The Upper Arlington High School wrestling team experienced an up-and-down season a year ago, particularly in the postseason.
Eager to atone for a 4-6 record in dual matches and a fifth-place finish in the OCC-Central Division, the Golden Bears scored 174.5 points and finished second in a 10-team Division I sectional tournament at Central Crossing behind league-foe Dublin Coffman (196.5). It was the Bears' best sectional finish since placing second in 1990.
But the next week at district at Hilliard Darby, UA's nine qualifiers went 0-9 in their first-round matches and none advanced to the state tournament at Ohio State. The Bears scored 21 points at district to tie Dublin Jerome and Northland for 23rd behind champion Marysville (174) as 37 teams scored.
"That left a very bad taste in our mouths," second-year coach Matt Stout said. "Certainly, there was progress finishing second in the sectional, but we have to take the next step this year."
The Bears have started strong, scoring 161 points to finish second in the Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational on Dec. 1, behind Olentangy Orange (197). Seniors Vito DiBenedetto (145 pounds) and Danny Watson (170), junior Blake Reid (182) and sophomore Nick Pavoni (195) won their respective weight classes, and junior Thomas Cooper (113), sophomore Keith Neely (152) and freshman Bobby Gardikes (120) placed second.
UA went 3-4 in the OCC-Central last season to finish behind Hilliard Davidson (7-0), Coffman (6-1), Hilliard Darby (5-2) and Worthington Kilbourne (4-3) and ahead of Central Crossing (1-6), Thomas Worthington (1-6) and Westland (1-6).
The Bears had four wrestlers who went 2-1 and placed second at sectional, including Cooper (106), DiBenedetto (138), Reid (152) and Jared Drake (182). Drake, a junior, transferred to Westerville Central.
Also qualifying for district were Neely (132), Watson (160) and 2012 graduates James Lowrey (195) and Skyler Sowry (170), each of whom went 3-1 and placed third, and Cameron Gardner (220), who went 2-2 and placed fourth, as the top four finishers in each weight class at sectional advanced.
Gardner did not return for his senior season.
At district, DiBenedetto went 3-3 and placed sixth and Drake went 2-2 at 182. Cooper, Neely, Sowry and Watson each went 1-2 and Gardner, Lowrey and Reid each went 0-2.
UA's other losses to graduation were Andrew Hennessey (145) and Andrew Steedman (220).
Rounding out this year's roster are senior Peter DeVillebechot (138), juniors Drew Sarno (220), sophomores Collin Burt (106) and Luke Fech (126) and freshmen Nick Dolan (195), Nick Gill (132), Joey Magnone (126) and Danny Tomaszewski (132). The Bears entered the season without a heavyweight.
Six wrestlers had at least 20 wins last year, including DiBenedetto (38-12), Neely (28-16), Cooper (25-19) and Watson (20-12). Reid went 17-6 a year ago despite missing much of the season with a broken hand.
UA begins its league dual schedule Jan. 11 at home against Hilliard Davidson and Marysville. As part of OCC realignment last summer, Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty.
Watson hopes the Bears can rediscover the chemistry that keyed last year's finish.
"It was definitely a new kind of energy. It's hard to describe," he said. "I think it was people hitting their stride as well as coach Stout and (assistant) coach (Steve) Luke. ... I know Stout very well. He's an on-schedule, down-to-business kind of guy, and that's what we need in the room."
UA seeking coaches for two fall sports
Two fall sports teams will have new coaches in 2013.
Field hockey coach Derek Aspinall and boys soccer coach Carlos Bonilla recently submitted their resignations after two and three seasons, respectively.
Aspinall, a native of northern England who has coached the sport at various levels for more than 20 years, had an 18-7-1 record in two seasons with the Bears. This fall, UA finished 8-9-1 overall, snapping its streak of consecutive winning seasons at 11, and went 5-5-1 in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League to tie Granville for eighth behind champion Columbus Academy (10-0-1). The Bears went 7-3-1 in their final 11 games after starting 1-6.
"He has a new job and his wife is going to have a baby. He has a lot of stuff on his plate right now," girls athletics director Jodi Palmer said. "He's definitely going to be missed."
Bonilla had a 26-18-9 record with the Bears after going 97-70-28 in 11 seasons at Reynoldsburg (1998-2006 and 2008-09). UA finished 3-3-1 (fourth) in the OCC-Central Division in 2010, 6-0-1 (first) in 2011 and 2-4-1 (fifth) this fall.
The Bears lost to New Albany 1-0 (4-3 on penalty kicks) in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
Boys athletics director Michael Schaefer said Bonilla resigned shortly before Thanksgiving.
Boys soccer applicants should contact Schaefer at email@example.com and field hockey applicants should contact Palmer at jpalmer @uaschools.org by Dec. 17.