Upper Arlington wrestler Isa DiBenedetto recalled that when she took up the sport three years ago, it was tough to find competition because wrestling “really wasn’t a girls sport back then” – almost inferring a bygone era.
Golden Bears coach Matt Stout had a similar thought discussing DiBenedetto’s promising career, saying a girl competing in the wrestling room when he took over in 2011 was almost unfathomable.
Yet UA wrestlers found themselves giving DiBene-detto a standing ovation before practice Feb. 24, applauding the junior’s third-place finish at 116 pounds the day before in the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association’s inaugural girls state tournament at Hilliard Davidson. DiBenedetto received a bouquet of flowers and a poster commemorating both her achievement and the fact that she is the 37th state placer in program history.
“We’re a family. It’s really cool how much they support me,” said DiBenedetto, who practices with the team and has competed mostly in junior varsity tournaments throughout high school. “They push me a lot. They treat me like they treat each other. I have more motivation to do things and they know I am just as strong as they are most of the time.”
DiBenedetto went 4-1 at state, defeating Springboro’s Rylee Gust 6-0 in the third-place match. Two of her wins were by pin, as was her only loss.
“Isa can do all the work and she does it as well as anybody else on the team,” Stout said. “She works hard and she has great technique. When she came in as a freshman, I was shocked at how good her technique was. I knew she’d be a hard worker because of her brother (Vito). Her brother is probably the hardest worker I’ve had in the nine years I’ve been a coach here. When the tournament was announced, I knew she’d be in contention.”
Vito DiBenedetto qualified for the Division I state tournament as a senior in 2013 and was one of his sister’s primary inspirations for taking up wrestling when she was in eighth grade.
“I figured I’d get into it since I’d never really played a sport,” Isa DiBenedetto said. “I mostly wrestled guys and then freshman year, I started seeing a couple girls in it. Sophomore year, I saw even more and this year, it was crazy. There are entire teams right now. It’s really inspiring.”
While DiBenedetto competed at 116 at the girls state tournament, she otherwise wrestles at 120.
She was one of 234 competitors at state and one of two UA representatives. Freshman Katelyn Clarke went 0-2 at 126.
Clarke and DiBenedetto are the first two female wrestlers at UA during Stout’s tenure, although he believed a few competed before he became coach.
“(State) was surreal. I never thought I’d be on the podium,” DiBenedetto said. “It was so cool. Everyone was extremely supportive. All the girls were nice and friendly. We pushed each other to do more because we knew we could.”
As far as Stout is more concerned, “more” has a wide-ranging definition in this case.
“(Girls wrestling) is going to take off,” Stout said, adding that he believes it could become an OHSAA-sanctioned sport within two years. “The numbers and participation are up … and I think once the girls state tournament was announced, that was a huge boost. It’s going to be big. High school wrestling in Ohio changed (that) weekend.”
Hockey team upset in district semifinal
The hockey team’s only loss of the season came in its final game, as the top-seeded Bears fell to fourth-seeded New Albany 3-2 in a district semifinal March 1 at Chiller North.
Will Cohen scored in the first period to give UA a 1-0 lead, but New Albany scored the next three goals, including the eventual game-winner from Jackson Buss with 3 minutes, 56 seconds left. That came just 12 seconds after Cohen missed on a penalty shot that would have tied the game at 2.
Tristen Elmhurst got UA within 3-2 with 3:04 left.
Goaltender Garrett Alderman made 22 saves for the Bears, who finished 36-1-1 and had not allowed a goal in either of their first two postseason games.
New Albany goalie Max Dupler made 40 saves.
“It’s obviously a very tough way to end our season. We had an outstanding season,” coach Brett Howden said. “The chances New Albany got, they capitalized. They changed up their breakout a little bit (and) their forecheck and they were physical. That’s not to say they weren’t physical when we played them earlier (in the season), but they really made a point here to finish their hits and get under our more skilled guys’ skin.”
UA opened the tournament with a 16-0 rout of 22nd-seeded Dublin Scioto on Feb. 22 at Chiller North and shut out ninth-seeded Oxford Talawanda 6-0 in a quarterfinal Feb. 29 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Tim Kramer had three goals against Scioto and Sam Burns had two against Talawanda.
