It took the Olentangy Orange High School hockey team four seasons to reach the state tournament.
In their fifth season, the Pioneers plan to go back.
Orange finished 33-9 overall last year, losing to second-ranked Sylvania Northview 6-0 in a state semifinal at Nationwide Arena. Since the state tournament began in 1978, no central Ohio team has advanced to the championship game.
"These guys got a taste of (the state tournament) last season and would like to get back there again," fifth-year coach Tim Pennington said. "Getting there was great, but no one from central Ohio has made it past the semifinal. We would like to do that."
Orange won its first district title by defeating top-seeded Dublin Jerome 3-2 in four overtimes at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. The Pioneers hadn't advanced past the second round before last season.
Fourth-seeded Orange had a first-round bye before defeating Oxford Talawanda 4-2 in the second round and fifth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller 5-2 in the third round. It beat second-seeded Olentangy Liberty 2-0 in a district semifinal.
The Pioneers were second (13-4, 26 points) in the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division behind Upper Arlington (14-2-1, 29) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (8-8-1, 17), Olentangy (5-12, 10) and Gahanna (2-15, 4). Jerome (14-1-1-1) won the CHC-Red title and DeSales (9-6-0-1) won the CHC-Blue.
DeSales and St. Charles now are in the CHC-White with Orange and Thomas. UA moved to the CHC-Red, and Olentangy and Gahanna went to the CHC-Blue.
Orange opened last weekend in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin. The Pioneers defeated Sylvania Southview 10-0 on Nov. 23 before beating Centerville 11-2 and Jerome 3-2 in overtime Nov. 24. The Pioneers lost to Dublin Coffman 4-3 in the tournament's Gray Division championship Nov. 25.
Orange lost its top three scorers from a year ago to graduation in Jake Shepherd, Dar Faroughi and Nick Murley. The top returning scorers are senior defenseman Jacob Potts (8 goals, 31 assists), sophomore forward Brandon Voytus (10, 24), junior forward Dino Capoccia (18, 13) and senior forward Chris Pennington (13, 18).
"We definitely learned about the dedication it takes to reach the final four," Chris Pennington said. "It takes a group effort, not just the play of one or two players."
In goal, the Pioneers return senior Clay Horvath, who had 54 saves in the district final against Jerome.
"(Last year's success) let us know that we could compete with the best teams in the area," said Horvath, who was first-team all-league. "We want to use this season to prove that again. We have a strong senior defense and we want to try to keep teams under two goals, and that should keep us in the game."
The defense is led by seniors Tyler Brumfield, Mitch Knapp and Potts.
"Getting (to a state semifinal) was great, but we didn't like losing," Potts said. "We have to show that we can compete with the Cleveland and Toledo teams."
Knapp missed much of the postseason with complications from a concussion.
"We definitely need to play strong in the defensive zone," he said. "We have Clay back there in goal with a strong defense. When the offense finds the net, we'll definitely be successful."
The other seniors are Eric Ressler (defenseman) and Austin Wallace (forward). Rounding out the roster are juniors Jon Bouldin (forward), Evan Gut-koski (forward), Kyle Jones (goaltender), Coleman Metzger (forward), Tyler White (defenseman) and Adam Wright (forward), sophomores Cam Beck (goalie), Luke Buchy (forward), Karsten Greenchurch (forward), Sean Murley (defenseman) and Jordan Shafer (defenseman) and freshman Hunter Shepherd (forward).