Embracing his role as a self-proclaimed "second fiddle," Will Grabovac of the Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team credits his success to increased aggressiveness on the court during the past six weeks.

The junior forward averaged 6.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists through 24 games, and UA was 22-2 before playing fifth-seeded Northland in a Division I district semifinal March 8.

Video •Watch an interview with Upper Arlington boys basketball player Will Grabovac.

"Dane (Goodwin) and Max (Martz) are the primary scorers. I'm a second fiddle, but I step up when I need to," Grabovac said. "The other guys and I, we just try do whatever the team needs and we have found that defense is where we fit in -- getting steals and deflections and stops that way. We can create havoc and lead to getting out on offense.

"When I'm open, I'll shoot and I am pretty confident. When they do take away Dane and other options, I just try to step up because that is what the team needs."

Grabovac had 10 points, two rebounds and four assists in fourth-seeded UA's 61-27 win over visiting and 41st-seeded Hilliard Darby in a second-round game Feb. 28. Jordan Bailey had a game-high 18 points and Max Martz added 13 for the Bears, who trailed 10-9 late in the first quarter but reeled off a 23-0 run to take control and held the Panthers scoreless for 8 minutes, 16 seconds.

Despite standing 6 feet tall and being a guard by trade, Grabovac has played forward most of the season. Coach Tim Casey said Grabovac could see time at point guard as a senior, potentially splitting that job with sophomore Sammy Sass.

"Will is just a winner," Casey said. "He just has that unbelievable competitive edge. He is physically tough. He is mentally tough. He does all the little things that help us be successful. He has had a tremendous year in many respects. I don't think people realize how good he really is."

The UA-Northland winner will play third-seeded Hilliard Bradley or seventh-seeded Groveport in a district final at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 11, at Ohio Dominican University. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal March 16.

UA did not play Bradley or Groveport during the regular season.

Casey lauded his team's defense against Darby, calling such an effort a key to prolonging the season. The Bears allowed an average of 42 points per game before March 8 and had held their opponent to 30 or fewer points six times.

"Our defense has been solid all year long, and we are continuing to get better," Casey said. "It's been a point of focus every day in practice. We are definitely not ignoring that end of the floor, and I think it shows. Our habits are continuing to get better. We will have 'off' shooting nights ... so if that's the case, we just have to defend, and I am pleased with that effort."

Wrestling season
ends at district

Wrestling coach Matt Stout acknowledged some landmarks set by his team this season, but he will spend the offseason trying to figure out how to improve the Bears' postseason fortunes.

None of UA's 12 competitors in the Division I district tournament March 3 and 4 at Darby advanced to state.

Junior Garegin Sog-homonyan and freshman Jesse Bowers placed sixth at 170 and 113 pounds, respectively. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state Thursday, March 9, through Saturday, March 11, at Ohio State.

"We didn't have any guys ranked No. 1 in the state or No. 1 in the district, so at some point you have to beat kids you aren't supposed to beat," Stout said. "Everybody has a clean slate and has a chance to win. You have to wrestle well and wrestle with confidence."

According to Stout, Bowers was UA's first freshman to wrestle for a chance at the state tournament since Stout himself did so at 98 pounds in 1987. Stout, a 1990 UA graduate, was a four-time state qualifier.

UA finished 18th (35) at district behind champion Olentangy Liberty (236.5) as 42 teams scored.

Also competing were seniors Slade Morley (220, 2-2), Alex Botello (heavyweight, 1-2) and Zach Harris (138, 0-2), juniors Teddy Hill (126, 2-2), Dante Landolfi (195, 2-2), Henry Ledman (145, 0-2) and Mark Trifelos (152, 0-2), sophomores Joey Orlando (120, 1-2) and Gavin Shafer (132, 0-2) and freshman Daniel Beam (106, 0-2).

Morley finished with a team-best 36-6 record, ahead of Landolfi (36-9), Hill (29-13), Soghomonyan (28-13) and Bowers (28-18).

UA went 3-2 in the OCC-Central Division to finish third behind Dublin Coffman (5-0) and Marysville (4-1) and ahead of Hilliard Davidson (2-3), Central Crossing (1-4) and Westland (0-5). The Bears went 15-5 overall in dual meets, their best such record since winning 16 duals in 1982.

