Mitch Herren knew he wasn't necessarily unbeatable entering the Division I state tournament, but the senior for the Upper Arlington High School wrestling team felt like he was.
Aside from the first round, that was the case.
After beginning the state tournament March 7 at Ohio State with an 11-8 loss to Fairfield's Moustapha Bal, Herren charged through the consolation bracket with five consecutive victories and finished third at 120 pounds to become the seventh two-time state placer in the program's 64-year history.
"I just wrestled solid all around. My shots are really coming along and so is my defense. I can pretty much armbar anytime I want to," said Herren, who finished the season 27-7 and placed eighth at state at 113 as a junior. "In general, I've always been better on the mat than on my feet. I always like to press on top. ... It (felt) great standing on that podium. I didn't want anything short of that."
After losing to Bal, Herren defeated Ashland's Case George 16-1, pinned Cincinnati Princeton's Josue Dawson in 2 minutes, 37 seconds, beat Berea-Midpark's Shane Heil 8-2 and edged Nate Burnett of Elyria 3-2 in a consolation semifinal before shutting out Wadsworth's Landen Hecker 6-0 in the third-place match March 9.
"We talked about that just getting on the podium this season wasn't good enough," coach Matt Stout said. "Last year, we were just happy to be there. This year, we wanted more."
That highlighted a tournament that included six UA wrestlers, the most since 1985 and tied for most in program history.
UA's four automatic state qualifiers -- juniors Daniel Beam (113), Jesse Bowers (132) and Mason McHugh (145) -- were the program's most since 1988. Senior David Soghomonyan (160) and sophomore Jake Thomas (106) competed as state alternates.
UA finished 27th (16.5 points) behind champion Lakewood St. Edward (194.5) as 72 teams scored.
Herren, who was the Bears' only qualifier to win a match last weekend, missed the first several weeks of the season for matters unrelated to wrestling but did anything but waste that time.
"I've been busting my butt. I've been working hard the entire (season)," Herren said. "I've wrestled with all these guys forever. This was a cool thing, especially to have more guys besides me and Jesse (who also qualified for state last year). I think I'm wrestling better than I did at this time last year. I feel like I had to work twice as hard this year."
Beam was pinned in both of his matches at state, falling in 1:48 to Brecksville-Broadview Heights' Jack Stanley in the first round and in 45 seconds to Mason's Dominic DiTullio, and finished 25-12.
Bowers lost to Elyria's Mick Burnett 16-1 and Harrison's Cameron Baird 7-4 to finish 29-16, McHugh fell to Mason's Christopher Donathan 20-4 and Avon's Tommy Sear 10-7 to finish 25-12, Soghomonyan lost to Macedonia Nordonia's Salvatore Perrine 13-6 and Oxford Talawanda's Sean Mondello 15-0 to finish 26-7 and Thomas lost to Cincinnati La Salle's Cole Skinner 15-3 and Cleveland St. Ignatius' Johnny Novak 9-1 to finish 29-11.
Stout joked that getting two state alternates into the tournament in the same season was like finding a mythical unicorn. He found out during weigh-ins about 11:30 a.m. March 7, roughly six hours before the first round began.
"It happens so you have to keep training, but you just never know," Stout said. "The elation of getting one (alternate) in is great ... and then 10 minutes (after Soghomonyan qualified), we found out about Jake. Two of the kids ahead of them didn't pass their skin checks. You feel bad for those kids, but it opened the door for ours. You can't be prouder of them. Like (former UA and Ohio State wrestler) Rex Holman always preaches to them, 'Always be ready. You never know what will happen.' And that did happen."
Other top wrestlers eligible to return include junior Miles Pearson (152, 24-18) and sophomore Jacob Shanklin (126, 23-16).
"We had an experienced team and I thought we'd have a good year, but there are always question marks during the course of the season where you wonder whether anyone will get out," Stout said. "It's been a good year. (The returning state qualifiers) are going to have to work extra hard in the offseason. It's hard to get to the state tournament. It's even harder to get back."
Boys basketball team falls in district semi
The boys basketball team came up on the short end of a defensive-minded Division I district semifinal March 6, losing 35-33 to seventh-seeded Reynoldsburg at Westerville Central.
Senior guard Sammy Sass had 13 points and senior forward Max Martz scored eight for eighth-seeded UA, which finished 17-6 overall. Reynoldsburg's Ben Fort made the game-winning layup with 11 seconds left, and despite taking a timeout immediately after that shot and again with 4.4 seconds to play, the Bears could not get off a final shot.
UA trailed 14-5 after the first quarter and 22-17 at halftime. The Bears' 33 points were the least they had scored in a game in exactly four years, since a 44-33 loss to Groveport on March 6, 2015, in the second round of the district tournament.
"Both teams defended at a pretty high level. We got off to a bad start and were a little bit tentative offensively," coach Tim Casey said. "We didn't shoot the ball with confidence. That's really the first team that tried to take Max completely out and I think the other guys were a little hesitant. We thought we had some good shots that just didn't go."
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak and ended UA's hopes of winning its second district championship in three years and fourth in the last six seasons.
The winning streak coincided with Martz, a Pennsylvania recruit who averaged 20.2 points and 4.7 rebounds and was named first-team all-OCC-Central and second-team all-district, returning from a back injury that kept him out from late December to late January. Martz finished his prep career with 1,108 points and 388 rebounds.
Junior guard Jake Warinner, who averaged 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds and was honorable mention all-league, also missed a few weeks because of illness.
"We've had a season where we've been beat up a little bit and I think we were finally starting to kind of come together and play well," Casey said.
Senior center/forward C.J. Karsatos (10.3 points, 5.9 rebounds) was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Sass, a Wright State baseball recruit, averaged 8.3 points, 4.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals.
UA went 8-2 in the OCC-Central, finishing a game behind champion Dublin Coffman (9-1). The Bears handed the Shamrocks their only loss of the regular season, 53-51 on Feb. 15.
Girls coach hopeful for bright future
The girls basketball team will have to find a way to replace the program's all-time leader in points and assists in senior guard Macy Spielman, but coach Chris Savage is optimistic that the program remains in good position to succeed after another Division I district final appearance.
UA finished 19-7 overall and 8-2 in the OCC-Central and lost to fifth-seeded Reynoldsburg 61-32 in a district final March 2 at Ohio Dominican. The Bears, who were a district runner-up for the second consecutive season, were seeded seventh.
Spielman, a Bowling Green recruit, averaged 20.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals and was named first-team all-league and all-district. She finished her prep career with 1,622 points and 348 assists and led a class of six seniors who went 74-28 overall and 35-9 in league play.
"The six seniors we had played amazing. I've been watching them since they were fourth-graders and through three district championship games and one district championship (in 2016)," Savage said. "Getting this far in central Ohio is hard. The fact that we've been to three of these in the last four years, our program is in a pretty good spot."
Senior guard Colleen Moore averaged 7.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals and junior forward Adrienne Wachtman averaged 7.9 points and 4.6 rebounds to earn second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district honors.
Senior guard Sarah Poling (4.8 points, 3.9 rebounds. 1.0 steals) was special mention all-league and junior forward Erisa Pippins (6.3 points, 6.6 rebounds) was honorable mention all-league.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Valerie Feller (guard) and Sydney Lape (guard) and sophomore Annie Hargraves (guard).