The Upper Arlington girls soccer team's defenders and goalkeeper have a tradition before every game that junior Bailey Farrell laughingly described as "a pre-game superstition" and "so weird."
A group including Farrell and seniors Sydney Lape, Katerina Regules, Ellena Schildmeyer, Grace Wild and goalie Carolyn Stehle huddle in a circle and Wild reminds the unit that they are to act as a "brick wall" before they each put a hand in the middle and slap the back of the person to their left.
"It's just a fun thing that we do before every game," Farrell said. "I love our defense. We're like a well-oiled machine."
Lape and Stehle are fourth-year starters and Regules and Wild are in their third season as starters. All four are leading a unit that allowed 14 goals and posted four shutouts in the Golden Bears' first 12 games.
UA tied Gahanna at 2 on Sept. 28 and was 6-4-2 overall before playing Watterson on Oct. 1. The Bears, who were ranked ninth in last week's Division I area coaches poll, are 2-1 in the OCC-Central Division entering a Thursday, Oct. 3, game at Marysville.
Wild is a Gettysburg commit, while Farrell is receiving interest from Findlay and Wooster.
According to coach Chris Merrick, the defense's biggest improvement has been keeping possession and being physical when necessary.
"We make smart decisions and that goes back to their veteran skills," Merrick said. "We've done a great job keeping things in front of us. That's been one of our goals this year, to just keep everything in front of us, win balls and go forward and then take care of the ball when we do win it. Sometimes, teams will just clear it. We try to find a pass to come out of the back and that way, we keep possession better and we're not constantly under attack."
Julianna Schlatter and Abbie Sells are backups, allowing Merrick to give his starters a break because of the energy they expend attacking out of the back.
"I could endlessly compliment this team," Stehle said. "We're good at knowing who has certain strengths and what we need to work on. Communication is good and we all know our roles. Kat is quick as lightning. She always has the ability to get back and she always gets the job done. Some girls are better at playing balls to feet or running into space."
Regules admitted speed always has been the strength of her game.
"I can swoop in in case anybody messes up," Regules said. "I'm not the biggest person, but I can use my speed to get back."
UA began last week with a 10-0 win over visiting Westland in league play Sept. 24.
Through 11 games, Cecilia Dapino led the Bears with two goals and had a team-best seven assists.
"We've had a tough schedule and if there's such a thing as a good loss, I definitely think we have those," Merrick said. "But I think we need another signature win."
Girls tennis team preps for sectional
The girls tennis team entered October preparing for a Division I sectional and needing one win to return to the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I state tournament for the first time since finishing first in 2013.
UA defeated host Dublin Jerome 3-2 in an OTCA district semifinal Sept. 26 and advanced to the district final Tuesday, Oct. 8, at home against Pickerington North. The winner advances to a state semifinal Oct. 20 at Reynoldsburg.
The Bears, who improved to 16-1 with a 5-0 win over Pickerington Central on Sept. 30, also will play host to a sectional Thursday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 5.
In singles, Megan Basil is seeded second and Emma Wang is seeded fourth. Ella Hazelbaker and Wendy Shi are the top seed in doubles.
Rounding out UA's postseason roster are singles player Ellis Mizer and the doubles team of Noah Mizer and Ava Richard.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles at sectional advance to district Oct. 10 and 12 at Reynoldsburg.
Runners wind down regular season
While the boys cross country team will take this weekend off in preparation for the OCC-Central meet Oct. 12 at Hilliard Davidson, the girls team will participate in the Les Eisenhart Invitational Saturday, Oct. 5, at Thomas Worthington after having last weekend off.
The boys team, which finished first (55 points) of nine teams in the inaugural Bear Den Dash on Sept. 28 at Olentangy Berlin ahead of runner-up Lancaster (66), has its sight set on becoming one of the area's top teams, a goal coach Scott Meyers hopes became clearer late last month. UA finished second with 67 points to Gahanna (41) in the nine-team Tiger Invitational on Sept. 21 at Pickerington Central.
"The kids want blazing fast times, but they've competed very well. We closed the gap a little on Gahanna's kids (at Central)," Meyers said. "On paper, we're one of the top eight teams. A few teams are really, really good, but we've seen phenomenal teams not get to state. It's a matter of who performs. We're a young team. You never know what's going to happen."
Charlie Nowinski has the team's best time of 16 minutes, 35.6 seconds, which he ran in the Asics Hot Summer Bash on Aug. 31 at Davidson.
The girls team has not raced since Sept. 21, when it finished eighth (184) of 16 teams in the Bob Reall Invitational at Lancaster as the host Golden Gales won (88).
Elizabeth Lembach was 27th (21:20.5) to lead the Bears.
Sofia Sivilotti recorded the team's fastest time of the season when she ran a 20:33.8 to finish 12th in the Ohio Wesleyan Invitational on Sept. 14 at Olentangy Liberty.
Golf teams join for invitational
The boys and girls golf teams will end their regular seasons by playing together Saturday, Oct. 5, in the inaugural Jack Nicklaus Invitational at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
The field also will include the boys and girls teams from Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome and the boys teams from Columbus Academy and Wellington.
UA boys coach Troy Arbaugh devised the event with help from girls coach Steve Ford.
"Troy and I have long talked about trying to get an event together, especially with Jack Nicklaus being a graduate (of UA)," Ford said. "It's something I thought would be a nice idea, but Troy put it together. He arranged it with Muirfield and he was gracious enough to invite us."
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball, boys water polo and girls water polo teams:
Sept. 28 -- Boys: Bear Den Dash at Olentangy Berlin
*Oct. 9 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
Oct. 1 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Denison. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.
Oct. 1 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Mentel Memorial. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Marysville
*Oct. 8 -- At Dublin Coffman
*Oct. 3 -- At Marysville
Oct. 8 -- At Dublin Jerome
Oct. 3, 5 -- Division I sectional at home
Oct. 8 -- At Pickerington North
*Oct. 3 -- At Marysville. The Golden Bears defeated the Monarchs 26-24, 25-23, 25-13 on Sept. 12.
Oct. 7 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
Oct. 9 -- At Grove City
BOYS WATER POLO
Oct. 9 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
GIRLS WATER POLO
Oct. 4-5 -- Milford Invitational
Oct. 9 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington