Valerie Feller's value to the Upper Arlington girls basketball team was represented by one possession late in a 39-37 win over Olentangy on Jan. 7.
Consistently the team's first player to get back on defense, the 5-foot-6 senior guard did just that with 40 seconds to play. Feller stationed herself in the middle of the paint as Olentangy's Jonna Spohn dribbled in to attempt a basket that would have tied the game, forced Spohn to move to her left and take a shot that hit the back of the rim and harmlessly bounced off.
"She gets in people's way," coach Chris Savage said. "She's annoying on defense and that's a good thing."
Feller took that as a compliment, long ago having embraced her role as much less a scorer than a leader on the other end of the floor.
"I am definitely the defensive player who gets buckets every once in a while. That's my strong suit," Feller said. "I get my own satisfaction that way. I am completely content with that.
"When I was a freshman, (defense) seemed like it might not be as important, but going into sophomore year, I definitely started going to the rim more and am taking shots when I can. ... Probably my junior year, guarding a girl like (former Dublin Coffman and current Ohio State player) Jacy Sheldon and realizing someone has to step up and be right there on her, I embraced that role."
Feller generally guards the opposing team's top shooter for UA, which was 6-7 overall before playing Hilliard Bradley on Jan. 14 and is 2-4 in the OCC-Central Division entering a Friday, Jan. 17, game at Central Crossing.
"Valerie is not going to be a person anyone will recognize on the stat sheet. She will not score a lot and might not have rebounds or assists, but she will be on the court most of the game because she plays great defense and is a great teammate," Savage said. "She does everything we ask her to do. It just doesn't necessarily translate onto the stat sheet, but that type of player is invaluable. They make this program what it is."
Feller, who missed the first four games of this season because of a high left ankle sprain, has 26 points on the season but had recorded 38 rebounds, 16 assists, 12 steals and 11 blocks before a 50-32 loss to Dublin Coffman on Jan. 10 to begin the second half of OCC-Central play.
She scored a career-high seven points in consecutive games in late December, a 53-37 loss at Teays Valley on Dec. 21 and a 42-35 loss to New Albany six days later in the Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic at DeSales.
Feller scored 17 points last season, 12 of which came on 3-pointers.
In addition to her defensive duties, Feller often inbounds the ball and calls plays.
"Val is one guard when I am posting up who I know is always going to look for me and try to get me the ball and make sure that, as a team, we're all working together. She's a captain and is great at being a leader," forward Erisa Pippins said. "She shuts girls down. I've watched girls cry because she shuts them down and they get frustrated and can't do anything against her. (Feller is a) phenomenal player, (a) phenomenal person."
Wrestlers enjoy successful week
Not only did the wrestling team begin OCC-Central competition with a 59-15 home win over Hilliard Davidson on Jan. 9, but two days later, the Bears won their third tournament of the season.
Jesse Bowers (138 pounds), Miles Pearson (160) and Jake Thomas (113) won their respective weight classes Jan. 11 as UA scored 219.5 points to finish first of 18 teams in the Ron Masanek Fairfield Invitational Tournament, ahead of the host and runner-up Indians (180.5).
Bowers pinned Trenton Edgewood's Olathe Siehla in 4 minutes, 46 seconds in the final. Pearson earned a 9-0 major decision against West Chester Lakota West's Zaine Brewer and Thomas pinned Edgewood's Cameron Chaney in 3:35.
Daniel Beam (120), Jacob Shanklin (132) and David Soghomonyan (170) earned runner-up finishes and Jake Badgeley (220) placed fourth.
Six of UA's 10 wins against Davidson were by pin, from Frankie Mulligan (106), George Orlando (126), Pearson, Shanklin, Soghomonyan and Thomas. Bowers won by technical fall and Collin Ansel (195), Jake Badgeley (220) and Rafe Lynd (heavyweight) won by forfeit.
Swim team's Ray competes in Frogman
Thomas Ray of the boys swimming and diving team briefly left the team for a trip to Florida last weekend, but it wasn't a vacation.
The junior participated in the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim on Jan. 12, a 3.1-mile swim across Tampa Bay that is in its 11th year. The event is a fundraiser for the Navy SEAL Foundation, which helps surviving spouses and family members of active military who lost their lives in combat.
Ray completed the swim in 1 hour, 3 minutes and 40.2 seconds, finishing first out of 124 men and second overall of 164 competitors behind Brooke Bennett of Safety Harbor, Florida (1:03.36.1).
Ray originally set a $5,000 fundraising goal in August, but as of Jan. 12 had raised $7,500, according to his GoFundMe page. The event's goal was $800,000, after $720,000 was raised last year and $651,000 was raised in 2017, according to the event's website.
Ray, a distance swimmer, also was on UA's state runner-up water polo team last fall.
Even in his absence, the Bears swept a home dual meet Jan. 10 against Mason. The boys won 109-74 and the girls defeated the Comets 102-83.
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Central Crossing. The Golden Bears defeated the Comets 41-37 on Dec. 6.
Jan. 21 -- Home vs. Westerville North
*Jan. 17 -- At Central Crossing. The Golden Bears defeated the Comets 58-24 on Dec. 6.
Jan. 21 -- At Westerville North
Jan. 21 -- At Thomas Worthington with Teays Valley and Washington Court House Miami Trace
Jan. 22 -- At *Marysville with *Dublin Coffman, Dublin Jerome and Dublin Scioto
Jan. 17-19 -- Mark Rasmus Memorial Tournament at Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*Jan. 16 -- At Central Crossing
Jan. 18 -- Panther Invitational at Pickerington North