The Upper Arlington High School hockey team viewed competing in Lakewood St. Edward's Eagle Classic in late December as a chance to prove it belongs with some of the state's top teams.
Despite going 1-3 in the tournament -- in which the Golden Bears played three of the top four teams in last week's state poll and upset defending state champion Shaker Heights 1-0 -- coach Jay Graham was even more encouraged about his team upon returning to Columbus.
Graham called a 6-2 win over Dublin Coffman in a Capital Hockey Conference contest Dec. 31 his team's best game to date because of its all-around performance. The Bears played the way Graham wants them to and avoided a letdown.
"I thought our kids might come back with a bit of 'hey, we played tough (in Cleveland) and beat some better teams up there so let's come back and slack off,' but they did the opposite," Graham said. "This was probably our best game by far. We came out and worked as hard as we could. We had lots of positives besides filling up the net. I am so pleased with the effort and chemistry right now. Our goalie (Cole Abbott) is excellent, and the defense is phenomenal."
UA, which is 11-8-2 overall and 5-1-2 in the CHC-White Division, was highly competitive in losses to Hunting Valley University School (2-1 on Dec. 27) and St. Edward (3-2 on Dec. 28) in the Eagle Classic. It also lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius (4-0 on Dec. 28) but closed the event with the win over Shaker Heights.
St. Ignatius was first in the state poll last week and St. Edward and University School were tied for fourth.
UA's performance in Cleveland helped it garner votes in last week's state poll, but not enough to make the top 10.
The Bears have outscored their opponents 75-54 and have held their opponent to two goals or fewer in nine games, including five shutouts.
Abbott had a season-high 39 saves against St. Edward, a game which UA led 2-1 after two periods.
"We've gotten it together the past few weeks," defenseman Cole Kaparos said. "We're starting to break the puck out and dominate the middle. We can be up in the play so we can come back and not have to worry about beating breakaways or somebody getting behind us for scoring opportunities."
The Bears have had to shuffle their lines in the wake of injuries to forwards Jack Dolan and Owen McClellan. According to Graham, McClellan sustained a broken ankle early in the season and was expected to be cleared to play this week.
Dolan is expected to return from a broken collarbone at the end of January, Graham said.
Carl Jacobson replaced Dolan on the first line with Danny Logan and Jason Schumacher, with Will Marable, Zac Richards and Chris Wagner comprising the second line.
Through 20 games, Logan had a team-high 12 goals, followed by Dolan and Schumacher with 10 each.
According to Graham, the defense has been led by Kaparos, Nick Mastruserio, Nick Reid and Alex Wu.
"I love seeing production across the board," Logan said. "Our lines have meshed together better and everyone is fitting in with their linemates. We feel pretty comfortable."
The contest against Coffman began an 11-game stretch against CHC foes. UA plays each of its CHC-White rivals this weekend at OhioHealth Ice Haus -- Gahanna on Friday, Jan. 10; St. Charles on Saturday, Jan. 11; and DeSales on Sunday, Jan. 12.
"We've got to be able to take care of business in our league," Graham said. "But I feel good about where we are. The sky is the limit for this team right now. We have to come with (the same) effort (put forth against Coffman) every night because we've set the bar high."
Depth helping boys basketball team
Before the season, boys basketball coach Tim Casey thought that his team might be the deepest it's been in years, and so far he hasn't been disappointed.
"It might be a cliche, but it really is 'next man up' with this team. We're getting good contributions from a lot of different guys," said Casey, whose team was 8-1 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Central before visiting Westland on Jan. 7. "We lost only one senior from last year (Austin Ping), so there's a lot of experience here even with guys who are seeing a lot of varsity action for the first time. They know it's not enough just to be here. The guys like to play, and it's showing. We don't see any real dropoff no matter who's in the game."
Through nine games, the Bears had eight or more players score five times, with Kevin Vannatta averaging a team-high 16.3 points, and they hadn't allowed more than 48 points in any game, including their 56-40 win over Marysville in an OCC-Central contest Jan. 3 and a 55-42 win over New Albany on Jan. 4.
UA might need a similar effort Friday, Jan. 10, when it plays host to Coffman in a league game. The Bears have lost 11 of their past 15 games against the Shamrocks, including the teams' last three meetings.
"Defensively is where we've really improved," Casey said. "There have been contributions from lots of different guys. They know what they're doing. Experience means everything."
Swimmers enter 2nd phase of schedule
With four invitationals under their belt, the boys and girls swimming and diving teams have entered the dual meet portion of their schedule.
UA competed against Mason on Jan. 3 and will visit Centerville on Saturday, Jan. 11. The Bears then will compete at home against Division II power Granville on Jan. 17 and at St. Charles on Jan. 18, with the boys team competing against the host Cardinals and the girls team competing against Columbus School for Girls.
"We've been in the pools we need to see. That's out of the way now," boys coach Mike de Bear said.
"Now for the last two months of the season, we can concentrate on racing and training for the championship meets. That's still paramount. We practiced for three hours before we swam against Mason. Everything is still falling into place with forming relays and getting the guys into the right events. Right now, over half (the boys team's) relays are freshmen and sophomores, and they're working hard to improve on where they are now."
Three of the invitationals in which UA competed in December took place in pools that serve as postseason venues. The Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 7 was at Ohio State -- site of the Division I district meet Feb. 15 -- and the Big Eight Invitational on Dec. 20 and the Canton Christmas Invitational on Dec. 21 were held at Branin Natatorium in Canton, where the state meet will take place Feb. 20-22.
The girls team won the Ned Reeb Invitational, the Solon Relays on Dec. 14 and both meets in Canton, and the boys team won the Solon Relays, placed third in both the Ned Reeb Invitational and Canton Christmas Invitational and fourth in the Big Eight Invitational.
Against Mason, the boys won 107-76 and the girls won 116-70.