Needing some positive reinforcement and a sounding board after being thrust into the role as head coach of the Upper Arlington High School gymnastics team, one of the first people Holly Hutton called was her mother.
Eight days later, after the Golden Bears opened their season by winning the Hilliard Invitational on Dec. 14 at Hilliard Darby, her first call again was to her mother.
"She's been texting me wondering how we've been doing," Hutton said. "Now I can give her some pretty good news."
Junior Mary Kate Keethler placed fourth in the all-around (34.325 points), junior Emily Jones finished fifth (34.05) and senior Becca Jaskot tied for eighth (33.4) to lead UA, which totaled 132.575 points in the 12-team meet to edge runner-up Grove City by .55 of a point.
"These girls are really good," Hutton said. "I don't think they know exactly what they can do yet."
Keethler placed second on vault (9.2), sixth on floor exercise (8.7) and seventh on uneven bars (8.1) in the Hilliard Invitational. Jones placed second on floor (8.9), tied for fifth on bars (8.15) and was sixth on vault (8.8), and Jaskot tied for fourth on floor (8.75) and finished seventh on vault (8.65).
Hutton, a native of Kirtland in northeast Ohio, was an assistant coach with the Bears for a month before accepting an offer Dec. 6 to take over as head coach. She succeeded Alexis Schmidt, who had taken over for Abigail Schmidt in early November but resigned because of personal reasons. Abigail Schmidt, who had coached the Bears the past two seasons, resigned in late August after being offered an opportunity to tour with Cirque du Soleil.
Alexis Schmidt and Abigail Schmidt are not related.
Hutton spent much of her first week as head coach learning the business side of coaching, seeking advice from several veteran coaches in the area as well as some team parents. That included learning her athletes' last names, grades, phone numbers and email addresses -- a practice that went the other way, too.
"I only know her as coach Holly," junior Morgan Wilcox said before a recent practice, admitting she'd never had to use Hutton's last name.
"They do know me. I've been coaching for a month as an assistant, but I just stood back and let (Alexis Schmidt) do her stuff," Hutton said. "Now, I'm just getting into learning how to take over, to take control. I had no idea how to order a bus for our first meet. I had to get a contract at the high school and do all that side of it before I even started coaching. And that's harder than coaching, I think."
Jones and Keethler both are two-time individual state qualifiers. Last season at state, Keethler finished 24th in all-around (34.675), tied for 20th on vault (9.025) and was 26th on bars (8.425) and 34th on floor (8.275). Jones was 28th in all-around (33.95), tied for 15th on bars (8.675), tied for 27th on balance beam (8.35) and finished 36th on vault (8.6).
Thirty-six individuals competed in each event and the all-around at state.
The rest of UA's roster consists of juniors Aggie Roiv and Kimmy Sullivan, sophomores Alyssa Cooper and Anna Tzagournis and freshmen Kitty Brooks, Paris Ghazi, Lindsey Spangler and Maddy Studer.
Roiv is an exchange student from France.
Hockey team taking on all comers
Hockey coach Jay Graham's hopes early-season games against quality opponents from across Ohio -- and beyond -- pay off later in the season.
UA will participate in the Rough Rider Holiday Tournament this weekend at Kent State. The Bears will play host Kent Roosevelt on Friday, Dec. 20, and both Cleveland Benedictine and North Canton Hoover on Saturday, Dec. 21.
UA will return to northeast Ohio from Dec. 27-29 for Lakewood St. Edward's Eagle Classic at Winterhurst Rink.
The Bears will not play another central Ohio opponent until Dec. 31, when they take on Dublin Coffman in a Capital Hockey Conference game.
"We want to play the best. We feel we can be one of the best in Columbus this year. We can do some damage," said Graham, whose team improved to 4-4-1 overall and 2-1-1 in the CHC with a 2-0 win over Olentangy on Dec. 15. "We'll see St. Edward, (Cleveland) St. Ignatius and (Hunting Valley) University School over Christmas, and they're arguably the top three teams in Cleveland. We're excited."
The Bears lost to Bowling Green 6-2 on Nov. 24 and played two opponents from Canada in Burlington (Ontario) Robert Bateman and Oakville (Ontario) Abbey Park in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic.
UA defeated Bateman 5-3 on Nov. 30 and lost to Abbey Park 11-1 on Dec. 1.
Games against Oxford Talawanda on Dec. 6 and Cincinnati St. Xavier on Dec. 8 were canceled because of bad weather.
UA came off a 12-day hiatus from games with an 8-4 win over Worthington Kilbourne on Dec. 13 in CHC play. Nick Dolan scored a team-high four goals and Danny Logan scored two to lead the Bears, who tied Dublin Jerome at 2 in a league contest Dec. 14.
Boys basketball team falls in league opener
The boys basketball team got out to a late start on the season and was 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Central after defeating Central Crossing 72-32 on Dec. 16.
The Bears opened Dec. 7 with a 57-38 win at Jerome behind 29 points from Kevin Vannatta before falling to Olentangy Liberty 34-31 on Dec. 13 in their OCC-Central opener.
Liberty's Law Jones scored the Patriots' last six points, including the winning 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left. He had made a 3-pointer to tie the game at 31 with 1:38 left.
Gabe Akins led the Bears with nine points. Danny Hummer added seven points and Vannatta was held to four.
UA played Jerome and Liberty without coach Tim Casey, who served a two-game suspension for reasons school administration did not publicize.
The Bears' original league and season opener Dec. 6 at Thomas Worthington was postponed to Jan. 21 because of bad weather.