Facing the possibility that the Upper Arlington High School gymnastics team might not have a season, several Golden Bears reached out to the woman who helped start their careers.
Most of last year's top scorers are back for first-year coach Melanie Palsgrove, including some of her former pupils in senior Zoe Rigsby, sophomore Andrea Orazen and freshman Mia Tzagournis. They were among her students during a coaching career that has lasted 32 years but, until now, has not included a high school job.
"I didn't want them to not have a season," Palsgrove said. "I am loving it. The high school world is new to me (regarding) the different levels of talent with the girls. It's seasonal and not year-round, but other than that, it's the same to me. Kids are kids. The sport is the sport."
Seniors Megan Crouse and Rachael Feinberg, junior Caroline Pirwitz and sophomore Taylor Shockley are the other top returnees from a team went 6-1 in OCC-Central Division duals with 28 points to finish second in the league behind Marysville (32, 7-0).
The Bears also finished second (127.25) behind the Monarchs (128.85) in the league meet and sixth (128.775) in the 23-team district meet -- three spots shy of their third consecutive state berth -- behind champion Thornville Sheridan (138.65).
UA opened Dec. 5 with a home tri-meet against Washington Court House and Worthington Kilbourne and finished fourth (129.8) in the 14-team Hilliard Invitational on Dec. 16 at Hilliard Davidson behind champion Dresden Tri-Valley (131.15).
Tzagournis tied for fourth on floor exercise (8.85) and was seventh on vault (8.55), eighth on balance beam (8.275) and ninth in all-around (32.975).
"That was a big step for us," Rigsby said. "We started rough last year. It was great for us to start strong. We're stronger as a team because we've added a few new girls and we return a lot. With this team, going to state is attainable. We can do it. We remember what it takes to get there."
Palsgrove, who also coached sophomores Sydney Harper and Addy Pittenger, hopes to provide stability for a program that has had six coaches in as many years. Only one of them, Jennifer Lippold, stayed for more than one season when she coached the Bears from 2014-16.
Palsgrove replaces Erin May, a second-grade teacher at Tremont Elementary School who stepped down to devote more time to a personal business making handmade items to be sold at festivals.
"Practices are more structured," said Rigsby, who first met Palsgrove when she was 5 years old. "Knowing that she was coming here was very encouraging for me. I was considering not coming back out this season, but she is a great coach. She brings a lot to the table. She's going to make everyone even better."
UA has 22 girls, up from 16 last year and 10 two years ago.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Julia Hayes and Erin Karap, junior Morgan Griffith, sophomores Ava Carlin, Maddie Heyob, Katherine Pirwitz and Sydney Rose and freshmen Natalia Angelis, Lily Barker, Beverly Kinateder, Aislinn Matthews, Emma Merchant and Hope Perry.
"A lot of the girls who were strong last year are continuing to show those same skills and improve on their scores," Feinberg said. "A few new girls are definitely adding to the team and giving us some extra points. Mia is really good at all-around and Addy has helped us out on floor and (uneven) bars."
Swimmers strong at Ned Reeb meet
The swimming and diving teams pointed to the Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 16 at Ohio State as an early barometer of where they stand this season, and both sides found themselves near the top in a meet that features most area teams and some perennial state powers.
On the strength of six top-three finishes, the girls scored 289 points and finished second of 41 teams, behind New Albany (357.5). The boys tied OCC-Central rival Dublin Coffman for sixth (134) of 36 teams, behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (610), the eight-time defending Division I state champion.
Winners for the girls team were Dakota Elliott in the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 2.78 seconds) and the 200 medley relay (1:46.2). Elliott also placed second in the 500 freestyle (4:59.2) and Kendra Sheehan was second in the 100 backstroke (56.88). The 400 free relay was second (3:34.75) and the 200 free relay was third (1:38.91).
Alec Caswell led the boys team with a third-place finish in the 500 free (4:42.2). He also was 10th in the 200 free (1:46.84).
"It's good competition," boys swimmer Will Dierker said. "It's the Saturday before exams, so we're tired and worrying about what's coming ahead, but it's fun to see where you are compared to years past."
UA does not have another meet until it plays host to Mason on Jan. 5, but will train at Branin Natatorium in Canton, the site of the state meet, on Wednesday, Dec. 27, and Dec. 28.
Girls basketball team looks for more wins
The girls basketball team strung together consecutive wins for the first time this season last week, defeating Dublin Scioto 63-46 in Dec. 12 and Hilliard Davidson 40-36 on Dec. 15 to improve to 5-3 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Central.
Macy Spielman had 16 points and Kileigh Casey 10 to lead the Bears past the Wildcats.
Spielman, who led UA in scoring in each of the first eight games this season, scored 15 points against the Irish and was averaging 17.1 points before the Bears played Westerville Central on Dec. 19. Adrienne Wachtman added a career-high 12 points against Scioto.
Dec. 5 -- vs. Washington Court House Miami Trace and Worthington Kilbourne
Dec. 16 -- Hilliard Invitational at Hilliard Davidson
Jan. 9 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, *Hilliard Davidson and Olentangy
Jan. 13 -- McGee Invitational at Dublin Coffman
Jan. 19 -- at Washington Court House Miami Trace
*Jan. 24 -- at Marysville
*Jan. 29 -- vs. Central Crossing, Franklin Heights, Grove City and Westland
Feb. 7 -- at *Dublin Coffman with Central Crossing, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Franklin Heights and Grove City
Feb. 10 -- OCC-Central meet at Hilliard Davidson
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 22 -- At Westland
*Dec. 22 -- Home vs. Westland
Dec. 23 -- At Teays Valley
Dec. 27 -- Cincinnati Colerain in Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic at DeSales
Dec. 28 -- DeSales or Logan in Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic
*Dec. 22 -- Gahanna at Chiller Easton
*Dec. 23 -- Dublin Jerome at Chiller Dublin
Dec. 27-29 -- Lakewood St. Edward Eagle Classic at Serpentini Arena
Dec. 27-28 -- Medina Invitational Tournament