In forward Tyler Ahearn's estimation, the Westerville club hockey team wasn't as talented this season as it was a year ago when it went 25-15-5.
Yet, the Warcats had more wins this season, finishing 27-19-2.
"We had a lot more talent last year, but we had better chemistry and worked a lot better together this year," said Ahearn, a junior at Westerville Central High School. "We worked a lot harder during practices to work our way up the rankings and we ended up having an even better season this year than we did last year."
Westerville was streaky during this season, as it won 11 of its first 12 games, lost six of its next eight and then won nine of its next 13.
The Warcats finished third in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League at 12-7-1 (25 points), behind Hilliard (15-3-2, 32) and Newark (14-2-4, 32) and ahead of Northeast (7-10-3, 17), PRPC (7-13, 14) and Athens (0-20, 0).
"Winning at Newark 9-1 (Jan. 10) was the highlight of our season," said defenseman Kyle Arens, a senior at Westerville South. "That was the turning point in our season because it showed us that we could beat anyone in our league."
Westerville went 2-2 in the Blue Jackets Cup, which Newark won by defeating Hilliard 2-0 in the championship game Feb. 24 at Chiller North.
The top four teams in the GCHSCHL advanced to the 12-team state tournament known as the Buckeye Cup, which was held March 8-10 at Cincinnati Gardens and Northland Ice Center.
Westerville went 2-1 in pool play, losing to Fremont 6-1 on March 8 and defeating Mason 3-2 and West Chester Lakota West 4-2 on March 9.
The Warcats finished sixth in pool play with eight points as Hilliard (13.5), Fremont (13.5), Medina (12.5) and Newark (10) advanced to the semifinals. Medina went on to win the state title, defeating Hilliard 3-1 in the championship game to qualify for the USA Hockey National Championships, which began March 20 and conclude Sunday, March 24, in Coral Springs, Fla.
"Our biggest goal was to make it to the state tournament again, so that was a big positive," Arens said. "We definitely could have done better there. We came out flat in the first game and it cost us."
The Warcats lose four seniors but expect to return 16 players, including their top five scorers in junior forward Jacob English (36 goals, 43 assists), junior forward Christopher Spies (28 goals, 24 assists), sophomore defenseman Vincent Murdock (23 goals, 26 assists), junior forward Tyler Ramsey (17 goals, 22 assists) and sophomore defenseman Brendan Kremer (9 goals, 23 assists).
Both of Westerville's goaltenders also are expected back in junior Tyler Plas and freshman Eric Wilhelm.
Plas went 20-17-2 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .883 save percentage and Wilhelm went 7-2 with a 3.40 GAA and an .833 save percentage.
"Our seniors were all good leaders and they really stepped up their games in the state tournament," Ahearn said. "I feel like we can be just as good next season because we have a lot of good returning juniors and our chemistry is really good."