UA went 2-1 in the team state tournament. Seeded second in Region 5-B, the Bears beat 10th-seeded Mifflin 69-6 in the second round Jan. 25 at Teays Valley and defeated the host and third-seeded Vikings 40-23 that same day before falling to Lancaster 49-21 in a regional semifinal Feb. 1 at Westerville North.

UA finished second (236) in an 11-team home sectional Feb. 25 behind champion Olentangy Orange (240).

Key gymnasts
expected to return

All of the gymnastics team's top scorers from both the OCC-Central and district meets are eligible to return after UA fell short of both the state team and individual meets for the second consecutive year.

Juniors Megan Crouse, Rachael Feinberg and Zoe Rigsby lead that group, which also includes sophomore Caroline Pirwitz and freshmen Andrea Orazen and Taylor Shockley.

Crouse recorded the Bears' best finish at district Feb. 25 at Thomas Worthington, when she tied for 13th of 131 competitors on floor exercise (8.8). Pirwitz was 23rd of 128 competitors on vault (8.225), and Rigbsy was the team's top finisher in the all-around, placing 33rd of 90 competitors (32.175).

"Floor was a definite strength of the team. The girls showed off their dance and worked hard on landing their passes," first-year coach Erin May said. "Our bar routines really became more developed and better executed. I think we showed the most growth on (uneven) bars."

UA went 6-1 in OCC-Central duals and totaled 28 points to finish second in the overall league standings, behind Marysville (32, 7-0) and ahead of Davidson (24, 5-2), Grove City (20, 4-3), Central Crossing (16, 3-4), Westland (10, 2-5), Coffman (10, 1-6) and Franklin Heights (4, 0-7).

In the league meet Feb. 11 at Bradley, the Bears finished second (127.25) behind Marysville (128.85) and ahead of Davidson (124.125), Grove City (123.175), Central Crossing (114.125), Westland (111.825), Coffman (93.425) and Franklin Heights (25.775).

UA finished sixth (128.775) of 23 teams at district, as Thornville Sheridan (138.65), Olentangy (137.425) and Dresden Tri-Valley (135.825) and the top nine finishers in each event and the all-around advanced to the state meets March 3 and 4 at Bradley.

Hockey coach
pleased with season

The hockey team remained consistent through most of coach Bill Beard's first season, finishing 21-8-3-1 overall and 13-3 in the CHC-Red Division.

UA lost consecutive games only once, when it dropped three in a row from Dec. 27-29.

The Bears' season ended with a 2-1 loss to Liberty in a district semifinal Feb. 26 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.

"I've been involved in a lot of state tournaments, and I've only been happy a few times walking away from the rink (after the final game of a season)," Beard said. "That said, I'm very proud of how we played. I didn't have a bar set when I came here because I didn't know what I had or what I was going up against, but from the first day, this was a success. They came a long way."

Senior forward Jack Dolan led UA in goals (49), assists (29) and points (78).

Senior forward Jonathan Grove had 11 goals and 21 assists, senior defenseman Nick Tevonian added nine goals and 23 assists, junior forward Cam Staub had 14 goals and 15 assists and junior forward Jake Evans had 16 goals and 11 assists.

Senior goaltender Philip Hawthorne stopped 634 of 696 shots for a .911 save percentage.

The Bears finished third in the CHC-Red behind St. Charles (28, 14-2) and Liberty (28, 14-2) and ahead of Dublin Jerome (22, 10-4-0-2) and Coffman (7, 3-12-1).

Seeded third in the Blue Jackets Cup, UA defeated sixth-seeded Orange 4-3 in the first round Feb. 9 before falling to second-seeded Liberty 2-1 in overtime in a semifinal Feb. 10.

The Bears were seeded third in the 25-team district tournament and defeated 11th-seeded Coffman 5-1 in the second round Feb. 19 at OhioHealth Ice Haus and sixth-seeded Orange 6-4 in a quarterfinal Feb. 25 at the Ice Haus.

Dolan and Tevonian both were named first-team all-CHC and all-CHC-Red.

Beard has a short offseason to-do list for his team.

"The old adage is 'if you stay the same, you get worse,' " Beard said. "We have to make a commitment to bigger and stronger. Another saying I like is, 'you can't date the weight room, you have to marry it.' "

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave