Mike de Bear feels a new energy in his eighth season as Upper Arlington High School boys swimming coach, not just from himself, but the entire program.

The Golden Bears have returned four Division I state qualifiers in seniors Ted Dimitrov, Jack McHugh and Gavin Voss and junior Alec Caswell, but the team's work ethic and a promising freshman class have de Bear optimistic that UA can contend for its 18th consecutive league championship and improve on last year's fourth-place finish at state.

"In terms of depth of the quality of training, I think this is the best I've had. We have more kids willing to do the work than we've ever had, especially young kids," de Bear said. "We only have four seniors, and that's less than a quarter of the team, but they've been great leaders in and out of the water. It's an exciting time in the program, all the way down to our youth level. With each class, I feel like this group gets it as much as any I've had from top to bottom."

Caswell is the team's top returning scorer, having placed seventh in the 500-yard freestyle and having helped the 400 free relay to place fifth and the 200 free relay to finish seventh at state last season. McHugh and Voss also were on the 200 free relay.

UA opened Dec. 1 with a 114-64 win over visiting Olentangy Orange.

"Gavin is very, very good at the fly and 50 free. Jack is a good freestyler and Will (Dierker, the team's fourth senior) is a strong distance swimmer," said Dimitrov, who expects to swim the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley. "We have the potential to score more points than we did last year.

"We lost some good swimmers from last year, but we have a nice freshman class. It's one of the biggest we've ever had. A lot of them are very, very talented. They have chances to at least get to district and get us some crucial points."

Largely on the strength of 2017 graduate Parker Neri's runner-up finishes in the 200 free and 500 free, UA scored 114 points at state to finish fourth behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (434) as 53 teams scored. Neri now swims at the University of Texas.

Dierker, a distance freestyler, said freshmen Hayden Jay, Thomas Ray and Avery Voss already are asserting themselves in the distance events.

"Normally, you work the freshmen into that considering the harder workouts, but right now, some of them are leading lanes. You don't see that a lot around here," Dierker said. "They are stepping up."

Rounding out the roster are juniors Will Geletka, Josh Gorski, Luke Landis, Reed Ray and Daniel Seely, sophomores Hunter Dean, Jake Meyer, Jimmy Ravine, Brandon Vanderhorst, Antonio Ventresca and Brody Widman and freshmen Blake Burkle, Jackson Gooding and William Longhitano.

Geletka will dive and swim.

UA is seeking to snap a four-year district title drought, having finished second to St. Charles each of the past three seasons.

The Bears are 4-0 in duals so far, having also defeated Olentangy Liberty 113-70 on Dec. 2, Westerville South 127-56 on Dec. 8 and New Albany 100-86 on Dec. 9.

Elliott, Sheehan to lead girls' title defense

Defending a Division I state championship is familiar territory for the girls swimming and diving team, but the Bears are doing so in a different fashion with only two returning state qualifiers, the least during 15th-year coach Dan Peterkoski's tenure.

Seniors Dakota Elliott and Kendra Sheehan, who have signed with the University of Pittsburgh and Ohio University, respectively, lead a roster that began the season untested for the most part. UA is seeking its fourth consecutive state title and 13th overall.

"The state has gotten fast. What it takes to qualify to the state meet year in and year out now is a lot more competitive than what it was 10 or 15 years ago, which is good," said Peterkoski, whose team opened Dec. 1 with a 117-61 win over Orange. "The standards that must be met are a lot higher. We have a lot of good swimmers in the program right now. We just have to get them to choose to do what is necessary to take that next step and become a little closer to elite."

Another state qualifier, senior Hannah Caldwell, did not return to the team.

Last season, Elliott and Sheehan helped the 200 medley relay set a state and state-meet record with a time of 1:41.88, and Elliott won the 200 individual medley as UA scored 246 points at state to edge runner-up Mason (230) as 53 teams scored.