Swimming teams hoping to reload
Ten Division I state qualifiers – five boys and five girls – are eligible to return for the swimming and diving program after the boys finished as state runners-up for the first time since 2013, the same year they last won a district championship before this season, and the girls finished third in a meet dominated by area teams.
Sophomore Riley Huddleston, who was state runner-up in the 50-yard freestyle and placed fourth in the 100 backstroke, leads a group of expected returnees for the girls team that also includes juniors Caroline Colombo and Emma Schueler and sophomores Avery Catalano and Caroline Porterfield. The latter four comprised UA’s state championship 200 free relay.
“We’re young, and as much experience as we think we have, they are still young,” girls coach Dan Peterkoski said. “Hopefully the next couple years, they’ll take a couple big steps and we can keep fighting to try to get back on top of the podium.”
UA finished third (187 points) at state behind OCC-Central Division rival Dublin Coffman (214) and New Albany (205), which ended the Bears’ 20-year district championship streak Feb. 13 at Ohio State.
Junior Avery Voss, who was state runner-up in the 100 free and placed third in the 50 free, is eligible to return for the boys team, as are classmates Jackson Gooding and Hayden Jay – who was third at state in the 200 free – and freshmen Grant Gooding and Grant Kennedy.
“Especially with Grant Gooding and Grant Kennedy coming up, both freshmen who will be huge key players for us, we all felt something was different this year,” said senior Jake Meyer, who was third at state in the 100 breaststroke (program-record 55.25 seconds). “We all knew we’d be back on that podium and all felt it throughout the season. We knew it would work out.”
Seven other program records were set this season, by Voss in the 50 free (20.02) and 100 free (44.12) and all three relays at state (1:23.1 in the 200 free, 1:33.19 in the 200 medley and 3:02.91 in the 400 free).
On the girls side, Huddleston set program marks in the 50 free (22.98) and 100 back (55.04).
Both teams extended their streaks of league championships this year, as the girls team won its 26th consecutive title and the boys won their 20th in a row.
Gymnastics coach proud of season
Despite missing some of its top competitors for part of the season, the gymnastics team is eligible to return juniors Tally Angelis and Mia Tzagournis and a handful of promising underclassmen from a team that won its third consecutive OCC-Central championship.
UA went 14-0 with 32 points in the league, four points ahead of second-place Marysville (28, 12-2), but the Bears’ season came to an end Feb. 22 when they finished seventh (131.675) in the district meet at Worthington Kilbourne behind champion Thornville Sheridan (144.55) as 27 teams scored.
Senior Addy Pittenger led UA at district with a 16th-place finish on floor exercise (8.95). Tzagournis, who missed most of the first month of the season because of mononucleosis, was 22nd on floor (8.8) and 24th on uneven bars (8.375).
No Bears finished in the top 10 of any event or the all-around.
“We had a rough start (to the season) just trying to figure out who our top scorers were going to be. We had people out with some injuries and some illnesses and once we got our team back and healthy, things fell in the right place,” coach Brittany Maynard said. “We got lucky with people peaking at the right time. Probably the last three regular-season meets, I saw a consistency with our scores and that was our goal for the last part of the season, to just be consistent and stay clean and nail our routines.”
Freshman Amelia Pearson also is among those eligible to return.
Key players expected back for boys team
Two of the boys basketball team’s top three scorers are eligible to return after UA went 14-9 overall and tied for the OCC-Central championship despite returning no starters from last season.
The Bears went 8-2 in the league, tied for first with Coffman and Marysville, but lost 60-55 at 14th-seeded Canal Winchester in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 22. Sophomore guard Quinn Corna had a game-high 24 points and sophomore guard Geoffrey Schoeny added 18 for UA, which was seeded 19th of 49 teams.
Corna averaged a team-high 13.5 points as well as 2.6 rebounds to earn first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district honors. Senior guard Max Buckley (9.3 points, 2.8 rebounds) was named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district and Schoeny (8.6 points, 2.8 assists, 2.4 rebounds) was special mention all-league.
Senior forward Liam Keethler (3.4 points, 5.0 rebounds) was honorable mention all-league.
Other players eligible to return for the Bears, who won seven of their final nine regular-season games, include junior Magnus Entenmann (forward/center) and sophomores Luke Eriksen (forward) and Nick Heath (guard).
Junior guard Coleman Kegler also hopes to return after missing the entire season because of a torn labrum.