (15:43.4) in Division III and Jerome’s Sam Ricchiuti (ninth, 15:48), Davidson’s Connor Ackley (11th, 15:48.5) and Hilliard Darby’s Sean Carney (12th, 15:49.7) led central Ohio in Division I. 

13. KILLIN’ IT – After losing in Division I regional semifinals the past two seasons, the Watterson girls volleyball team finally broke through at the regional level. 

Despite enduring a two-week quarantine just before the postseason, the Eagles avenged a regular-season loss to Orange with a 17-25, 26-24, 25-23, 25-21 win Nov. 7 in a regional final to advance to state for the first time. 

Watterson lost to Parma Padua 25-17, 15-25, 25-21, 25-23 in a state semifinal Nov. 13 to finish 17-7. 

14. MAKING FOOTBALL MEMORIES – Eleven days before contact sports were approved by the governor’s office, the OHSAA announced Aug. 7 that there would be a six-game football regular season and that every team would be eligible for the playoffs. 

This came after the OHSAA announced May 20 that 12 teams would make the playoffs in each region beginning with the 2021 season. 

Other highlights from the season included Westerville North posting its first winning record since 2004 as Bryan Johnson was named Division I state Coach of the Year. 

In the City League, Africentric won two games in the Division VI playoffs in its first time in the postseason and Walnut Ridge won the league tournament. 

Liberty and Westerville Central in Division I and Hartley in Division III were regional runners-up. 

15. Upper Arlington's Megan Basil (left) and Ella Hazelbaker captured the Division I state doubles championship Oct. 24 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.

15. SERVING UP ACES – Upper Arlington and Columbus Academy led central Ohio in girls tennis this fall. 

In the Division I state tournament Oct. 24 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, UA’s doubles team of Ella Hazelbaker and Megan Basil beat Centerville’s Caroline Hinshaw and Clara Owen 7-6, 6-3 to capture the title while teammates Noah Mizer and Ava Richard finished third. 

Academy’s Sydni Ratliff followed a state title in 2019 by falling 7-6, 7-5 to Eaton’s Macy Hitchcock in the Division II singles final. Wellington's Alexis Burkhalter and Katie Zerbi were the Division II state runners-up in doubles.

The next day, UA lost to Mason 3-2 and Academy lost to Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown 3-2 to finish second in the OTCA state team competition. 

16. KEEPING THEIR BALANCE – In its second season, the Berlin gymnastics team qualified for the state meet for the first time as Olivia Boone and Stephanie Balthaser led the way. 

The Bears finished seventh (140.0) and Jerome placed eighth (138.55) during the state team competition Feb. 28 at Bradley.

In the individual meet Feb. 29 at Bradley, Jerome's Raegan Ernst followed her second consecutive district all-around title by placing ninth (36.725) to lead central Ohio at state for the second year in a row. 

Also individually, Worthington Kilbourne’s Hannah Hale was fourth on balance beam (9.375) and Dublin Scioto’s Taylor Thacker tied for fourth on floor exercise (9.475). 

17. IN REMEMBRANCE – Two football coaches who made an impact on the central Ohio community, Ricky Vaughn and Chuck Wooten, died in 2020. 

Vaughn, 58, died Nov. 25 of coronavirus complications. He was Central Crossing’s coach in 2007 and 2008 and also served as an assistant at Franklin Heights, Grove City, Reynoldsburg, Westerville South and Westland.

Wooten, 66, died Oct. 12 after a lengthy illness. A 1972 Linden-McKinley graduate who later was the boys basketball coach at his alma mater, Wooten coached football at the prep level for more than 40 years and was an assistant at Hartley at the time of his death. 

18. LOCALS LIFT BEARCATS, BUCKEYES – In his fourth season as University of Cincinnati football coach, 1992 DeSales graduate Luke Fickell has guided the program to new heights. 

After posting back-to-back 11-win seasons, Cincinnati was ranked in the top 10 nationally all season and defeated Tulsa 27-24 in the AAC championship game Dec. 19 to improve to 9-0. The Bearcats are scheduled to play Georgia in the Peach Bowl on Friday, Jan. 1.

Contributors from central Ohio have included Darrick Forrest (Walnut Ridge), Cameron Young (Reynoldsburg), Ethan Tucky (Delaware Hayes) and Ty Van Fossen (DeSales). 

Ohio State, which is scheduled to play Clemson in a national semifinal Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl, has received contributions on the defensive line from Gahanna graduate Jonathon Cooper and Orange graduate Zach Harrison. 

19. IN THE PROS – Gahanna graduate Evan White made his MLB debut for the Seattle Mariners, finishing with eight home runs and 26 RBI while playing in 54 of his team’s 60 games and winning the American League Gold Glove award at first base.

The 17th selection in the 2017 draft, White signed a six-year contract with Seattle in November 2019. 

Three players originally from central Ohio were selected in the NFL draft in April. Walnut Ridge’s Malik Harrison went to the Baltimore Ravens and Pickerington Central’s DaVon Hamilton went to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round, and Hilliard Davidson’s Markus Bailey was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round. 

All three made the rosters of the teams that selected them, with Hamilton starting six games before going on injured reserve Dec. 5. 

Westerville South graduate Kaleb Wesson, who was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball as a senior in 2017, elected to forego his senior season at Ohio State to enter the NBA draft but wasn't selected.

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