Peterkoski also is faced with replacing eight of the team's 12 relay spots. Elliott and Sheehan each fill two, and Sheehan said the team has taken some different measures to acclimate its less-seasoned competitors.

"We've been listening to some tapes that have us work on exercises that have us realize when we are thinking negatively, second-guessing ourselves and freaking out. (Things like) taking a deep breath before you go," Sheehan said. "Especially with high-level meets, some girls can get psyched out. We are working on our mental awareness when we're swimming, and that's been helping."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Morgan Brewer, Abby Dunasky and Sydney Rehl, juniors Holly Darling, Madison Heck, Grace McCarty and Emily Reardon, sophomores Julia Fidanza, Abby Hendershot, Grace Houser, Alicia Howe, Katie McKenzie, Erin Reardon and Lindsay Rush and freshmen Caroline Colombo, Addie Day, Sophia Elliott, Anna Funge, Carley Hart, Lydia Muldoon, Emma Schueler and Lilli Swanson.

Darling, Fidanza and Heck are divers.

UA, which also has won 23 consecutive league championships, is undefeated in duals. The Bears beat Liberty 126-59 on Dec. 2, Westerville South 140-46 on Dec. 8 and New Albany 100-83 on Dec. 9.

Dakota Elliott is drawing on her own experience coming through the program to help bring her younger teammates up to speed.

"My sister is a freshman and she has seen me go through the program," Elliott said. "She knows what is expected of her, but showing the girls through our action what is expected of them ... telling them how training will be, how different it is from club (and) really preparing for them to have to fill these shoes is critical."

Casey reaches coaching milestone

The boys basketball team's 51-32 win at Wellington on Dec. 5 was more than just a season-opening victory.

It also gave Bears coach Tim Casey his 400th career win.

Casey, who is in his 17th season coaching at his alma mater, has a career record of 401-226. Almost two-thirds of those wins, 266, have come at UA.

Casey, a 1981 UA graduate, previously coached at Kettering Fairmont and St. Paris Graham and was NCAA Division III Player of the Year in 1985 at Wittenberg University.

His Bears teams have won six OCC-Central Division championships, all since 2010, and four Division I district titles since 2012, including each of the past two years. UA was state runner-up in 2014.

According to the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association, 122 boys coaches in state history had won at least 400 games before this season. Dick Kortokrax holds the state record for wins with 890 in 56 seasons with Fort Jennings, Kalida and Ottoville before retiring in 2016.

The Bears improved to 2-0 overall with a 58-47 win over Central Crossing in their OCC-Central opener Dec. 8. Max Martz had 19 points, Dane Goodwin scored 18 and Sammy Sass added 12.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

SWIMMING & DIVING

Dec. 1 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

Dec. 2 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

Dec. 8 -- vs. Westerville South

Dec. 9 -- vs. New Albany

Dec. 15 -- vs. Lakewood St. Edward and Rocky River Magnificat

Dec. 16 -- Ned Reeb Invitational at Ohio State

Jan. 5 -- vs. Mason

Jan. 12 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

Jan. 19 -- vs. St. Charles and Watterson

Jan. 20 -- vs. Olentangy

Jan. 27 -- OCC-Central meet at home

Feb. 3 -- Upper Arlington Invitational

Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey and wrestling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

*Dec. 15 -- At Hilliard Davidson

Dec. 16 -- Home vs. Chillicothe

GIRLS BASKETBALL

*Dec. 15 -- At Hilliard Davidson

GYMNASTICS

Dec. 16 -- Hilliard Invitational at Hilliard Bradley

HOCKEY

Dec. 15 -- Toledo St. Francis in Parma Padua Holiday Tournament at OBM Arena

Dec. 16 -- Findlay and Sylvania Northview in Parma Padua Holiday Tournament

Dec. 17 -- TBD in Parma Padua Holiday Tournament

WRESTLING

Dec. 16 -- Firebird Classic at Kettering Fairmont

*League contest