Garrett Alderman felt like he didn't have much margin for error the past two seasons, considering he and Cam Keller were splitting time as the Upper Arlington hockey team's starting goaltender.
"It's good having someone to compete with, but mentally, I found myself thinking I couldn't lose," Alderman said. "I couldn't get scored on because I might not play."
Now that he is the Golden Bears' No. 1 goalie and playing virtually every minute, Alderman barely is being scored on at all.
The junior already has set the program record for shutouts in a season with eight, including a program-best five in a row to start the season, to help set the tone defensively for a UA team that was ranked second in the state last week and has outscored its opponents 120-17.
"He seems like he's more comfortable with his angles and positioning," coach Brett Howden said. "He's made some acrobatic saves, too. This season is a product of the work he put in over the summer and his staying focused. It's easier to get up for big games, but he is equally focused no matter who we are playing or if it's a game where he sees less than 15 shots."
Alderman has stopped 299 of 314 shots for a .952 save percentage through 20 games, and UA is 21-0 overall and 9-0 in the Capital Hockey Conference entering a Friday, Jan. 10, game against New Albany at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
He stopped 319 of 358 shots (.891 save percentage) last season, but Keller recorded all three of UA's shutouts.
Alderman, who worked with former Ohio State goalie Dave Caruso last summer and attended a goalie camp in Toronto, is quick to deflect credit to a group of defensemen that includes Todd Bainbridge, Sam Cannon, Will Lawless and Whitty Tevonian.
"It's not just me," Alderman said. "We're putting up points. The puck isn't down at my end that much and our defense has been excellent. Everybody is buying in and our skills are better. We're covering passing lanes and blocking shots. I've had (the defensemen) come up to me and say, 'I'm done blocking shots.' But it's all been good. I can take it. They don't have as much padding as I do."
UA's five shutout wins to start the season eclipsed the four in a row the Bears recorded from Dec. 19-27, 2015. The Bears had eight shutouts that season and in 2014-15, but just 11 in the next three seasons combined.
"I don't know if (Alderman) has a lot of weaknesses," Lawless said, adding that the defense has increasingly emphasized physical play this season. "It makes it a little easier when you can give up those shots from a little farther out and you know he'll save them. He can make up for any mistake we make.
"We've played physical and we put pressure on (opposing) forwards to make plays. When guys have the puck on their stick and we're playing physical, they're nervous about what they're going to do. That makes it harder on them."
UA, which was ranked behind only four-time defending state champion Cleveland St. Ignatius in last week's state poll, went 4-0 last weekend to win the Brother James Memorial Tournament at Gilmour Academy Ice Arena. The Bears defeated Bethel Park (Pennsylvania) 5-1 in the final Jan. 5.
"We just have to keep the puck in front of the net and shots away and we know (Alderman) will make his saves," Cannon said. "The goals we've given up have been on tips or on 2-on-1s. We know if he plays well, we might even be able to make a nice postseason run."
Girls basketball team seeks consistency
As his team's record entering the week might suggest, girls basketball coach Chris Savage noted several ups and downs during the first half of the season.
UA was 5-6 overall before playing Olentangy on Jan. 7 and is 2-3 in the OCC-Central Division entering the second half of league play beginning Friday, Jan. 10, at home against Dublin Coffman. The Bears had not won or lost more than two games in a row all season entering the week despite battling several injuries and growing pains with as many as three freshmen seeing considerable playing time.
"It's been an interesting year. We've had some injuries pile up on us and then you combine that with playing three freshmen a lot of time, there have been a lot of variables," Savage said. "We have four girls averaging between six and nine points, so we are still trying to figure out who will take that (leading scorer) role Macy (Spielman, a 2019 graduate) filled. We've been better at distributing the ball than we were earlier in the year and a lot of girls are getting valuable playing time."
Guard Valerie Feller and forward Adrienne Wachtman missed time early in the season because of ankle injuries. Guard Annie Hargraves and forward Erisa Pippins each missed one game in December because of concussions.
Freshmen Caroline Guy, Grayson Guy and Ceylone Reighard-Brooks all have logged minutes this season.
Wachtman averaged a team-leading 8.2 points through 10 games, followed by Alyssa Gest (8.1), Pippins (7.3) and Hargraves (6.0).
"We've seen flashes of great play, but we just haven't put a great four quarters together yet," said Savage, whose team lost 54-36 at Marysville on Jan. 3 in a game in which it was outscored 30-12 in the middle quarters. "We can be strong for a few quarters but not for all four. We played Dublin Coffman close for a while (in a 76-32 loss on Dec. 4), but then they hit about nine 3-pointers in a row to pull away and we just weren't strong enough to handle that kind of run. We will be. It will just take more growth."
Boys team wanting to build momentum
Despite having lost its top four scorers from last season to graduation, the boys basketball team was close to remaining unbeaten in the OCC-Central before losing 57-55 at home to Marysville on Jan. 3.
The Monarchs took control of the game with a 10-0 run as UA fell to 6-4 overall and 3-1 in the league. The Bears had been coming off a 68-44 win over Kettering Northmont on Dec. 29 in the last of its three games in the Joe Machens Great Eight Classic in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Geoffrey Schoeny and Max Buckley each set career scoring marks against Northmont with 23 and 12 points, respectively. The Bears' 68 points in that game were a season high, eclipsing a 67-18 rout of St. Paris Graham on Dec. 14.
Quinn Corna had a team-leading 19 points against Marysville and Magnus Entenmann scored 14. UA ends the first round of league play Friday, Jan. 10, at defending league champion Coffman. The two teams split their season series last year.
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 10 -- At Dublin Coffman
Jan. 14 -- At Hartley
*Jan. 10 -- Home vs. Coffman. The Golden Bears lost to the Shamrocks 76-32 on Dec. 3.
Jan. 14 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
Jan. 11 -- McGee Invitational at Coffman
*Jan. 10 -- New Albany at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Jan. 11 -- Olentangy Orange at Chiller North
*Jan. 12 -- New Albany at Chiller Easton
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 10 -- Home vs. Mason
*Jan. 9 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
Jan. 10-11 -- Fairfield Invitational Tournament