For the second consecutive year, the Upper Arlington High School wrestling team made considerable strides from the previous season, only to watch the season end too quickly for its liking.
Senior Vito DiBenedetto (145 pounds) and junior Blake Reid (170) were the Golden Bears' first Division I state qualifiers since 2009, but both were eliminated on the first day of the state tournament Feb. 28 at Ohio State by 0-2.
DiBenedetto lost to Fremont Ross' Troy Grine 17-2 in the first round and Bedford's Jairod James 16-1 in a first-round consolation match to finish 37-11 on the season. Reid lost to Brecksville-Broadview Heights' Troy Lang 6-1 in the first round and Centerville's Alec Gilchrist 4-3 in a first-round consolation match to finish 25-3.
UA did not score at state. Lakewood St. Edward won its third consecutive state title (117) and 28th overall, edging runner-up Massillon Perry (105) as 89 teams scored.
"There were some steps forward (this season)," coach Matt Stout said.
"We were on the cusp of a top-10 finish (at district). But there are still hurdles for us to clear."
UA scored 62 points to finish 11th in the district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Darby behind champion Marysville (163) as 35 teams scored. The finish represented the Bears' highest since 1993.
Last season, the Bears finished second (174.5) in a 10-team sectional at Central Crossing behind Dublin Coffman (196.5), marking their best sectional finish since placing second in 1990, but none of their nine district qualifiers reached state.
This season, DiBenedetto and Reid both went 3-1 at district and placed second, as the top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Stout said Reid, who started 25-0 before losing 3-2 in a district final to Darby's Matthew Walker, appeared to not be fully over the effects of a stress fracture in his back during the postseason. The injury had sidelined him for six weeks in December and January.
"He just didn't seem to get after it as much as I've seen in the past," Stout said.
"I don't know if he had as tough a draw as Vito did. Vito had a horrific draw. He went up against two athletic kids, and Vito isn't the most athletic kid. He just goes after it, and that did him in."
Also competing at district were senior Danny Watson (160, 4-2, fifth, 39-9), junior Taylor Neely (138, 0-2, 26-15) and sophomores Thomas Cooper (113, 1-2, 30-13), Sam Beam (132, 0-2, 5-9) and Keith Neely (152, 2-2, sixth, 32-11).
UA finished third (190.5) in a 10-team sectional Feb. 16 at Westland behind champion Hilliard Davidson (224.5) and went 2-1 in the inaugural state team tournament. Seeded second in Region 6-A, the Bears defeated seventh-seeded Franklin Heights 64-18 in the first round Jan. 23 and sixth-seeded Central Crossing 40-34 in the second round Jan. 30 before losing to top-seeded Davidson 49-18 in a regional semifinal that same night.
UA went 3-4 in OCC-Central Division duals to tie Olentangy Liberty for fourth, behind Marysville (7-0), Thomas Worthington (6-1) and Davidson (5-2) and ahead of Central Crossing (2-5), Coffman (2-5) and Westland (0-7).
The Bears lose three seniors in DiBenedetto, Watson (39-9) and Peter DeVillebechot (126).
Among those expected to return are Beam, Cooper, Reid, Keith Neely, Taylor Neely and sophomores Collin Burt (106, 20-16) and Nick Pavoni (182, 21-17).
Two gymnasts compete at state
Sophomores Emily Jones and Mary Kate Keethler represented the gymnastics team in the individual state meet March 2 at Hilliard Bradley.
Jones tied for 15th on the uneven bars (8.675), tied for 27th on the balance beam (8.35), finished 36th on vault (8.6) and was 28th in the all-around (33.95) of 35 competitors. Keethler tied for 20th on vault (9.025) and was 26th on bars (8.425), 34th on floor exercise (8.275) and 24th in the all-around (34.675).
Brecksville-Broadview Heights' Alecia Farina won vault (9.9), bars (9.4), beam (9.45) and the all-around (38.35) and teammate Michaela Romito won floor (9.7). There were 36 competitors in each event and 35 in the all-around.
The Bears did not qualify for the state team meet March 1 at Bradley.
Boys team fell shy of expectations
At least for the time being, boys basketball coach Tim Casey will remember the disappointment of a .500 record and a first-round loss in the Division I district tournament when he thinks of this season.
UA was seeded 22nd and lost to 21st-seeded and host Olentangy 43-41 in a first-round game Feb. 23 to finish 11-11 overall. Junior guard Danny Hummer went 1-for-2 from the foul line with 40 seconds left to tie the game at 41 before Olentangy's Joe Morycz scored the winning basket on a putback as time expired.
"It was tight and we let our opportunities slip away. We had 15 turnovers in 50 possessions, and you're asking for trouble when that happens," Casey said. "I'm just disappointed right now about the season. We certainly were respectable in our conference, but that and not getting beyond the first round certainly weren't what we set out to do."
UA went 8-6 in the OCC-Central to tie Thomas Worthington for fourth, behind Liberty (13-1), Coffman (12-2) and Westland (9-5) and ahead of Marysville (3-11), Davidson (2-12) and Central Crossing (0-14).
The Bears lose only one senior in forward Austin Ping.
UA expects to return its top two scorers in junior guard Kevin Vannatta, who averaged 19.6 points and was first-team all-league and third-team all-district, and Hummer, who averaged 13.4 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Other key players expected back include sophomore guards Gabe Akins and Griffin Caldwell. Akins was honorable mention all-league.
"In retrospect, we have a lot to build on," Casey said. "Even more is going to be asked of these guys next year."
Hockey team finishes with 18 victories
In a game that coach Jay Graham said was atypical this season, the hockey team saw its season end with a 4-0 loss to top-seeded Olentangy Liberty in the third round of the district tournament Feb. 23 at OhioHealth Ice Haus to finish 18-11-1-1 overall.
"They took the fight to us right from the start," Graham said.
"We've been the team that's outshot most of our opponents and dictated the pace in a lot of games, but not then. We were a little tight and tentative against them and couldn't afford to be."
The eighth-seeded Bears had advanced with wins over 18th-seeded Oxford Talawanda (10-2 on Feb. 15) and ninth-seeded Cincinnati St. Xavier (6-0 on Feb. 16) in the first two rounds.
UA went 7-8-1-1 (16 points) in the Capital Hockey Conference-Red Division to place fifth, behind Liberty (15-0-1-1, 32), Dublin Jerome (13-2-2, 28), Cincinnati Moeller (11-5-0-1, 23) and Coffman (10-7, 20).
UA loses four seniors in forwards Derrick Galantowicz, Brent Savan and Jack Whitman and goaltender Richard Griffin.
Whitman (19 goals, 19 assists) and freshman forward Danny Logan (25 goals, 13 assists) tied for the team lead in points with 38. Savan had 14 goals and eight assists and sophomore defenseman Brian Lee had eight goals and 16 assists.
Griffin finished with an .886 save percentage, stopping 367 of 414 shots. Sophomore Cole Abbott stopped 194 of 215 (.902).