In the weeks leading up to the season, the four captains for the Upper Arlington High School girls lacrosse team discussed how they would decorate their locker room.
As a reminder of having lost the past four state finals, senior Samantha Farwick said she and classmates Sydney Farwick, Macauley Mikes and Abbey Stricharczuk were considering the idea of hanging their runner-up medals and making posters that read "never again" as incentive to not let the streak continue.
The Golden Bears, who lost to Medina 10-9 in the Division I state final last season, have won four state titles. Their last championship came in 2008, when they defeated Cincinnati Sycamore 14-8 in the final.
UA, which also won state titles in 2002, 2004 and 2005, also lost by one goal in the 2011 and 2009 finals, falling 14-13 in overtime to Medina in the former and 7-6 to Sycamore in the latter. The Bears lost to Medina 15-9 in the 2010 final.
"That feeling of being second is miserable. That feeling of losing by a single point is the worst," Samantha Farwick said. "We have some unfinished business, our coach says, with state and everything. We'll try to get that OCC (title) and make it to state, then hopefully get that state title and not second place again. Medina is our biggest goal right now."
The Golden Bears, who finished 17-4 overall last season, had been scheduled to open March 23 against Watterson, but the contest was canceled. They now will open April 5 against College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy in the Dogwood Classic at Atlanta Westminster.
UA will get a rematch against Medina on April 27 in the Cleveland Heights Invitational, but a more immediate issue for the Bears is that six expected starters entered the week sidelined by injuries.
Among the injured players were the Farwick sisters, sophomore Molly Plasket and Mikes, who is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained during basketball season.
"We hope to get them full steam in the next few weeks because we'll be entering the bulk of our regular season, but only time will tell," said second-year coach Wendy Pinta, who is in her second stint with the team after coaching the Bears from 1992-2007. "It's just several pulled hamstrings and groin muscles. You wonder if this cold weather plays a role in some of that as well."
During a scrimmage against Olentangy on March 20, the air temperature was 29 degrees with a 21-degree wind chill.
Partly because so many players are filling new roles in the wake of the injuries, Pinta referred to most of her players as midfielders, other than junior goalkeeper Hannah Panos. The Bears have seven seniors, including Taylor Grow, Nicole Stines and Carly Tovell.
Other returnees are juniors Carsyn Hager and Armonde Moore, with juniors Olivia Achatz, Madi Baker, Rachel Eastwood, Abby Wilmer and Callie Zimmerman, sophomores Mackenzie Baumgartner, Caroline Buse, Erin Eastwood and Megan Sengleman and freshman Megan Morgan rounding out the team.
"Our biggest strength is the speed of the team. We have a lot of fast players," Sydney Farwick said.
UA lost eight players from a year ago to graduation, including its top three scorers in attackers Abby Dugger (36 goals, 20 assists), Sally Holbert (58 goals, 13 assists) and Rachel Marsh (45 goals, 53 assists).
Sydney Farwick had 40 goals and seven assists last season and was named first-team all-OCC-Buckeye Division, all-South/Central Region and all-state. Samantha Farwick was second-team all-league and all-region.
Stricharczuk acknowledged that her leadership skills will be put to the test the first few weeks of the season.
"Samantha and Sydney are still leading on the sideline, but on the field it's difficult because a lot of younger girls have to step up. They're doing a good job of it," Stricharczuk said.
UA went 5-0 to win the OCC-Buckeye championship last year, finishing ahead of Division II state runner-up New Albany (4-1), Worthington Kilbourne (3-2), Thomas Worthington (2-3), Dublin Coffman (1-4) and Hilliard Darby (0-5).
The Bears opened the postseason with a 19-5 win over Pickerington Central and then defeated Hilliard Bradley 18-3, Thomas 18-5 in the regional final and Cleveland Heights 11-5 in a state semifinal to reach the state final. Their loss to Medina in the state final snapped an 11-game winning streak.
UA opens league play April 11 at Kilbourne.
"Everyone has stepped up and they're learning quickly," Pinta said. "We've had big, big holes to fill and we've been pleasantly surprised by the skill and athleticism of the players coming back."