The Upper Arlington High School girls lacrosse team's five seniors stepped forward June 1 at Ohio Wesleyan to accept their fifth consecutive Division I state championship trophy from Ohio High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner Beau Rugg.
The Golden Bears kept rolling this season, even though they had lost 10 players from 2018 to graduation, returned only three starters and began the year by losing to another in-state team for the first time in almost five years.
After a 12-10 win over New Albany in the state final, some parents and fans joked as they wore shirts commemorating the state championship - the program's 10th overall - that there is room for many more years to be added.
"I feel like nobody expected us to get this far," said senior attacker Sophie Ballou, who scored a program-record 94 goals, breaking Mary Nicole Scott's mark of 83 set in 2016. "Being able to prove all those people wrong and come out here and do this is pretty special. That's so good for all of us, especially being like this as seniors."
UA finished 20-2-2, with its only losses coming to eventual Division II champion DeSales, 8-5 in the season opener March 21, and Wilmette (Illinois) Loyola Academy, 10-5 on April 27. The loss to DeSales was the Bears' first in 42 games and its first to an Ohio team in 76 games dating to May 22, 2014, when they fell to Mason in a Division I South/Central Region final.
That also was the last time UA, which was ranked fourth nationally last week by MaxPreps, fell short of winning a state title.
"This group had to dig deep and get the kids who were younger to really rise up," coach Wendy Pinta said. "It took a while to get them to buy in to what we were trying to do. It was a matter of applying what they learned and breaking some bad habits. They understood they had to read the defense, not just get the ball to a player and go. It's a very strategic attack that we run, so we had to, say, get kids not to cut into space when they might want to. They did a great job."
Junior midfielder Ellena Schildmeyer led the Bears in draw controls (153), ground balls (38) and caused turnovers (22). She also had 52 goals and was named an All-American as well as first-team all-state and all-region and OCC-Central Division Player of the Year.
Ballou was first-team all-league and all-region and second-team all-state.
Freshman attacker Camryn Callaghan had 44 goals and sophomore midfielder Annie Hargraves scored 39. Junior attacker Riley Kuehn had 24 goals and 34 assists.
Senior goalkeeper Amanda Strayton made 74 saves on 197 shots (.376 save percentage).
UA went 6-0 in the OCC-Central, finishing one game ahead of runner-up Dublin Coffman (5-1).
Senior Julia Corna (defender) and junior Nina Akins (defender) also were first-team all-league. Hargraves, Kuehn, junior Joey Fowler (defender) and sophomore Clara Gallapoo (midfielder) were second-team all-league and Callaghan was honorable mention all-league.
Gallapoo and Hargraves also were second-team all-region.
Seven starters from the state final are eligible to return in Akins, Callaghan, Fowler, Gallapoo, Hargraves, Kuehn and Schildmeyer.
Hargraves and Gallapoo split draw control duties with Schildmeyer, winning 83 and 60 draws, respectively.
Also eligible to return is backup goalie Elizabeth Goth, a freshman who stopped 14 of 35 shots (.400 save percentage).
"Starting from where we did with only three returning starters, we feel like we worked our way all the way back to the top," Ballou said. "(Winning the state title) means so much, especially doing this my senior year and in my last game. Being able to step up as a senior and a captain, I feel like I was able to play a much more important role (than last year). I had more opportunities to step up. I was able to play a bigger part."