The Olentangy Liberty High School hockey team expects more this time.
The Patriots reached the state tournament for the second time in three seasons by defeating third-seeded Dublin Jerome 4-3 in overtime in the district final March 2 at OhioHealth Ice Haus. And they aren't satisfied with just being there.
Liberty, which was the top seed in the district, is looking to become the first team from the Central/Southwest District to reach the state final since Centerville won the championship in 1979, the second year of the tournament.
The Patriots, who were ranked eighth in the final state poll, improved to 26-5-5-1 with the win over Jerome and will face defending champion and fifth-ranked Sylvania Northview (26-6-1) in a state semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday, March 8, at Nationwide Arena.
The winner plays fourth-ranked Shaker Heights (26-7) or Rocky River (27-7-1) in the state final at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at Nationwide Arena. Rocky River received votes but was not in the top 10 in the final state poll.
"A couple of years ago, we were content just to go to the final four," said senior forward Noah Allmaras, who scored the winning goal against Jerome 3 minutes, 33 seconds into overtime and played in the Patriots' 9-4 loss to eventual champion Toledo St. Francis in a state semifinal in 2011. "We were just happy to win district. This time we want to make everyone in central Ohio proud."
Area teams are 0-6 in state semifinals since 2003 when the Central/South-west District was granted a berth in the final four. Upper Arlington has come the closest to reaching the state final, losing 3-2 to Parma Padua in 2007.
Last season, Olentangy Orange lost to Northview 6-0 in a semifinal. The Wildcats went on to beat Lakewood St. Edward 5-2 in the final for their first state title.
"It's kind of full circle for me, and it's kind of redemption," senior forward Ethan Hollingsworth said. "We made it (to state) when I was a sophomore, and last year we lost to Orange (2-0 in a district semifinal). That was bittersweet because we had worked so hard but didn't make it back (to state). Now we're back and we're not satisfied to just be district champs."
Liberty may be aided in its quest for the state title by the fact that, for first time since 1984, all four teams to reach state are public schools.
"To be one of four teams left in the state is really an indescribable feeling," junior forward Chris Bergamesca said. "This is always something we point toward going into the season. We have always been overlooked as not being as good as Cleveland teams. That's something we want to change.
"We want to prove that we can well-represent the entire central Ohio area. We want to prove ourselves to everyone in the state and prove we deserve to be at state."
Liberty also is hoping that its schedule pays dividends at state. The Patriots played two games this season against both top-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius, losing 3-2 on Nov. 24 and tying at 2 on Dec. 22, and sixth-ranked Lakewood St. Edward, tying at 3 on Dec. 21 and tying at 2 on Dec. 23.
Liberty also defeated second-ranked Toledo St. Francis 5-3 on Dec. 2. Northview beat St. Francis 3-2 in a district final March 2.
"I think that our team has been playing good teams this year and, in my sophomore year, I don't think our schedule was as tough," Hollings-worth said. "We were invited to the Padua tournament in Cleveland before Christmas and we played well against some of the state's best teams."
In overtime against Jerome, Celtics goaltender Connor Willette stopped a shot by sophomore forward Brock Rumbaugh with his pads, but Allmaras tipped the puck past Willette off the rebound, setting off a celebration by the Patriots.
"That still is like a dream," Allmaras said of his goal. "I still don't believe that it happened. It was a great moment and it was one of the things we have been aiming for all season."
Bergamesca, Hollingsworth and Rumbaugh also scored against Jerome and freshman goalie Cam Perry had 17 saves, including 11 in the third period.
"It's like a dream come true to finally make it to state," Rumbaugh said. "I expect I'll be a little nervous at first when we start playing (in a state semifinal), but after a few minutes that will go away. I just have to get ready and stay focused."