Upper Arlington High School hockey coach Brett Howden thought he knew exactly what he was getting when senior forwards Hunter Triplett and Jack Wrightsel joined the Golden Bears after three seasons in the AAA Blue Jackets organization.
"You know you're getting skilled guys, guys who know the game and learned from guys who played and have coached a long time," Howden said. "I'd call them elite talent."
Not only have Triplett and Wrightsel fulfilled all of Howden's expectations so far, but the coach thinks the pair has gone above and beyond in helping UA become one of the area's top teams.
Triplett has a team-leading 21 goals as well as six assists, and Wrightsel had three goals and seven assists among other contributions to help the Bears to records of 13-5-1 overall and 5-2 in the Capital Hockey Conference entering a Friday, Jan. 11, game against St. Charles at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
UA was ranked third in the district and eighth in the state last week.
"Their consistency is what we're going to rely on down the stretch," said Howden, who often plays Triplett and Wrightsel on different lines. "With Hunter, it's his shot, for sure. He has a solid release, very quick, and can pick the corners very well, which a lot of goalies at this level haven't seen.
"Jack is always going. When he is on and he's moving his feet, playing a 200-foot game at center and sharing the puck and creating chances down low before getting back to support on defense, that's huge."
Wrightsel missed the first seven games of the season because of unrelated issues.
Triplett joined the team not only so he could play one season with several classmates and old friends, but also because the rigors of travel hockey were threatening to throw him off track academically.
"We were going to tournaments in Arizona, Minnesota and (on) the East Coast and I'd probably missed 12 or 13 school days. Technically, I might not have had enough hours to be able to graduate," Triplett said. "It's nice here, especially being more involved in the community. I love putting this time and effort into the team.
"With AAA, you're trying to reach certain individual numbers to get yourself more noticed and scouted. What I like about high school is everyone is in it to win as a team. Not all of us are going to play in college, maybe club hockey, but the stakes aren't as high."
Triplett said the level of competition is higher than he expected, especially given that four area teams were ranked in the top nine in the state last week. Dublin Jerome was fourth, Olentangy Liberty sixth and New Albany ninth.
Each of those teams are with UA in the CHC-Red Division.
"You can't slack off in any game," Triplett said. "I love it. I can push my game without all the travel and time commitment."
Wrightsel said his energy is the biggest thing he can bring to the team.
"My teammates call me the Energizer bunny, even when I'm playing lacrosse," Wrightsel said. "I like to keep the guys going, even if I'm on the bench. I want to make sure there's no lull, that we're all talking each other up and being positive."
Wrestlers set to resume season
The wrestling team begins its OCC-Central schedule Thursday, Jan. 10, at Hilliard Davidson, its first competition since the Medina Invitational Tournament that concluded Dec. 28.
Coach Matt Stout hopes to see more of the form that led UA to first place in its season-opening Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational on Dec. 1 and a runner-up finish in the Firebird Classic on Dec. 15 at Kettering Fairmont. The Bears ended December on a disappointing note, finishing 32nd (43.5 points) of 45 teams at Medina as Wadsworth won (211).
No Bears placed. Jacob Shanklin led the way with a 4-2 record at 132 pounds and Jesse Bowers went 3-2 at 138.
"We've competed with good teams, but I want us at a level where we can compete with great teams and have some success," Stout said. "We've won quite a few matches and we're 3-0 in duals, but there have been some matches where we've just been crushed. We need to stay in good positions, wrestle for a full six minutes and compete better overall."
According to Stout, the Bears' lineup is expected to receive a boost in the next week or two when senior Mitch Herren returns. Herren, who finished eighth at 113 in last year's Division I state tournament, has not wrestled this season because of unrelated issues.
UA scored 255 points in the Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational to finish first of 10 teams, ahead of runner-up Vandalia Butler (247). The Bears improved on that performance at Fairmont, scoring 264 points to finish second of 10 teams as 18-time defending Division II state champion St. Paris Graham won (444).
UA went 2-3 in the OCC-Central last year to finish fourth behind champion Dublin Coffman (5-0).
This is the fifth consecutive season in which the Bears have not competed in a tournament the first weekend of January. They took several days off after Medina and resumed practice earlier this week.
"I tried to model (our schedule) after college wrestling, where guys get some time off around Christmas, maybe seven to 10 days or so," Stout said. "I think it helps in the long run. It's a chance to refuel, recharge and refocus for the rest of the season."
Girls basketball team preps for rematch
The girls basketball team visits Coffman on Friday, Jan. 11, for a showdown for first place in the OCC-Central and a chance to break the Shamrocks' stranglehold on the league.
UA, which was 8-4 overall before playing Olentangy on Jan. 8, is 4-1 in the OCC-Central after beating Marysville 37-33 on Jan. 4. The Bears' lone league loss came against three-time defending league champion Coffman, 57-50 on Dec. 4 in the league opener for both teams.
Macy Spielman had a game-high 21 points, Colleen Moore scored 13 and Adrienne Wachtman added 10 against the Shamrocks, who are 5-0 in the league.
Coffman has won 31 consecutive league games, dating to a 57-50 loss to UA on Jan. 8, 2016. All of the Bears' five league losses since then have come against the Shamrocks.
The Bears' other losses through 12 games were against Newark (81-49 on Nov. 28), Watterson (45-34 on Dec. 10) and Gahanna (52-50 on Jan. 2). UA lost to Gahanna on a buzzer-beating shot by Gabby Anderson.
"Our (first) three losses were to teams that will probably be in the top seven or eight seeds at the end of the year (in the Division I district tournament)," coach Chris Savage said. "Outside of Newark, we've been competitive in every game. We were down five to Coffman with a minute left. Watterson has a lot of scorers and they play great defense.
"We've worked on rebounding, but our defense needs to improve some. We need to be a little bit faster, but that's coming along. We're not always starting games well, but we are finishing well."
Ness announces college decision
Jackson Ness signed Dec. 19 to play football at Boston College.
A defensive lineman, Ness made 52 tackles, including nine for loss, and had one forced fumble and one fumble recovery last fall as the Bears went 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Central.