Upper Arlington High School wrestling coach Matt Stout admits he's never completely satisfied with the Golden Bears' results, but he cracked plenty of smiles over qualifying four wrestlers to the Division I state tournament and placing fifth as a team at district March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby.
The Bears' four qualifiers for state, which runs Thursday, March 7, through Saturday, March 9, at Ohio State, are their most since 1988, Stout's sophomore year of high school. In scoring 103.5 points at district to place fifth behind champion Dublin Coffman (170) as 36 teams scored, UA earned its best team finish since 1990.
"We had some guys on the bubble (for qualifying), but we had guys step it up," Stout said. "I'm certainly happy. We were close to third place (as a team) and we lost a few matches at the end, but this is a real positive step for the program. Each one of them took a different path (to state). All four of them blazed their own path."
Mitch Herren finished third at 120 pounds to reach his second consecutive state tournament. Jesse Bowers also is returning to state after placing fourth at 132.
Joining them are Daniel Beam and Mason McHugh, who finished fourth at 113 and 145, respectively. They are competing at state for the first time.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced.
Herren missed the first several weeks of the season because of issues unrelated to wrestling, but said he worked with state in mind the entire time. He placed eighth at 113 last season and is 23-6 this year.
"My offense has gotten going much better than in the past. On bottom, I don't get turned on much at all, I'm able to score on my feet and I've been a hammer on top," Herren said.
"I feel like I'm more well-rounded in all three positions. I've gotten my leg attacks going very well and that opens me up to using that more to my advantage, taking shots and finishing."
Beam, who is 25-10, tempered his postseason expectations until winning a sectional championship Feb. 23 at home.
"There are some really good kids in my weight class, but then I saw my bracket for sectionals and things started becoming a reality," Beam said. "I've been working for it since freshman year, but now it's happening. I've been wrestling with different teammates every day at school, getting feels for different styles. Mitch always beats me. I can't even do a takedown on him, but he's made me a lot better."
Bowers, who went 0-2 at state last season, is 29-14. According to Stout, McHugh, who is 25-10, was not in the lineup in early January but forced his way in after Bowers dropped to 132, Joey Orlando settled in at 138 and McHugh beat Miles Pearson in a wrestle-off.
"When you consider that, this is pretty unbelievable," Stout said.
Also competing at district were Jake Thomas (106, fifth, 3-2), David Soghomonyan (160, fifth, 3-2), Jacob Shanklin (126, 2-2), Holden Freeman (182, 2-2), Orlando (138, 2-2), Pearson (152, 2-2) and Gavin Shafer (170, 1-2).
Soghomonyan and Thomas are state alternates. They would compete at state if an automatic qualifier is unable to do so.
Boys basketball team reaches district semi
The boys basketball team brought an eight-game winning streak into a Division I district semifinal against seventh-seeded Reynoldsburg on March 6 at Westerville Central, needing two more victories to capture its third district championship in four years.
Eighth-seeded UA improved to 17-5 with a 57-38 win over 35th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in a second-round home game March 1. Max Martz scored a game-high 20 points, Sammy Sass added 13 points and six assists and C.J. Karsatos had 12 points and nine rebounds.
The UA-Reynoldsburg winner plays top-seeded Pickerington Central or 26th-seeded Big Walnut in a district final Saturday, March 9, at Greater Columbus Convention Center. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal March 14 at Ohio Dominican.
Girls team falls in district final
Sixteen points and eight rebounds from Macy Spielman were not enough for the girls basketball team in a Division I district final March 2 at Ohio Dominican, as fifth-seeded Reynoldsburg dominated seventh-seeded UA to start both halves on the way to a 61-32 win.
UA was held scoreless for the first 3 minutes, 34 seconds of the game and the first 5:20 of the second half. Reynoldsburg led 16-1 after the first quarter, and despite a 10-0 run in the second quarter, the Bears trailed by 26 points halfway through the third.
UA, which was seeking its first district championship since 2016, finished 19-7.
"We played like we didn't belong in the first six or seven minutes, like we should be happy to be here instead of belonging," coach Chris Savage said. "We seemed a little scared, a little nervous, and (Reynoldsburg) did not. You can't spot a team of their caliber of talent a 14- or 15-point gap. That was surprising to me. The girls played hard the whole night. That's never an issue, but it's about knowing we belong as an elite team in this area."
