After falling just short of earning a state tournament berth last year, the Westerville club hockey team landed a spot this season.

The Buckeye Cup will be held Friday, March 8, through Sunday, March 10, at Sports Plus in Cincinnati. The Warcats are seeded seventh of 12 teams and will face a familiar opponent in their first game of pool play March 8 in sixth-seeded Hilliard.

Then on March 9, Westerville will face top-seeded Medina and 12th-seeded Camp Dennison Indian Hill.

The semifinals and final will be played March 10.

"It's huge," coach Jordan DiGiando said of qualifying for state. "Last year, I know the boys just missed out by a fraction of a point. Going into this year, I know they're excited. We've had a couple weeks to take a step away from it and then retune back in and define what we're going to do."

The Warcats are 21-22 overall and 1-3 against Hilliard this season, having lost the last three meetings.

Former Westerville coach Brian Thompson is in his first season as an assistant for Hilliard.

"I think we can win (the first) three games if we play like we know how to play," forward Hunter Schlatterbeck said.

Last season, the Warcats and Massillon Jackson tied for the 12th and final state berth, with Jackson earning the at-large spot because it defeated Westerville 3-1 during the regular season.

Westerville is led offensively by seniors Schlatterbeck (Central) and Ben Mannino (forward, North) and junior Nicholas Frissora (forward, Central).

"This means a lot," Schlatterbeck said of qualifying for state. "We did not qualify last year and we were bummed out. We were tied (for the final berth) and got beat out for it and we're excited for this year."

Senior goaltender Sean Coonfare, who attends Oakstone Academy, is closing out his four-year career with the program.

"The character has definitely changed quite a bit," he said. "We're more excited to play hockey this year."

fdirenna@thisweekews.com

@ThisWeekFrank