Max Buckley had a role in mind for his only full varsity season with the Upper Arlington boys basketball team, and his vision never wavered even as he didn't score more than five points in any of the Golden Bears' first seven games and was held scoreless in three of them.
"I knew we lost a lot last year and I knew I had to be a leader, first and foremost," said Buckley, a 6-foot-1 senior shooting guard. "I knew in open gyms that Quinn (Corna), Geoffrey (Schoeny), Nick (Heath) and I could all shoot. We were struggling scoring early in the year, so I told myself I just had to be more aggressive and keep believing in myself and now, I'm shooting it better."
After coming off the bench early in the season, Buckley has been a starter since late December. His surge has mirrored that of the Bears, who took a five-game winning streak into a Feb. 4 game at Westerville South and were 11-7 overall.
UA is 6-2 in the OCC-Central Division, one game behind co-leaders Dublin Coffman and Marysville, entering a Friday, Feb. 7, visit to the Monarchs.
Buckley scored a career-high 28 points Jan. 25 in a 55-44 win at Chillicothe, eclipsing his previous best of 26 points 15 days earlier in a 63-54 loss to Dublin Coffman.
Buckley was averaging 9.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.4 steals through 18 games.
"Arguably, the last seven or eight games, he's been our most consistent scorer, if nothing else. He's capable of breaking a game wide open," coach Tim Casey said. "He's been a good leader, a hard worker consistently and he's playing much more under control. He's scoring a lot of points and his shot selection has been better. I think he's emerged."
Like the majority of his teammates, Buckley had little to no varsity experience entering this season. He played on the freshman team before a year of junior varsity and was set to split time between j.v. and varsity as a junior before breaking his left ankle during practice early in the season.
Buckley said hitting inside shots, whether on layups or short jumpers, tends to open up his outside game. His 31 3-pointers, six of which came against Coffman, led the Bears before Jan. 31.
Quinn Corna was averaging 12.4 points through 18 games and was UA's second-best 3-point shooter, having made 16.
"It's just been clicking," Buckley said. "I like to get going inside, either with a free throw or a layup first, and then I can start hitting from the wing. That's really where I'm most comfortable, from both wings, or up top. Then I'll work my way into the corners if I can and shoot from there."
UA's OCC-Central championship hopes ride on their final two league games. The Bears play host to the Shamrocks on Feb. 14.
"We've always believed in ourselves. We just kind of needed to get over that hump," Buckley said. "We have a good history here. We always knew even when we were going through that slump, that losing streak, what we were capable of. Now, it's showing."
Girls team continues 'roller-coaster' season
The girls basketball team got through a busy week last week without junior guard Annie Hargraves, an Ohio State lacrosse commit who suffered a sprained ankle during practice Jan. 23.
Hargraves was averaging 8.0 points for UA, which was 10-10 overall before playing Westerville South on Feb. 4 and is 5-4 in the OCC-Central entering its league finale Friday, Feb. 7, at home against Marysville.
"She's been such a huge factor for us all year, offensively and defensively. We hope we'll get her back before the (Division I district) tournament," coach Chris Savage said. "It's just been a roller coaster all year. Without Annie, we played a freshman (Sydney Callaghan) who hadn't been with us all year and she ended up scoring eight points against (Hilliard) Davidson (in a 49-39 win Jan. 24). She stepped up, but we'll miss Annie."
One highlight last week for UA was a trip to Cleveland on Jan. 28 to play Delaware in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA's Cavaliers. The Bears lost 39-25 to the Pacers, who are coached by former UA assistant Lou Tiberi, but Savage said the trip was a memorable experience overall.
"We contacted the Cavs about playing there and it's a program where you have to buy a certain number of tickets to arrange a game," Savage said. "It was awesome. It was a great atmosphere. We used the Cavs' practice facility and formed the tunnel for them when they came out for their game (later that night against the New Orleans Pelicans). We took a busload of fans and students up there, 150 or more. It's something all of us will remember for a long time."
Valerie Feller's nine points led the Bears against Delaware, while Adrienne Wachtman had 13 points and Erisa Pippins scored 11 in a 47-39 loss to Canal Winchester on Jan. 30.
UA received the 25th seed in the coming 48-team Division I district tournament and will visit 17th-seeded Dublin Scioto for a first-round game Feb. 15.
Wrestlers seeded first in team tourney
The wrestling team earned the top seed in the 11-team Division I, Region 6 team dual tournament Saturday, Feb. 8, at Hilliard Darby.
The Bears will take on eighth-seeded New Carlisle Tecumseh or ninth-seeded Grove City in a quarterfinal. The winner will face fourth-seeded Pickerington North or fifth-seeded Hilliard Bradley in a semifinal, and the regional final will be later in the day.
The regional champion advances to the state tournament Feb. 16 at Ohio State's St. John Arena. UA is seeking its first state berth.
The Bears' hopes for the OCC-Central championship took a hit Jan. 30 with a 49-18 loss at Coffman. UA is 3-1 in the league, one match behind the Shamrocks, with one remaining.
The Bears will play host to Westland on Feb. 13. That same night, Coffman will visit Davidson.
Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington boys basketball, gymnastics, hockey and swimming & diving teams:
*Feb. 7 -- At Marysville. The Golden Bears lost to the Monarchs 57-55 on Jan. 3.
Feb. 8 -- At Springfield
Feb. 12 -- OCC-Central meet at Marysville
*Feb. 9 -- Olentangy Liberty at Chiller North
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 8 -- Division I sectional meet at home. The winner of each event and 27 at-large qualifiers in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites advance to district Feb. 13 at Ohio State. There is no diving at sectional.
Feb. 12 -- Boys: Division I district diving meet at Ohio State. The top four finishers advance to state Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.