Annie Hargraves added eight points for the Bears, who defeated 12th-seeded Northland 62-47 in a district semifinal Feb. 27. Erisa Pippins and Spielman each had 19 points against the Vikings and Colleen Moore scored 10.
Key athletes to return for swimming teams
With 12 Division I state qualifiers eligible to return, including third-place girls diver Julia Fidanza, boys coach Mike de Bear and girls coach Dan Peterkoski are optimistic that their teams can continue their ascent up the standings at state.
Sophomore Avery Voss, who finished seventh in the 50-yard freestyle (20.7) and eighth in the 100 free (46.33) for the boys team Feb. 23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, and freshman Riley Huddleston, who placed fourth in the 100 free (50.76) and sixth in the 50 free (23.44) for the girls team, lead a group of seven girls state qualifiers and five boys expected back.
The girls finished fifth (155.5 points) at state behind champion Mason (204) as 55 teams scored, while the boys were 12th (61) behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (310) as 49 teams scored.
They finished seventh and 34th, respectively, last year.
"With that (youth) comes pressure for them and us that you have to build on," said Peterkoski, whose team extended its streak of district championships to 20. "There's a lot to be learned. We have to find a way to teach it and find a way for them to learn it. That's always the struggle. We can tell them and teach it, but if they are not learning it, we are failing."
Other state qualifiers eligible to return for the girls team are junior Erin Reardon, sophomore Caroline Colombo and freshmen Avery Catalano, Caroline Porterfield and Emma Schueler.
For the boys, that group is rounded out by juniors Jake Meyer and Antonio Ventresca and sophomores Jackson Gooding and Hayden Jay.
"We have one of the best freshman classes in the state as well as some kids that just missed making it (to state) this year that we need to find ways to get them better," de Bear said. "There's no reason a year from now that we can't be in top three or four."
UA also continued its dominance of the OCC-Central. The girls team won its 25th consecutive league championship and the boys captured their 19th league title in a row.
Hockey coach applauds team's unity
Many of the hockey team's top players, including four of its top six scorers and one of its two starting goaltenders, are eligible to return from a squad that went 25-8-1-2 and was ranked as high as sixth in the state during the regular season.
Seven of UA's losses came to the two teams that finished ahead of it in the Capital Hockey Conference-Red Division in Dublin Jerome and Olentangy Liberty, which defeated the Bears 3-2 in a district semifinal Feb. 24 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
"As the year went on, we got better at playing as a five-man unit out there. We put pucks on net from the point, crashed the net and created some traffic," first-year coach Brett Howden said. "Our defensive zone was outstanding. I think we scored more shorthanded goals (21) than we gave up (20)."
Senior forward Hunter Triplett led the Bears in goals with 33, ahead of freshmen forward Sam Burns (22), junior forward Tim Kramer (20), senior forward Brett LaBuhn (12) and sophomore forward Will Cohen (11) and freshman forward Max Robins (11). Burns had a team-best 20 assists.
Sophomore goalie Garrett Alderman made 319 saves on 358 shots (89.1 percent) and senior Cam Keller stopped 271 of 305 shots (88.9 percent).
"The growth was huge (throughout the season)," said Howden, adding that he thought the team truly became "a really cohesive unit" in late December or early January. "That started with the coaches who came before me and we focused on getting a group that liked spending time together away from the rink and at the rink. They really cared about each other."
Gymnasts stepped up during season
Without a senior in the lineup and with a handful of its top competitors out for part or most of the season, the gymnastics team still managed to go 7-0 in the OCC-Central and win its second consecutive league championship.
Sophomore Mia Tzagournis injured her right foot in January and missed the rest of the season, and sophomore Neila Sarkis and freshman Paige Lively also were injured at the end of the year.
Junior Addy Pittenger was the Bears' top competitor in the district meet Feb. 23 at Kilbourne, placing 15th on uneven bars (8.625) and 20th in the all-around (33.65) to lead UA to 10th place, seven spots shy of a state team berth.
"Seeing the girls step up to fill these spots on the event lineup and continue to push themselves for more difficult skills and consistency to improve our overall team score speaks a lot for the passion these girls showed," coach Brittany Maynard said.
"With our injuries, we looked to sophomore Allie Hoover to fill in on beam. ... (Junior) Sydney Rose helped out the team by filling in and competing in all-around after only starting out competing two events at the beginning of the season. (Sophomore) Tally Angelis stepped up on bars, competing in an event that is not necessarily one of her strengths, but knowing she could help the team in this area, she continued to work hard and improve her personal skills."