In past years, Upper Arlington High School girls lacrosse coach Wendy Pinta has been hesitant to compare her teams, nine of which have won Division I state championships.
That was not the case June 2 after the Golden Bears defeated New Albany 11-5 at Ohio Wesleyan to win their fourth title in a row.
"This will go down as probably the best team I've ever coached," said Pinta, who was UA's coach from 1992-2008 before stepping down for four years and returning in 2012. "This was a great group of seniors. Last year's team was pretty darn special, but this one ... they're one more special."
The Bears went 24-0 this season to cap an 84-4 career record for this year's senior class. All of those victories came in two 42-game winning streaks, and all of the losses came to Atlanta-area teams, as UA started 0-2 in 2015 and 1-2 in 2017.
The Bears outscored their opponents by an average score of 15.4 to 4.8 this season, one of several reasons Pinta was not worried in the first half of the state final when UA led just 3-1. The Bears pulled away in the second half by scoring three goals in just more than two minutes to go ahead 8-2.
"Winners learn how to win. When it's a tight game, I'm always going to put my money on my team because they know how to figure it out and dig deep," Pinta said. "They are well-conditioned. They stay focused. They don't get too rattled by things that aren't going their way ... and this environment (at Ohio Wesleyan) is loud. They've been there. That definitely helps us."
UA won only seven games this year by fewer than 10 goals and scored fewer than 10 only once, in a 7-5 season-opening win at Winnetka (Illinois) New Trier on March 24. The Bears also have won 76 consecutive games against in-state opponents.
UA won the OCC-Central Division championship, going 6-0 to finish ahead of Dublin Coffman (5-1), Gahanna (4-2), Pickerington North (3-3), Pickerington Central (2-4), Hilliard Davidson (1-5) and Marysville (0-6). The Bears outscored their league opponents 117-10.
Seeded first in the 19-team Region 3 tournament, UA began the postseason with three lopsided home wins. The Bears beat 12th-seeded Beavercreek 22-2 in the second round May 15, 11th-seeded Centerville 23-1 in a quarterfinal May 18 and fourth-seeded Springboro 21-3 in a semifinal May 21 before beating third-seeded Thomas Worthington 15-8 in the regional final May 24 at Fortress Obetz.
UA then defeated Cincinnati Sycamore 18-8 in a state semifinal May 30 at Dayton Oakwood.
Senior attacker Brooke Smith led the Bears in goals (79), assists (39) and points (118). Senior attacker Brenna Smith, a Florida Southern recruit, added 66 goals and 15 turnovers, senior midfielder Lauren Farber had 66 goals and 17 assists as well as 169 draw controls as the team's primary draw specialist, senior attacker Megan Kozar had 56 goals and 60 assists and senior midfielder Kileigh Casey added 54 goals and 15 assists.
Casey has committed to Mercer, Farber will play at Furman and Kozar and senior defender Maddy Mead are Kent State recruits.
Senior goalkeeper Katie Shrodes made 45 saves on 88 shots (51.1 percent), while junior goalie Amanda Strayton stopped 25 of 57 shots (43.9 percent).
Farber, Kozar, sophomore Ellena Schildmeyer (20 goals, 27 assists) and both Smith sisters were named first-team all-league, Casey was second-team all-league and junior attacker Sophie Ballou (25 goals, 7 assists) was honorable mention all-league. Farber was named league Player of the Year and ThisWeek's Girls Lacrosse Athlete of the Year.
Farber also was first-team all-state and all-region, Kozar was second-team all-state and first-team all-region, Schildmeyer was first-team all-region and senior defender Ava Keethler and Brenna Smith were second-team all-region.
Other players eligible to return include sophomore Nina Akins (defense) and freshmen Clara Gallapoo (midfielder) and Annie Hargraves (midfielder).
The novelty of ending each season wearing a first-place medal was not lost on Brooke Smith.
"Four years, four state championships. I don't know what else you can do," she said. "Every year, the nerves get bigger. It helps to motivate you to finish off the season the way you want it."