Upper Arlington High School girls basketball coach Chris Savage knew his team would have to shoot well -- especially from 3-point range -- in order to make any kind of run in the Division I district tournament.
"When we do that, we feel like we can be a dangerous team," Savage said.
"The good thing for us is not only have we been hitting 3s, we've been hitting 3s in the fourth quarter. That's not always been the case this year, and I felt like hopefully after 24 games, those things would start to happen at some point."
The Golden Bears haven't disappointed their coach. They hit six 3-pointers in a 45-42 win at 10th-seeded Pickerington Central in the first round Feb. 16 and were 10-for-19 from outside the arc in a 53-43 win over 29th-seeded Westerville South in a second-round game Feb. 20.
UA, which is 13-11 and seeded 23rd, now finds itself in a district semifinal against 14th-seeded Newark at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Bloom-Carroll.
"We had a lot of momentum coming out of the Pickerington Central game, and part of that was getting that extra home game, especially for our seniors," said junior guard Annika Wachtman, whose team-high 18 points against South came on six 3-pointers.
"We've been able to keep up the intensity from the get-go in both of our games."
Junior forward Andi Norman added 13 points against South.
Newark, which also is 13-11, started 6-1 before standout junior guard Maggie Mitchell sustained a season-ending foot injury in late December. The Wildcats defeated Walnut Ridge 75-24 in a first-round game Feb. 16 and upset eighth-seeded Hilliard Davidson 58-56 in the second round Feb. 20.
Six-foot-1 sophomore forward Kym Royster had 27 points to lead the way against Davidson, with 6-5 senior forward Paige Cashin adding 19 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks.
UA lost to Newark 38-35 at home on Jan. 26. Norman had a game-high 24 points but missed a would-be tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. Cashin led Newark with 16 points and Royster scored nine.
The semifinal winner will face top-seeded Reynoldsburg or 17th-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a district final at noon Saturday, March 2, at Bloom-Carroll. The district champion will play Canton McKinley, North Canton Hoover, Uniontown Lake or Wooster in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Otterbein University.
UA split its OCC-Central Division games against Liberty, winning 47-32 on Dec. 14 and losing 44-30 on Feb. 2. The Bears did not play Reynoldsburg or any of the teams they could face in a regional semifinal during the regular season.
"All of us on the team knew we had this kind of a run in us," Wachtman said. "It's just taken us awhile to get to this point."
Two wrestlers head to state tourney
Vito DiBenedetto of the wrestling team gushed with pride, and some blood from a scrape on his nose, after a second-place finish at 145 pounds in the Division I district tournament held Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Darby earned him his first trip to state.
The senior went 3-1 at district, clinching his state berth by defeating Mount Vernon's Lucas Staten 9-7 in a sudden victory in a semifinal before losing 18-3 to Liberty's Jake Ryan in the final.
DiBenedetto heads into the state tournament, which runs Thursday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 2, at Ohio State, with a 37-9 record.
"I was able to get to his legs and I got the leverage to take him down," said DiBenedetto, who forced a takedown of Staten in the final seconds of regulation to tie their match at 7.
"I'm thankful for a lot of things. I have good support from my family and it's great to be able to make it (to state). I expect it to be insane. I have been there to watch. I imagine that it will be pretty big."
Senior Blake Reid also earned his first trip to state by placing second at 170. He went 3-1, losing to Darby's Matthew Walker 3-2 in the final, and takes a 25-1 record into state.
DiBenedetto and Reid are UA's first state qualifiers since 2009, when now-assistant coach Kevin Drake placed fourth at 145 and Kyle Frost advanced at 152.
"You always want more than what you get," coach Matt Stout said. "We got two out. I would have liked to be able to get four out. It's a step."
Also competing at district were senior Danny Watson (160, fifth, 4-2), junior Taylor Neely (138, 0-2) and sophomores Thomas Cooper (113, 1-2), Sam Beam (132, 0-2) and Keith Neely (152, sixth, 2-2).
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
UA scored 62 points to finish 11th behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored.
Jones, Keethler reach state gymnastics meet
Sophomores Emily Jones and Mary Kate Keethler of the gymnastics team combined for five top-nine finishes in the district meet Feb. 23 at Worthington Kilbourne to qualify for the individual state meet Saturday, March 2, at Hilliard Bradley.
Jones and Keethler tied for fifth on uneven bars (8.8), Keethler placed sixth on floor exercise (8.9) and Jones was ninth on balance beam (8.875). In the all-around, Jones placed fifth (35.425) and Keethler was ninth (35.15).
The top nine finishers in each event and the all-around advanced to state.
UA finished sixth (132.8) at district as 24 teams scored. Kilbourne (140.63), Dublin Coffman (138.93) and Thomas Worthington (136.13) secured the three berths for the team state meet Friday, March 1, at Bradley.
Boys basketball team falls in first round
The boys basketball team lost to 21st-seeded Olentangy 43-41 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 23 to finish 11-11.
Forward Joe Morycz scored on a tip-in as time expired to give host Olentangy the win.
Junior guard Kevin Vannatta had a game-high 20 points and junior guard Danny Hummer scored 10 for the Bears, who were seeded 22nd. The loss marked the first time since 2005 that UA has lost in the first round of the tournament.
Season ends for hockey team
The hockey team lost to top-seeded Liberty 4-0 in the third round of the district tournament Feb. 23 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
The Bears, who were seeded eighth, finished 18-11-1-1.