The Westerville club hockey team is preparing for its return trip to state.

The Warcats will compete in the 12-team state tournament, the Buckeye Cup, on Friday, March 6, through Sunday, March 8, in Cleveland. They are the seventh seed and open pool play March 6 against sixth-seeded Medina.

Westerville, which is 12-17-6 overall, will play the top-seeded Cincinnati Swords and the 12th-seeded Miami Junior RedHawks on Saturday, March 7, to close out pool play.

The semifinals and final will be played March 8.

"We started the season really hot and that helped us get slotted in the seventh position," coach Jordan DiGiando said. "We had a big win over Dayton (3-2 on Feb. 15), and tying Newark (at 3 on Jan. 30) probably helped us stay where we were. I'm pretty excited with the draw that we got for the tournament. They're all teams that give us a good matchup."

Last season, Westerville went 1-2 in pool play.

"Getting into the playoffs and especially state, it's just a different breed of hockey," DiGiando said. "It definitely helps having a handful of guys who got that experience last year. They can jump in and be leaders this year when we get to the tournament."

Senior defenseman Joshua South will be playing in his second state tournament.

"It's nice to see teams that we're not used to playing in a high-level competition," South said. "Last season definitely helped push us along this year and now that we have our placement in the tournament and we know who we're playing, we're happy with who we got. It's motivation for this year's tournament."

Westerville prepared for state by competing in the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League tournament, the Blue Jackets Cup. The sixth-seeded Warcats lost to third-seeded Dayton 3-1 in the first round Feb. 21 at Chiller Ice Works.

Sophomore forward Cullen Hassel scored the lone goal. Senior forward Nicholas Frissora and junior forward Santo Scillia had assists.

"We had our opportunities," DiGiando said. "We had power plays and just couldn't get the job done. We ran out of time late in the game."

Sophomore forward Sedric Cowans is another key offensive contributor.

Senior goaltender Jacob DeBella enters the state tournament with a 3.15 goals-against average and an .861 save percentage.

"We've had a really good showing the past couple of games from Jake DeBella, so I would expect to see him in net," DiGiando said. "As long as he stays hot, he'll have games."

Westerville finished sixth in the OSHL at 4-10-4 for 12 points, behind regular-season champion Newark (32, 15-1-2).

"Our last couple of weeks have been like a roller coaster," South said. "We tied and beat teams that we're extremely happy with, but we've had some losses that were tough for us."

Second-seeded Hilliard beat fourth-seeded Northeast 7-2 in the Blue Jackets Cup final Feb. 23 at Chiller North.

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