Jesse Bowers still gets emotional when he thinks about how he inadvertently ended teammate Mitch Herren's sophomore season during a live drill.
The Upper Arlington High School wrestlers will be emotional again when they compete in their first Division I state tournament beginning Thursday, March 8, at Ohio State, but probably for happier reasons.
Herren, a junior, finished third at 113 pounds in the district tournament held March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby and is 34-8 on the season. Bowers, a sophomore, placed fourth at 120 and is 35-11.
As practice wrapped up Jan. 16, 2017, Bowers got around on Herren and forced the latter to land awkwardly, fracturing the growth plate in his left femur. Two screws had to be inserted and he was held out of live action for 4 1/2 months.
"I knew it was bad," Bowers said. "I started crying at the end of that practice. My captain (2017 graduate Slade Morley) came and talked to me. I knew Mitch had a good shot at state last year. I just felt terrible."
Herren also vividly remembers that day.
"I basically got chop-blocked," he said. "I was gassed when I came back. I had to work so hard in conditioning. I really picked it up in the room. Freshman year, I screwed around and used the excuse that I was too small and I wouldn't do anything anyway. Last year made me realize I have to take advantage of all my opportunities."
Herren, who went 4-1 at district, and Bowers, who went 4-2, led UA to 73 points and seventh place behind champion Lancaster (170) as 38 teams scored. According to coach Matt Stout, that is the Golden Bears' first top-10 finish at district since 1993.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state, which concludes Saturday, March 10.
Bowers and Herren are UA's first state qualifiers since Vito DeBenedetto and Blake Reid in 2013.
"Mitch has really improved his work ethic in the room. He worked a lot harder this year and has matured a lot in terms of match management and fighting through tough situations," Stout said. "Jesse, he placed (sixth) at district last year, so we certainly had high expectations for him. Once he cut down to 120 (from 126), we were confident he could probably get to state, but you still have to earn it. He had to fight for every win."
Also competing at district but failing to advance were Joey Orlando (132, fifth, 4-2), Mark Trifelos (152, fifth, 4-2), Daniel Beam (106, 1-2), Holden Freeman (182, 1-2), Jacob Shanklin (126, 1-2), David Soghomonyan (170, 1-2) and Miles Pearson (138, 0-2).
Orlando and Trifelos are state alternates.
"Especially after being too small to really compete as a freshman and then breaking my femur, I thought last year would be my year to get to state and then this year my goal was to place," Herren said. "This means even more because of that."
Girls basketball team falls in district final
A 14-point first-quarter deficit proved too much for the girls basketball team to overcome in a 48-28 loss to top-seeded Newark in a Division I district final March 3 at Ohio Dominican.
The seventh-seeded Golden Bears trailed 16-2 within the first six minutes and used a 7-0 run in the second quarter to pull within 18-10 but never got closer and trailed by as many as 21 in the fourth quarter.
Macy Spielman had 11 points for UA, which finished 20-6 and had been seeking its third district championship in five years. The Bears also lost to Newark 51-29 on Nov. 29.
"They threw us off by a pass or two, threw us off our rhythm a little bit, and against a team like that, you get down like that and you don't have much of a chance to recover," coach Chris Savage said. "They defended us well and we did not match their intensity in the first quarter. They have shooters everywhere, they're extremely well-coached and they're a cohesive unit."
UA advanced to the district final by knocking off sixth-seeded Northland 69-54 in a semifinal Feb. 28 at Olentangy Orange.
Kileigh Casey had 11 of her 18 points in the third quarter as the Bears outscored the Vikings 22-10 to pull away. Spielman also had 18 points.
Boys basketball team romps into semifinal
The boys basketball team played 23rd-seeded Northland in a Division I district semifinal March 7, needing two wins this week to capture its third consecutive district championship and fourth in five seasons.
Second-seeded UA improved to 22-1 by routing 47th-seeded Whetstone in a second-round home game March 2. Dane Goodwin had 34 points and six rebounds and Will Grabovac and Max Martz each added nine points as the Bears outscored the Braves 31-5 in the second quarter to lead 45-12 at halftime.
The UA-Northland winner plays fifth-seeded Newark or sixth-seeded Dublin Coffman in a district final Saturday, March 10, at Ohio Dominican. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal March 15.
The Bears defeated Coffman 44-41 on Feb. 3 and 44-42 on Feb. 16 to clinch the outright OCC-Central Division championship.
Hockey team overcame key injuries
Despite injuries to several key players under first-year coach David Clarkson, the hockey team still finished with winning records both overall and in the Capital Hockey Conference and posted two district tournament victories.
UA finished 16-15-1-2 overall and 9-5-0-2 (20 points) in the CHC-Red Division and reached a district semifinal before losing to top-seeded Dublin Jerome 8-0 on Feb. 25 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
"We grew really well. It was a new era with some new personnel," Clarkson said. "For what we had to deal with in terms of injuries, our guys should be proud of themselves. I'm big on accountability, structure and culture. Whatever we did this year was because of how hard the guys worked. They all bought into what we were selling. We helped them along and gave them some guidance."
