Reaching top can often lead to long-term success


Over the past two-plus months, one central Ohio high school football team managed to ease its way out of mediocrity before sneaking into the playoffs as a No. 7 seed and reaching a regional final last weekend.

The fact that the team accomplishing this was perennial-power Hilliard Davidson is the only logical explanation for why one of the biggest stories of the fall stayed under the radar.

The Wildcats are among several examples throughout the area this fall that show the toughest task in sports might not really be staying on top -- it's getting there to begin with.

That statement is made with no disrespect to Davidson's accomplishments this year, because it really has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround.

The Wildcats lost to Dublin Coffman 33-10 on Sept. 14 to fall to 2-2, making coach Brian White seem prophetic when he talked throughout the preseason about not being sure if his team had what it would take to be an area power again this fall.

At the same time, because of what it's accomplished over the last decade, it wasn't a total shock that Davidson won its next six and then beat Coffman 17-14 on Nov. 3 in the first round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs.

Davidson has used its style of the triple-option offense and disciplined defense to make the postseason 11 of the last 13 seasons.

While that might be the most extreme example, the runs by the Olentangy Liberty boys soccer, Columbus Academy field hockey, Ready girls volleyball and Dublin Jerome boys and girls golf teams this fall are other illustrations of the fact that winning often breeds winning.

Liberty was the Division I state runner-up a year ago, and with returnees such as Sam DeRoy, Kyle Baum and Jared Robinson, the Patriots beat Sylvania Southview 2-0 on Nov. 10 at Crew Stadium for the program's first title.

Once the state tournament brackets were determined in field hockey, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Columbus Academy would make it to the final for the 13th time, even though it had to get past upstart Cincinnati Ursuline Academy in a semifinal.

The Vikings won 4-0 over Ursuline Academy, which was making its first state-tournament appearance since 2001, and went on to beat Watterson 2-1 in two overtimes to win its ninth championship.

The Jerome boys and girls golf programs swept the Division I state titles for the second consecutive season.

Although the Ready girls volleyball team came up short of winning its first Division III state title, it did give defending champion Casstown Miami East a test before losing 28-26, 25-15, 25-17 in the final Nov. 10 at Wright State.

The Silver Knights lost eight matches during the regular season but gained the experience necessary to get close to the state's pinnacle by advancing to the state tournament for the first time last fall.

As most of these programs have proven, being the best team in the state usually has humble beginnings.

Liberty was a district semifinalist in 2007 and was forced to settle for district runner-up finishes each year from 2008-10.

Before Mike Kusan took over as Ready's coach in 2007, the Silver Knights had gone 74-110 over the previous eight seasons, including winning just five matches in 2005.

Ready lost in the second round of the district tournament during Kusan's first season but has won four district titles over the past five seasons.

The fact that winning is a process even includes Davidson, which went 3-7 in White's first season in 1999, failing to make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

While winning a state championship is the dream every team aspires to, getting there usually is a progression that begins with blowout losses, followed by close losses and then close wins.

But once teams get to the top, as these teams have reinforced this fall, it's tough to bounce them out.

Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.