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Neely savors invitational title

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Taylor Neely had worked more than a decade to experience what he felt Dec. 14, and five days later the Upper Arlington High School wrestler still couldn't find the appropriate words.

The senior won the 152-pound weight class in the Firebird Classic at Kettering Fairmont, defeating Fairmont's Mark Kimbrell 7-2 in the final to post his first career invitational championship.

"It was an indescribable feeling," Neely said. "I've been close a few times, but to get over the hump, well, it's just nice to get that final victory."

Neely, who is 11-1 this season, recorded a handful of takedowns against Kimbrell and the only points he allowed in the match came on two escapes. Most of his victories this season have followed the same formula, which, according to Neely, is the result of increased emphasis on technical improvement this past offseason.

"I thought it was pretty clear the entire match that I was in physical control, and that's how I feel it has to be for me to win," Neely said. "I feel like I've always been strong. I might not be stronger than all the guys I wrestle, but I still have to have that attitude.

"When I shoot now, I can get my head across my opponent more. I can usually get a guy on his back and go all the way through and get the takedown, not just a few back points. Coach (Matt) Stout has always told me I have good technique and I have the skills to be a great wrestler. I feel like I can be the best in the state if I keep applying what I'm doing and what I've learned."

Neely and senior Blake Reid (170), a Division I state qualifier last season who is 12-0 this season, have formed a strong tandem in the middle weights for the Golden Bears, who are without junior Keith Neely (160) because of a stress fracture in his back. Taylor Neely said his younger brother hopes to return later this season.

"Taylor has been wrestling for 12 years and he's a senior captain," Stout said. "This is the kind of season I expected him to have. In the past, he made a lot of mistakes on the mat and this year he's cut down on those. He might give up a cheap takedown or tend to go to his back. He's done a lot less of that this year."

UA finished third in the nine-team Firebird Classic. Like Taylor Neely, Reid won his weight class. In addition, the Bears got third-place finishes from Harper Nelson (106) and Nick Pavoni (195) and fourth-place efforts from Thomas Cooper (120) and Bobby Gardikes (126).

UA will be competing in the 41-team Medina Invitational Tournament on Friday, Dec. 27, and Saturday, Dec. 28. Stout said Taylor Neely will drop to 145 for the event and likely will remain in that weight class for the rest of the season.

"Medina will be a tell-tale sign of his talent, and all of our guys' talent," Stout said. "With a tournament like that, or really with any tournament, you have to just go and wrestle and treat it like any other event. That's the mindset I preach to them, and I hope it's the one they'll have."

Girls basketball team heading to Florida

The girls basketball team has headed south to participate in the KSA Holiday Tournament, which runs Friday, Dec. 27, to Monday, Dec. 30, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

UA is guaranteed to play three games in the event and is scheduled to face Carmel (N.Y.) in its opener.

Also in the Bears' bracket are Lancaster, Erie (Pa.) McDowell, Huntington Beach (Calif.) Ocean View, Merritt Island (Fla.), Ponte Vedra (Fla.) and St. Cloud (Fla.).

"We made up this schedule with this senior class in mind," said coach Chris Savage, whose team will play Liberty Township Lakota East in the Classic in the Country on Jan. 19 at Berlin Hiland. "We talked to the Classic in the Country people two years ago about their tournament, and we've wanted to take an out-of-state trip with this team. Hopefully, we'll enjoy it."

The Bears defeated Hilliard Davidson 75-42 in an OCC-Central Division game Dec. 20 behind 23 points from Andi Norman and were 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the league before playing Thomas Worthington on Dec. 21.

Boys basketball team also going out of town

For the second time in three years, the boys basketball team will participate in the Joe Machens Great Eight Classic. The event takes place Friday, Dec. 27, through Sunday, Dec. 29, in Jefferson City, Mo.

The Bears are scheduled to play Raytown (Mo.) South in their event opener.

Also competing in the Great Eight Classic are Columbia (Mo.) Battle, Jefferson City, Jefferson City Helias, Louisville (Ky.) Western, Oxford (Miss.) and Tulsa (Okla.) South.

UA improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Central with a 59-48 win over Davidson on Dec. 20.

Kevin Vannatta had 17 points to lead the Bears, followed by Gabe Akins with 12 and Danny Hummer with 11.

UA's home game against Richmond (Ind.) on Dec. 21 was suspended in the second half because of poor floor conditions. It was not immediately known if the contest will be completed at a later date.

Orange Bowl prompts time changes

Because the Ohio State football team will be playing Clemson in the Orange Bowl at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 3, the girls basketball team and hockey team have changed the starting times of their events that day to avoid a conflict.

The girls basketball team's game at Marysville has been moved from 7:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the hockey team's game against Olentangy Liberty at Chiller North has been moved from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Boys athletics director Michael Schaefer said the boys basketball team's home game against Marysville that day will remain at 7:30 p.m. and the swimming and diving teams' home dual against Mason will start at 6 p.m. as originally scheduled.

Interviews for football coach are underway

Schaefer said interviews to find a football coach began last week, but he would not reveal the number of applications he received, nor would he reveal if there is a self-imposed deadline for filling the position.

"Nothing is set in stone. It'll take however long it takes," Schaefer said. "We're going to do it right. We're going to find the best fit for our high school, our district and our community."

Mike Golden retired after this past season, in which UA finished 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the OCC-Central. He was 65-33 in nine seasons at UA and 203-78 in his career and guided the Bears to five Division I playoff appearances, the last of which came in 2011.

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