Four years of what-ifs, would-haves and being second-best for the Upper Arlington High School girls lacrosse team were put to rest June 1, when it won the Division I state championship with a 14-8 victory over Cincinnati Sycamore at Thomas Worthington.
It was the first state title since 2008 and fifth overall for the Golden Bears, who had lost in the state final each of the past four years, including the past three to Medina.
"That was a monkey on our back for so long," said coach Wendy Pinta, who ran the length of her team's bench with 1 minutes, 26 seconds to play high-fiving her players while wearing a wide smile. "It was very good to see this team show up and play just a phenomenal game from start to finish."
That didn't come without a few adjustments. Sycamore took a 2-0 lead within the first 3 minutes, 33 seconds, led 3-1 six minutes into the game and trailed 7-6 early in the second half before Pinta made 5-foot-11 senior midfielder Nicole Stines her face-off specialist in the hopes of seizing control.
UA won eight of the 10 second-half draws, and momentum switched to the Bears for good.
Senior attacker Samantha Farwick scored three of her five goals in the second half and her twin sister, senior attacker Sydney Farwick, scored four. Sophomore midfielder Molly Plasket added two goals and two assists as UA outscored the Aviators 7-2 in the final 20:54.
"Size is definitely a big advantage on the draw, with boxing out, height and arm extension," said Stines, who was named first-team all-state and will play at the University of Findlay. "It's all critical, and draws win games."
UA, which also beat Sycamore 12-9 on May 3, finished 16-2 overall.
"I thought their strategy was much more developed and certainly more sophisticated than in our May game," Pinta said of the Aviators. "We really didn't have any problems on the draw in May and here, we had to fight for every single one we got. Pressure-wise, there was a lot more pressure everywhere on the field. We're fairly accustomed to it, but it can take us out of our rhythm if we're not seeing the open lanes and finding the open players.
"The whole month of May, we've been looking at finding that open player and seeing passes that aren't normally there and getting our girls open. Our confidence definitely showed, specifically in the second half (of the state final)."
Pinta also led the Bears to state titles in 2002, 2004 and 2005. Lynda McCandlish, who played for Pinta at UA, guided them to the 2008 championship.
Then UA hit a roadblock. The Bears lost the 2009 final to Sycamore 7-6 and they then lost to Medina 15-9 in 2010, 14-13 in double overtime in 2011 and 10-9 last year.
A fourth consecutive matchup between UA and Medina in the state final ended when Sycamore beat the Bees 10-3 in a state semifinal May 31. Samantha Farwick said the Bears would have been fine playing Medina even though they lost to the Bees 7-4 on April 27 in the Cleveland Heights Invitational.
"I definitely would have liked to have beaten Medina in the state championship, but just the fact that we are here is enough," Farwick said.
Sycamore, which finished 14-5-1, played most of the final six minutes without a goalkeeper, as coach Ed Clark opted to pull Abby Wise in favor of an extra attacker. But the Bears simply milked the clock and added goals from Samantha Farwick and junior midfielder Armonde Moore to seal the win.
After being beaten twice early in the game by shots that bounced off the turf and into the net, junior goalkeeper Hannah Panos made six saves.
"I knew where they were looking after that," Panos said. "Since we played Sycamore earlier in the year, I kind of had an idea of where they'd shoot and what would happen, how their offense works. I used that past knowledge to perform (in the state final)."
UA advanced to the final by defeating Massillon Jackson 13-8 in a state semifinal May 31 at Thomas Worthington. Polar Bears midfielder Anna Seanor scored five goals, with the first coming 2:30 into the game to put UA behind 1-0, but Sydney Farwick scored twice in a 27-second span soon afterward and UA never trailed again.
Sydney Farwick finished with five goals and Samantha Farwick scored four.
"This is so surreal. I am freaking out right now," Samantha Farwick said after the state final. "It doesn't feel real that it's all over. We've been waiting for this since I've been on varsity, since sophomore year. It's the most surreal thing."