Even before it had played a regular season game, the Upper Arlington High School girls lacrosse team had seen some of the best opposition the area had to offer -- by design.
Hoping to toughen her team for its pursuit of a fourth consecutive Division I state championship, seventh-year coach Wendy Pinta put together an ambitious preseason schedule that included scrimmages against 2016 Division II state champion DeSales, a New Albany team that has won two consecutive Division I regional titles and reached the state tournament nine of the past 11 seasons, and Olentangy Liberty, a Division I regional runner-up last year.
Ranked first in the Midwest and 25th nationally by U.S. Lacrosse Magazine, the Golden Bears are off to a 2-0 start. They won two games March 24 at Winnetka (Illinois) New Trier, defeating the host Trevians 7-5 and La Grange (Illinois) Lyons Township 15-3.
New Trier was ranked fourth in the Midwest last week.
"We have an aggressive schedule, especially off the bat," Pinta said.
"I felt like we had to get quality scrimmages in to test where we are in terms of personnel and those turned out to be valuable learning experiences."
The Bears return three of their top four scorers from last year in senior attacker Brenna Smith (59 goals, 17 assists), senior midfielder Lauren Farber (46 goals, 14 assists) and senior attacker Megan Kozar (36 goals, 36 assists), but have only one defensive starter back in senior Ava Keethler.
UA finished 19-2 overall last year, defeating Massillon Jackson 15-6 in the state final to win the program's eighth title.
"It's really just about trying to get better every day," Kozar said. "We're set so there is some comfort there. Our transition has lacked a little bit, but we are improving every day."
Keethler, a third-year starter, will anchor a defense that also includes senior Maddy Mead, who started as a sophomore but missed her junior season because of a torn right ACL suffered in a basketball game.
"We have new goalies, too (in senior Katie Shrodes and junior Amanda Strayton), so we're working together as the five of us back there," Keethler said. "We just don't have a set four (defensive starters) yet."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kileigh Casey (midfielder), Caroline Favret (attacker), Brooke Smith (attacker) and Caitlin Walker (attacker), juniors Sophie Ballou (attacker), Julia Corna (midfielder) and Lilly Simonis (defender), sophomores Nina Akins (defender), Riley Kuehn (defender) and Ellena Schildmeyer (midfielder) and freshmen Clara Gallapoo (midfielder) and Annie Hargraves (midfielder).
Casey is a Mercer University recruit, Farber has signed with Furman, Kozar and Mead both will play at Kent State and Brenna Smith is a Florida Southern recruit.
UA begins OCC-Central Division play April 5 at Pickerington Central. The Bears went 6-0 in the league last year, ahead of the runner-up Tigers (5-1).
UA has won 56 consecutive games against in-state competition. Mead said the team thrives off the challenge of maintaining such a high standard of excellence.
"It's definitely an intense experience," Mead said. "You have to do everything right. Your practices have to be crisp and when that doesn't happen, it can get frustrating, but everybody having an ultimate goal is why our team is so good. We know we can get there. We know we can reach that goal. That's what we push for."
Goodwin named Mr. Basketball
Already the boys basketball team's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, Dane Goodwin added yet another award to his lengthy resume March 21 when he was named Ohio's Mr. Basketball.
Goodwin, a 6-foot-5 senior forward/guard and a Notre Dame recruit, averaged 24.1 points and 9.6 rebounds this season for the Bears, who finished 23-2 overall and 10-0 in the OCC-Central and reached a Division I district final before losing to Dublin Coffman 68-51.
Goodwin finished his prep career with 1,951 points and 817 rebounds, both by far the best in program history. He averaged 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in 101 career games.
"After being a finalist last year, Mr. Basketball was definitely a goal of mine coming into the season," Goodwin said. "To be held in that standing with so many great players is a huge honor. It's cool to be part of that tradition. I've always followed the award and I'm pretty sure I can name the past five or six winners."
The winner was determined by members of the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association.
Other finalists were Justin Ahrens of Versailles, Darius Bazley of Cincinnati Princeton, Michael Bothwell of Willoughby Cornerstone Christian, Cameron Brooks-Harris of Zanesville, Sincere Carry of Solon, Jerome Hunter of Pickerington North, Pete Nance of Richfield Revere, Kollin Van Horn of Proctorville Fairland and Vincent Williams of Toledo St. John's.
Goodwin also was named Division I state Player of the Year and Gatorade state Player of the Year.
March 24 -- at Winnetka (Ill.) New Trier with La Grange (Ill.) Lyons Township
*April 5 -- at Pickerington Central
April 7 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
*April 9 -- vs. Marysville
*April 12 -- at Pickerington North
April 14 -- vs. Cincinnati Sycamore
April 21 -- Cincinnati Indian Hill and Louisville (Ky.) Eastern in Hannigan-Galipault Tournament at Thomas Worthington
*April 23 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
*April 26 -- at Gahanna
April 27 -- Thornhill (Ontario) Everest Academy in Cleveland Heights Invitational
April 28 -- Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy and Chagrin Falls in Cleveland Heights Invitational
*May 1 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
May 2 -- at New Albany
May 4 -- at Cincinnati Summit Country Day
May 8 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington baseball, softball, boys tennis and boys volleyball teams:
March 29 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
March 31 -- Home vs. Massillon Jackson and West Chester Lakota West
*April 2 -- At Central Crossing
*April 4 -- Home vs. Central Crossing
March 29 -- Home vs. Newark
April 2 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
April 3 -- Home vs. New Albany
March 29 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
April 3 -- At Olentangy
March 30 -- Home vs. New Albany
April 2 -- At Northland
April 4 -- Home vs. Watterson