Defense and goaltending have been the staples that helped the Dublin Jerome High School hockey team reach the state tournament for the second time in program history this winter.
Staying strong in those two areas figures to be a necessity as the Celtics prepare to face two-time defending state champion Cleveland St. Ignatius in a state semifinal at 12:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, at Nationwide Arena.
The winner plays Hunting Valley University School or Toledo St. Francis in the state final at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at Nationwide Arena.
Goaltender Harrison Graff made 39 saves in a 4-1 victory over second-seeded Olentangy Liberty in the district final March 3 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
"I kind of fought to see the puck to make the saves, but my defense was there to clear the pucks I couldn't see," said Graff, who recently was named second-team all-state along with defenseman Ryan Jenkins and forward Carter Patchett while forward Trent Belli made honorable mention all-state.
In its only other state appearance, Jerome lost to Lakewood St. Edward 2-0 in a 2015 state semifinal.
St. Ignatius, meanwhile, has won five state titles overall, including beating University School 4-3 for the 2016 title and St. Francis 5-1 for last year's championship.
No central Ohio team has won a state semifinal, let alone the state championship. In fact, area teams are 0-11 all-time in state semifinals, although Coffman lost to University School 3-2 in two overtimes in 2016.
Last season, Liberty fell to St. Francis 8-2 in a semifinal.
The Celtics, who are 30-4-3-2 and were the top seed for the district tournament, are the latest central Ohio team that will get the chance to break the trend.
"I'm just really happy for the kids," coach Pat Murphy said. "Obviously, for the seniors this is really special and we're looking forward to giving our best (this) Friday. We were saying all year long that we just want to get pucks on net and try to get traffic (in front of the net) to get a rebound. We played hard, we played good defense and we're really happy to be moving on. (Graff) is really good. There's a reason he's second-team all-(state)."
In the district final, Chris Posacki scored two goals and Ryan Wheeler and J.P. Weaver each had one goal. Kellen Posacki had two assists and Belli and Evan Shea each had one assist.
"(Chris) Posacki is normally more of a checker, but he took advantage of a couple opportunities," Murphy said. "He had a couple big goals. He's a senior and his twin brother is on the team. I imagine it's pretty special for those guys."
Boys basketball team falls to Shamrocks
The 25th-seeded boys basketball team opened the Division I district tournament with a 58-40 loss at sixth-seeded Coffman in a second-round game March 2 to finish 13-10.
The Celtics trailed 11-2 after the first quarter before closing to within 19-13 by halftime. However, the Shamrocks outscored Jerome 18-12 in the third quarter and 21-15 in the fourth.
Andrew Golda led the Celtics with 19 points. Lucas House scored nine and Trey Ballengee added eight.
Jerome also lost to Coffman in the second round last season, 59-54.
Most of gymnastics squad to return
The gymnastics team took a step up this season in both the league and postseason.
After placing fourth in the OCC-Cardinal Division last season, the Celtics again scored 20 points in league action but moved up to third with a 4-2 finish, behind Hilliard Darby (28, 6-0) and Hilliard Bradley (24, 5-1) and ahead of Delaware (14, 3-3), Worthington Kilbourne (12, 1-5), Thomas Worthington (10, 2-4) and Scioto (4, 0-6).
Kristen Willms, who coaches all three Dublin programs, was named OCC-Cardinal Coach of the Year.
After a 13th-place finish in the district meet last season, the Celtics finished seventh (131.85) of 24 teams Feb. 24 at Kilbourne behind champion Thornville Sheridan (145.425).
Still, Willms believes the best is yet to come for a program that loses just one senior and had just two juniors.
"We were top 10 at district, which is great," Willms said. "I still feel there is so much untapped potential in that group. We made a lot of mistakes at district. We counted a lot of falls, but only two out of the eight have done high school gymnastics. ... It's a brand-new world for (the rest). You're coming into the season and think, 'We got this,' but it's really competitive and they've got goals for next year."
In the all-around at district, sophomore Grace Krouse finished 14th (33.95) and junior Parker Sickels was 16th (33.8).
Also competing in the all-around were junior Melissa Radey and sophomore Sydney White.
Krouse placed ninth on vault with an 8.8, but only the top eight advanced to state.
The only senior was Melina Mangini.
The other district competitors were sophomore Rachel Radey and freshmen Maddy Lucas and Izzy Willms.
Willms, who missed significant time this season with a foot injury, is among the team's most talented gymnasts, according to coach Willms, who is her older sister.
"Grace Krouse had a really, really good season and a really unfortunate district," coach Willms said. "Next year, she's got a lot to look forward to. My sister broke her foot in January so she was out and got cleared to compete the week before district. I couldn't ask for much more than that because it was a pretty quick recovery."
Entire wrestling team set to return
With no seniors in his program, wrestling coach Matt White is excited about the prospects of next season.
"Going into the season we knew we were going to be young and in the rebuilding phase," White said. "Our kids came out and competed hard each and every week. The previous year's team won only one dual and this year we finished with six dual-meet wins. We competed well in some of our tournaments. Since we have no seniors this year, we're going to be looking to compete at an even higher level next season."
The Celtics went 2-4 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish fifth, behind co-champions Bradley and Delaware (both 5-1) and Scioto and Darby (both 4-2) and ahead of Kilbourne (1-5) and Thomas (0-6).
Jerome placed ninth (33) of 10 teams in a Division I sectional Feb. 24 at Marysville, behind the champion and host Monarchs (279).
Junior Lane Williams (132 pounds, 27-11 on the season) and freshman Ezra Strickland (145, 19-12) placed fifth at sectional and were district alternates. Sophomores Drew Kavinsky (170, 22-18) and Jack Viola (106, 24-16) and freshman Austin Wagner (113) all placed sixth.
Sophomores Nick Henkel (152) and Josh Snitkin (160) both lost in the third round of consolation.
Earning third-team all-league honors were Strickland, Kavinsky, sophomore Craigen Lenker (113) and junior John Huber (195).
"Ezra Strickland is wrestling at a very high level right now," White said. "Having a year of varsity experience under his belt is going to help him tremendously going into next year. Lane Williams was one of our most consistent wrestlers this season, placing in the top four of most of the tournaments we were in. We're going to be hitting the offseason camp circuit in addition to incorporating some strength and conditioning sessions.
"A big focus for our offseason will be to build interest in the community for the Jerome wrestling program. People will be able to see our wrestlers out in the community in person for fundraising events."
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
*Finishes: Third in OCC-Cardinal, seventh at district
*Senior lost: Melina Mangini
*Key returnees: Grace Krouse, Maddy Lucas, Melissa Radey, Rachel Radey, Parker Sickels, Sydney White and Izzy Willms
*Finishes: 2-4 (fifth) in OCC-Cardinal, ninth at sectional
*Seniors lost: None
*Key returnees: Nick Henkel, John Huber, Drew Kavinsky, Craigen Lenker, Josh Snitkin, Ezra Strickland, Jack Viola, Austin Wagner and Lane Williams