Among the Bears' injured players were senior forward Jake Evans (torn ACL), senior defenseman Jack Lawless (broken femur), senior for-ward/defenseman Nate Skidmore (broken wrist), junior defenseman Michael Moul (broken ankle) and sophomore defenseman Will Lawless (broken ankle).
Skidmore still led the team with 12 goals. Senior forward Brock Curtis scored 10 and junior forward Brett Labuhn had nine. Six other players had between four and seven goals.
"Guys stepped up and had solid seasons," Clarkson said. "It was a learning experience for them and for me, too. I'm happy with how we did."
UA finished fourth in the CHC-Red behind Jerome (30, 15-1), Olentangy Liberty (27, 13-2-1) and St. Charles (24, 11-3-1-1) and ahead of New Albany (12, 6-10).
Seeded fifth in the 24-team district tournament, the Bears defeated 14th-seeded Centerville 3-0 in the second round Feb. 17 at Chiller North and third-seeded St. Charles 1-0 in a quarterfinal Feb. 24 at the Ice Haus before falling to Jerome.
Other expected returnees include both goaltenders in junior Cam Keller and freshman Garrett Alderman.
Swimming teams look to 'regroup'
After combining to take four individual swimming qualifiers to the Division I state meet, boys coach Mike de Bear and girls coach Dan Peterkoski hope a productive offseason provides the program with a boost.
Although senior Dakota Elliott repeated as state champion in the 200-yard individual medley (1 minute, 58.78 seconds) on Feb. 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, the girls team's string of three consecutive state titles came to an end. The Bears scored 122 points to finish seventh behind champion Mason (236) as 55 teams scored, the first time UA had not placed in the top five at state since going scoreless there in 1999.
Elliott, a University of Pittsburgh recruit, also placed second in the 500 freestyle (4:52.78).
"It makes you reflect a lot," Peterkoski said. "We will regroup and see what's in store for us moving forward. As I have said, it's nice to always win, but I think there's something to be learned from losing and realizing that always winning is not necessarily reality. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be humbled every once in a while. Hopefully, being humbled and experiencing a very fast state meet, we can learn how to make ourselves better."
The other individual state qualifier for the girls was senior Kendra Sheehan, an Ohio University recruit who finished eighth in the 100 free (51.89) and ninth in the 100 backstroke (56.25).
The boys team also had two individual state qualifiers in juniors Alec Caswell and Luke Landis.
Caswell placed ninth in the 500 free (4:35.94) and 11th in the 200 free (1:42.59), while Landis finished 20th in the 500 free (4:43.91).
In the girls state diving meet Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium, junior Holly Darling finished seventh (448.4 points) and sophomore Julia Fidanza was eighth (436.6).
"You don't go into high school boys meets with freshmen and sophomores expecting huge results. That happens here and there, but so few freshmen and sophomores are factors (at state)," de Bear said. "We have a lot of first- and second-year swimmers that if they buy in can post big times. It's not out of the realm that we can double or triple our swimmers here next year, but we have to start working now.
"Dan and I are both excited about the challenge to get us back to where we should be. We have had some great swims, just not enough of them, and that's exciting."
UA swept the OCC-Central meet Jan. 27 at home. The boys scored 391 points to win their 18th consecutive league title, ahead of Coffman (345), Hilliard Davidson (223), Marysville (89) and Central Crossing (83), and the girls won their 24th league title in a row, scoring 478 points to finish ahead of Coffman (324), Davidson (166), Marysville (126), Central Crossing (71) and Westland (57).
In a home sectional Feb. 10, the girls scored 328 points to finish first ahead of runner-up Pickerington North (206) as 15 teams scored and the boys finished first (327) ahead of runner-up Lancaster (162) as 13 teams scored.
The girls narrowly extended their district title streak to 19 on Feb. 17 at Ohio University, scoring 274 points to edge runner-up New Albany (267) as 30 teams scored. The boys were fourth (171) behind champion Jerome (303) as 29 teams scored.
Other expected returnees include junior Reed Ray, sophomore Antonio Ventresca and freshman Avery Voss of the boys team, and sophomore Erin Reardon and freshmen Caroline Colombo and Sophia Elliott for the girls.
@ThisWeekDaveAt a glance
*Record: 16-15-1-2 overall, 9-5-0-2 (fourth) in CHC-Red
*Seniors lost: A.J. Cleveland, Brock Curtis, Tommy Due, Jake Evans, Gordie MacDonald, Nate Skidmore and Cam Staub
*Key returnees: Garrett Alderman, Cam Keller, Brett LaBuhn and Will Lawless
SWIMMING & DIVING
*Finishes: Boys -- First in OCC-Central, first at sectional, fourth at district, 34th at state; Girls -- First in OCC-Central, first at sectional, first at district, seventh at state
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Will Dierker, Ted Dimitrov, Jack McHugh and Gavin Voss; Girls -- Morgan Brewer, Abby Dunasky, Dakota Elliott, Sydney Rehl and Kendra Sheehan
*Key returnees: Boys -- Alec Caswell, Luke Landis, Reed Ray, Antonio Ventresca and Avery Voss; Girls -- Caroline Colombo, Holly Darling, Sophia Elliott, Julia Fidanza and Erin Reardon