Holden Freeman felt the pain of having just one year of wrestling experience during his freshman season at Upper Arlington High School.
"He was just getting abused in the room," coach Matt Stout said. "If we wrestled live, 75 percent of the time he was on his back. He started wrestling in the eighth grade and he didn't have a lot of knowledge, but he always came to practice and fought and worked hard. He never got discouraged."
Three years and a Division I district tournament berth later, Freeman has a team-best 16-6 record at 195 pounds. He finished one spot shy of a district berth as a sophomore, went 1-2 at district last year and is a team captain for the second consecutive season.
"He pushes us to stay after practice and work on conditioning. He is a very good role model because he's a good guy on and off the mat. He doesn't get in any trouble," said teammate Jesse Bowers, a state qualifier last season at 120. "He's definitely soft-spoken. I've never heard him put himself before anybody else. He's a very team-oriented guy."
Freeman is as proud of his leadership skills as his 58-38 record since the start of his sophomore season.
"I feel like I am better equipped to handle any situations that come up for us as a team. Those leadership skills will pay off down the road. They apply to pretty much anything," Freeman said, citing former UA football player and wrestler Dante Landolfi -- who now plays football at Columbia University -- as his biggest role model from when he was an underclassman. "I don't want to be feared. I want to be respected (and be) someone who is easy to approach. A leader is someone who is there and able to guide younger minds. That is what I'd like to be. I am pretty happy if I am considered that."
Freeman went 13-19 as a sophomore and finished fifth at 182 in UA's home sectional as the top four finishers in each class qualified for district. He more than doubled that win total as a junior, going 29-13 and placing third at sectional.
"Everything he's gotten out of wrestling, he has earned," Stout said. "People don't realize how hard it is to come in here as a freshman and get beaten up and down. A lot of kids quit. Wrestling is a self-selection sport, but he kept coming back and continued to get better. That says a lot about who he is."
Freeman thinks his biggest improvement over the past two seasons has been his ability to wrestle well on his feet and achieve takedowns, although Stout said that if Freeman is involved in a close match late, "he will wear a lot of kids down."
"That is one area where I wasn't as good last year," Freeman said. "I feel like I have learned a lot more from my losses than from my wins. That's my mindset after I lose. You can point out where you need to improve. That, to me, is a lot more useful than what you do after you win."
UA is 2-1 in the OCC-Central Division after a 47-19 loss at Marysville on Jan. 24 and will return there Saturday, Feb. 2, to compete in the Region 5 team dual tournament.
Seeded third of 14 teams, UA will face 14th-seeded Mifflin in the first round. The winner will compete against sixth-seeded Westerville South or 11th-seeded Whitehall in a quarterfinal.
Semifinals and the final will take place later in the day.
Also at the site are Big Walnut, Delaware, Dublin Coffman, Gahanna, Marysville, New Albany, Olentangy, Reynoldsburg, Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne.
The regional champion advances to the state tournament Feb. 10 at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
Swim teams sweep league titles
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams continued their dominance of the OCC-Central on Jan. 26, combining for 940 points and sweeping the league meet in their home pool.
The boys team won eight events and the girls won seven.
Led by wins from Riley Huddleston in the 50-yard freestyle (23.9 seconds) and 100 free (52.13), the girls team scored 484 points to finish well ahead of Coffman (340), Marysville (149), Hilliard Davidson (78), Central Crossing (77) and Westland (61) for its 25th consecutive league title.
Huddleston also was on the winning 200 free (1:38.45) and 200 medley (1:46.51) relays.
Other winners for the girls team were Holly Darling in diving (489.2), Lydia Muldoon in the 100 backstroke (1:03.55) and Erin Reardon in the 500 free (5:16.9). Muldoon also was second in the 200 individual medley (2:19).
The boys team scored 456 points to finish ahead of Coffman (291), Davidson (243), Marysville (93) and Central Crossing (85) for their 19th league title in a row.
Winners were Alec Caswell in the 500 free (4:45.52), Hayden Jay in the 200 free (1:44.74), Michael Lee in diving (297.75), Jake Meyer in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.22), Avery Voss in the 50 free (21.53) and 100 free (47.74), the 200 free relay (1:29.46) and the 200 medley relay (1:39.49).
Girls team tries to prolong streak
The girls basketball team sought its fifth consecutive win and 14th of the season when it played host to Westerville Central on Jan. 29.
UA was 13-5 overall before facing the Warhawks and improved to 6-2 in the OCC-Central with a 49-45 win at Davidson on Jan. 25. Macy Spielman had 22 points and 12 rebounds against the Wildcats and Colleen Moore added 10 points.
Both of the Bears' league losses this season have been to Coffman, 57-50 on Dec. 4 and 62-52 on Jan. 11.
After the latter loss, UA rebounded with wins over Hilliard Bradley (53-45 on Jan. 15), Central Crossing (80-10 on Jan. 18), Westerville North (49-27 on Jan. 22) and Davidson.
Spielman had 32 points against the Comets, one off her career high set in the teams' first meeting this season -- a 54-24 win on Dec. 7 -- and 25 against North.
Spielman was UA's leading scorer in 17 of its first 18 games this season. The only exception was on Dec. 29, when she had 15 points and Adrienne Wachtman scored 16 in a 63-23 win over the Ringwood Hawks, a club team from Melbourne, Australia.
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 1 -- At Westland. The Golden Bears defeated the Cougars 66-46 on Dec. 21.
Feb. 5 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*Feb. 1 -- Home vs. Westland. The Golden Bears defeated the Cougars 80-10 on Dec. 21.
Feb. 5 -- At Westerville South
Feb. 5 -- Home vs. Washington Court House Miami Trace
*Feb. 1 -- St. Charles at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The Golden Bears defeated the Cardinals 10-1 on Jan. 11.
*Feb. 2 -- New Albany at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Feb. 3 -- New Albany at Chiller Easton
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 2 -- Upper Arlington Invitational
Jan. 31 -- At Olentangy Berlin
Feb. 2 -- Division I, Region 5 team dual tournament at Marysville