Even as his team struggled to a 1-6 start, Upper Arlington High School field hockey coach Derek Aspinall knew his players were learning in ways not always obvious to outsiders.
At some point, the figurative lights came on, and now the Golden Bears think they might be in position to build on last season.
UA entered this week 4-2-1 in its previous seven games, including three shutout victories, to earn a chance to finish above .500 in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League. The Bears were 5-8-2 overall and 4-5-1 in the COFHL after playing Dublin Jerome to a scoreless tie on Oct. 8.
Last season, the Bears finished 10-8 overall and 7-4 in the COFHL but lost their second game in the postseason, falling 4-1 to eventual state champion Thomas Worthington in a district semifinal.
UA begins this postseason Monday, Oct. 15, at home against New Albany in the first round of the district tournament. The winner travels to Granville for a second-round game Oct. 18.
"Some of the concepts we've worked on all season are starting to bear fruit," Aspinall said. "What we're trying to do is get the girls to be able to apply their skill set to our style of play, isolate the opposition and strategize on the move as they go up the field."
Aspinall, a native of northern England who is in his second year leading UA's program but has coached the sport for more than 20 years, called the continued implementation of formations he introduced last year "one of our key successes this year."
"We've had our rough spots," he said. "Bexley caught us cold (in a 1-0 loss Sept. 27), then (Olentangy) Liberty shut us out (2-0 on Oct. 1). But I like the resilience I see in this team."
Junior forwards Sarah Mikac and Hannah Tomaszewski entered the week tied for the team lead in goals with three apiece. Junior Alex Keller and sophomore Alee Caldwell have split time at goalkeeper and had combined for four shutout wins through 15 games.
Several junior varsity players also have seen varsity action recently. On Oct. 4, sophomore Claire Dodson scored in a 3-1 win at Dublin Scioto, a game in which 23 players got playing time. There are five seniors on varsity, so Aspinall considers any playing time that younger players can get now as an advantage for the future.
"When we bring those girls onto the field, there's no change in energy," he said. "They've come together with the team very well and it's good for them to get experience on a higher level. The biggest thing I'm concerned with is their hockey development, and I'm seeing it getting better."
Girls tennis team shines at sectional
The girls tennis team advanced two singles players and both doubles teams to the Division I district tournament on Friday, Oct. 12, and Saturday, Oct. 13, at Hilliard Davidson.
During its home sectional tournament Oct. 4 and 6, UA had teammates face off twice to determine district seeding. Emma Klebe defeated Olivia Kompa 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the third-place match in singles and Audrey Berger and Elaine Cloern beat Beniva Ganther and Andi Smart 6-1, 6-1 in the doubles final.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles at sectional advanced to district, where the top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the state tournament Oct. 19 at Ohio State and Oct. 20 at Davidson.
The Bears have been represented at state in each of the past 19 seasons.
Football team seeks return to .500 record
The football team will seek to return to .500 on Friday, Oct. 12, when it visits Marysville for an OCC-Central Division game.
UA, which has alternated wins and losses the past four weeks, lost 42-0 to Davidson on Oct. 5 to fall to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the league. Junior running back Chris Frey rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Bears, scoring on a 47-yard run with 10 seconds left in the third quarter and a 63-yard run with a minute to play in the game.
Sophomore quarterback Kyle Kaparos completed six of 23 passes for 65 yards and three interceptions as UA lost to Davidson for the fourth consecutive time dating to 2009.
"They did a great job of coming out in two tight ends and bouncing things outside," coach Mike Golden said of Davidson, which improved to 5-2 and 3-1. "It was a real smart job by them. They beat us fair and square and they beat us every way you could beat us."