For the second consecutive year, the Upper Arlington High School girls basketball team finds itself in a Division I district semifinal.
But according to senior forward Andi Norman, the Golden Bears' attitude and personality as they prepare to play 16th-seeded Watterson at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Westerville Central have come a long way from last year at this time.
"Last year, we were so pumped to be there. This year, it's even more special because we know what it's like," Norman said. "We want to know what it's like to cut down the nets and not watch another team do it. It's been such a fun ride. You don't come across (22)-1 seasons too frequently."
That's the record second-seeded UA carries into the semifinal after defeating 36th-seeded Thomas Worthington 49-35 in a second-round home game Feb. 20. Norman had 18 points and five assists and Annika Wachtman added 15 points against the Cardinals, as UA led by as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Last season, UA advanced to a district final before losing to Reynoldsburg 62-19. Prior to that, the Bears had not been to that stage since 2004.
Watterson, which is 16-7, defeated 31st-seeded Briggs 53-42 in the first round Feb. 15 and upset eighth-seeded Teays Valley 68-54 in a second-round road game Feb. 19. Against Teays Valley, Bryn McQuade had 16 points and Maria Fisher and Rachel Limes each added 10, as the Eagles scored more than 62 points for just the third time this season.
"They're deceptively quick," coach Chris Savage said of Watterson. "They change things up really well. They are disciplined (and have) interchangeable parts. They have a lot of girls who do a lot of things well. They're on a roll. They're well-coached. They run all kinds of stuff offensively and defensively. I've known coach (Tom) Woodford and he does a great job. It'll be a fight."
The semifinal winner will play third-seeded Newark or 15th-seeded DeSales in a district final at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Ohio Dominican University. The district champion will face Dublin Coffman, Olentangy, Pickerington Central or Zanesville in a regional semifinal at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at Otterbein University.
The regional final is March 7 at Otterbein.
UA split two OCC-Central Division games with Coffman, losing 42-32 on Nov. 29 and winning 53-40 on Jan. 10.
Forward Kortney Eisenman, who had 14 points and eight rebounds against Thomas, said the Bears have openly discussed winning a district championship for the first time since 1989.
"That's our biggest goal, for sure, and we've talked about it," Eisenman said. "It's something we've been working toward, but we've had a measured approach."
Gymnasts earn team berth in state meet
For the first time since 2003, the gymnastics team will compete in the state meet as a team.
UA scored 137.7 points in the district meet Feb. 22 at Worthington Kilbourne to secure the third and final state berth behind champion Coffman (143.85) and runner-up Kilbourne (141.025) as 26 teams scored.
The team state meet takes place Friday, Feb. 28, at Hilliard Bradley. The top eight finishers in each event and the all-around at district advanced to the individual state meet Saturday, March 1, at Bradley.
Qualifying for the individual state meet were junior Emily Jones on uneven bars (8.675, eighth) and senior Rebecca Jaskot on floor exercise (9.025, tied for eighth).
Jones also led the Bears on vault (9.25, tied for 10th) and all-around (35.325, ninth) and Mary Kate Keethler led UA on balance beam (8.85, tied for 12th). Keethler was second on the team in the all-around (35.175, 11th).
There were 103 competitors in the all-around, 150 on vault, 148 on bars and floor and 147 on beam.
Boys basketball team wins tourney opener
Kevin Vannatta scored 19 of his 28 points in the first half as the boys basketball team defeated 38th-seeded Pickerington North 75-47 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 21 at home.
Vannatta added four assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks and Danny Hummer had 12 points for third-seeded UA, which led by as many as 33 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bears were 22-1 before playing 30th-seeded Olentangy in a second-round game Feb. 26.
"We got out in transition from good defense and once a few (shots) started going in, we got all the confidence in the world and we kept shooting," said Vannatta, whose team made eight of its first 11 shots from the field. "We'd come back on defense and get a stop. We like to go with a three-stop mentality -- get three consecutive stops and then take care of business on the offensive end."
The second-round winner will face 12th-seeded Grove City or 23rd-seeded Franklin Heights in a district semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at Marysville. UA did not play either team during the regular season.
The semifinal winner advances to a district final March 8 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
Wrestlers end season at district tourney
No members of the wrestling team advanced to the Division I state tournament, which runs Thursday, Feb. 27, through Saturday, March 1, at Ohio State.
The top four finishers in each weight class at district Feb. 21 and 22 at Hilliard Darby advanced to state.
UA had eight district qualifiers. Taylor Neely (145 pounds), Keith Neely (152), Izak Wunderlich (182), Alex Tepley (195) and Quinten Wolfe (heavyweight) each went 1-2 and Collin Burt (113), Thomas Cooper (120) and Sam Beam (138) each went 0-2.
UA scored 10 points at district to finish 31st behind champion Marysville (147.5) as 37 teams scored.
Hockey team falls in district semifinal
The hockey team took a 1-0 lead against top-seeded St. Charles in the first period of their district semifinal Feb. 23 at OhioHealth Ice Haus, but the fourth-seeded Bears were unable to maintain their lead and lost 3-1.
Carter Braet scored for UA, which finished 18-13-2. St. Charles, which advanced to face second-seeded Olentangy Orange in the district final Saturday, March 1, at the Ice Haus, scored all three of its goals in the final 11 minutes, 47 seconds.
Ryan Brady scored with 7:47 remaining to give St. Charles a 2-1 lead. The Cardinals added an empty-net goal with 17.7 seconds left.
Goaltender Cole Abbott had 24 saves for the Bears.
UA defeated fifth-seeded Olentangy Liberty 5-1 in a third-round game Feb. 22 at the Ice Haus to advance to a semifinal.