Upper Arlington High School wrestling coach Matt Stout's plan for his team this season didn't involve taking one step forward, then two steps back.
Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, that's the way the season has unfolded to this point because of injuries.
Keith Neely missed the season's first five weeks with a stress fracture in his back. The junior returned to the lineup Jan. 9 and won his first four matches at 160 pounds.
His brother, Taylor, won his first tournament championship in the Firebird Classic on Dec. 14 at Kettering Fairmont and was 17-4 between 145 and 152 before sustaining a hamstring injury Jan. 16 in an OCC-Central Division dual against Olentangy Liberty. According to Stout, the senior's status entering the week was day-to-day.
Another senior, Blake Reid, won his first 12 matches, including titles in the Firebird Classic and the Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational on Dec. 7, and was 22-3 at 170 when his season ended because of a torn labrum in his left elbow. He sustained the injury during a 14-6 major decision over Springfield's D.J. Vaughn in the third-place match of the Kevin Cleveland Memorial Tournament on Jan. 4 at Dublin Scioto.
"The unfortunate thing is with the lineup I had on Nov. 1, we'd have won the OCC," Stout said. "I've trained Blake since he was in first grade. I'm very disappointed for him.
"Taylor could be out for who knows how long? With a hamstring, you just don't know. He's wrestled well the past couple weeks."
Reid was a Division I state qualifier last year in the same weight class, going 0-2 after missing much of the season with a stress fracture in his back. After the match against Vaughn, he told a trainer that he had heard a pop. Days later, he learned that his season was over.
Freshman Slade Morley has replaced Reid at 170.
Entering this week, Reid was first on the team in wins. Thomas Cooper, a junior, was second with a 19-6 record at 120 and Taylor Neely was third.
"It is (unfortunate), especially with both of them being captains," Keith Neely said of the injuries to his brother and Reid. "Without two of our best wrestlers in the lineup, everybody feels like they need to work harder and win."
UA split its two OCC-Central duals on Jan. 16, losing to Liberty 36-33 before beating Dublin Coffman 30-28 to improve to 1-4 in the league. Its next league dual is Jan. 30 at Thomas Worthington.
Seeded fifth in Region 5-B, the Bears opened the Division I state team tournament Jan. 22 against fourth-seeded Olentangy. That winner faced top-seeded Westerville North or eighth-seeded Whetstone in the second round that same evening.
The second-round winner will compete against second-seeded Delaware, third-seeded Olentangy Orange, sixth-seeded St. Charles or seventh-seeded Westerville Central in a Region 5 semifinal Wednesday, Jan. 29, at a site to be determined.
The semifinal winner will face Gahanna, Hamilton Township, Lancaster, Logan, Newark, Pickerington Central, Pickerington North, Teays Valley or Watkins Memorial in the regional final that same evening at the same site, with the champion advancing to the state tournament Feb. 8 at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
"We do have the team tournament, but for us it's almost an individual game at this point in time," Stout said.
"Blake's an automatic six points when he's in the lineup, for the most part. Without him in the lineup, it's hard to win dual meets. Unfortunately for us, everything is a struggle right now."
Hockey team takes advantage of break
While some members of the hockey team enjoyed the three-day Martin Luther King Day weekend by taking a ski trip to Utah, coach Jay Graham went to St. Louis with his son for a youth hockey tournament.
A weekend off from competition is Graham's way of giving his team a respite before the regular season's stretch run, which begins Friday, Jan. 24, against Capital Hockey Conference-White Division foe DeSales at Chiller Easton. UA has five regular-season games remaining, all against league opponents.
Because last week was the end of the first semester of school, Graham also made practices optional.
"The priority was to give them some of that time to make sure their academics were in order and they could get all their work in," said Graham, whose team is 12-9-2 overall and 7-2-2 in the CHC-White. "The guys know long before the season that this (past) week (was) like (that), and they (had) this (past) weekend off."
UA entered its break with a 7-3 league win over DeSales on Jan. 12. The previous night, the Bears led Charles 1-0 but lost the league contest 2-1 in a shootout after watching the Cardinals tie the game with 45 seconds left in regulation.
With 17 points in league play, UA is one point behind CHC-White leader St. Charles (18, 9-2) and ahead of Gahanna (12, 6-6) and DeSales (10, 5-6). No league games were played this past weekend.
Danny Logan leads the Bears with 22 goals.
Jones leads gymnasts in McGee Invitational
Emily Jones led the gymnastics team to a third-place finish in the McGee Invitational on Jan. 18 at Coffman.
Jones tied for second on the uneven bars (9.025 points) behind Mentor's Vanessa Cobb (9.075), as the Bears scored 132.675 points to finish behind Mentor (141.35) and Coffman (137.775) as 12 teams scored.
Jones also placed in the top six on floor exercise (fourth, 9.0) and vault (fifth, 8.9). The only other Bears gymnast to place in the top six was Becca Jaskot on floor (sixth, 8.85).
UA fell to 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio with a 138.7-131.625 loss to Coffman on Jan. 13. The Bears' next league action is Jan. 31 against host Olentangy and Thomas Worthington in a quad-meet that also includes Buckeye Valley.