Ethan Hollingsworth sat in the media room March 8 at Nationwide Arena staring ahead, his eyes puffy and red.
Minutes earlier, the senior forward and his teammates on the Olentangy Liberty High School hockey team had their season come to an end with a 4-2 loss to defending state champion Sylvania Northview in a state semifinal.
The Patriots, who were looking to become the first central Ohio team to reach the state final, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 7 minutes, 18 seconds, only to see the Wildcats rally for the victory.
Liberty, which was ranked eighth in the final state poll, finished 26-6-5-1 overall. Fifth-ranked Northview, which defeated Olentangy Orange 6-0 in a state semifinal last season, went on to lose to fourth-ranked Shaker Heights 3-1 in the state final March 9 to finish 27-7-1.
"From the get-go, we wanted to show we were a good team all the way through," Hollingsworth said. "As a Columbus team, we have been looked down upon. We knew that if they looked down on us, we could capitalize on that."
The state appearance was Liberty's second in three seasons. The Patriots won their first district championship in 2011 before losing to eventual state champion Toledo St. Francis 9-4 in a state semifinal.
Area teams are now 0-7 in state semifinals since 2003 when the Central/Southwest 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.
"We came ready to play," coach Jack Hoogeveen said. "We got the first two goals, and perhaps that woke (Northview) up a little. We knew they would come back and they showed us they were in the game as well."
Liberty struck early, as senior forward Kyle Horner scored 2:01 into the game with assists from Hollingsworth and junior forward Chris Bergamesca. Less than six minutes later, senior forward Noah Allmaras scored with assists by junior defenseman Nick Kouskouris and sophomore forward Brock Rumbaugh to make it 2-0.
Northview tied the game at 2 with second-period goals by forward Drew Crandall and forward Zander Pryor and took a 3-2 lead with 5:15 left in the third period on a goal by forward Nick LaPlante. On the go-ahead goal, freshman goaltender Cam Perry was screened by Wildcats forward Xavier Sudlow.
Pryor added an empty-net goal with less than a second left.
"Our kids didn't give up and they have a lot of heart and will," Hoogeveen said. "We just weren't able to get in that tying goal."
Perry finished with 19 saves and Northview goalie David Marsh had 18 saves.
The top seed in the district, Liberty defeated third-seeded Dublin Jerome 4-3 in overtime in the district final March 2 at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The Patriots had a first-round bye and beat 23rd-seeded Beavercreek 10-0 in the second round Feb. 16, eighth-seeded UA 4-0 in the third round Feb. 23 and fourth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller 3-0 in a district semifinal Feb. 24 to reach the final.
Liberty lost to Orange 2-0 in a semifinal of the Blue Jackets Cup on Feb. 8 but won the Capital Hockey Conference-Red Division title, going 15-0-1-1 (32 points) to finish ahead of Jerome (28, 13-2-2), Moeller (23, 11-5-0-1), Dublin Coffman (20, 10-7) and UA (9, 7-8-1-1).
The Patriots lose 10 seniors, including Allmaras (19 goals, 13 assists), Hollingsworth (19 goals, 40 assists), Horner (15 goals, 17 assists), defensemen Cole Hutchinson (2 goals, 5 assists) and Gus Olmstead (2 goals, 7 assists) and forwards Joe Schoettmer (9 goals, 14 assists) and forward John Tirrell (7 goals, 4 assists).
Hollingsworth was named second-team all-CHC.
"We had some great leaders and they had this whole team playing for one another," Hoogeveen said. "They are a great group of kids."
Among those expected to return are Bergamesca (38 goals, 46 assists), Kouskouris (1 goal, 5 assists), Perry, Rumbaugh (40 goals, 27 assists), junior defenseman Cole Bumpass (11 goals, 17 assists), sophomore forward Jack Gainor (6 goals, 14 assists) and sophomore defenseman Ryan Gratz (7 goals).
Bergamesca was first-team all-CHC and Bumpass and Rumbaugh were second-team all-CHC.
"We wanted to represent central Ohio well, and I think we did that," Hoogeveen said. "These kids want to get back and try this again."