The roads four Upper Arlington wrestlers have taken to this weekend's Division I state tournament are far more winding -- and varied -- than the short trip from their high school to Ohio State.
Jacob Shanklin inadvertently found out rock climbing has proven to be a key in his improvement on the mat, while David Soghomonyan expanded his repertoire thousands of miles from home last summer during a trip to visit family in Armenia.
They will join repeat qualifiers Daniel Beam and Jesse Bowers at state, which runs Friday, March 13, through Sunday, March 15, at Ohio State, as the Golden Bears seek to build on a district tournament that saw them earn four top-three finishes and saw nine of their 10 competitors win at least one match.
"It's fun to show up to state with a bunch of guys," said Bowers, who is making his third appearance at state.
UA also had four automatic qualifiers to state last year and ultimately had six competitors when two alternates, Soghomonyan and Jake Thomas, were added to the field.
The top four finishers in each weight class at district advanced.
Beam went 3-1 at 113 pounds and finished second, losing to Dublin Scioto's Dylan Le 11-2 in the final, and is 32-12 this season, while Bowers is 40-6 after going 3-1 and finishing as runner-up at 138, falling to undefeated Connor Euton of Westerville North 18-11 in the final.
Shanklin (132) and Soghomonyan (170) both went 4-1 and placed third, a distinction that is especially important to Soghomonyan, who is 33-8.
"Last year, I was super down after district and then when I found out I made it, I was excited," Soghomonyan said. "This year, I wanted to prove people wrong. It wasn't just a fluke that I made state last year. I actually deserve to be there with the hard work I've put in."
Soghomonyan added that he has relied on a throw in which he hooks his opponent's leg and is able to launch them backward.
"When I was in Armenia, I figured instead of just sitting around at home, why not take that opportunity and see a different style of wrestling?" he said. "I (practiced) two days a week maybe over the summer. It's freestyle or Greco-Roman style. It's a different feel, different hand-fighting and technique. It feels different here. Here, it's leg-attack based and over there, you see leg attacks and throws. There are more setups and fakes here, too."
Shanklin's fascination with rock climbing began during an outing with friends last summer.
"I feel like rock climbing has helped a lot with my upper body and grip strength, which might sound weird, but it's been the truth," said Shanklin, who is 39-10 on the season. "It's helped me every day in practice and in every match. I got sore a lot, but ever since then, I've felt a lot stronger."
UA finished seventh (86 points) at district behind champion and OCC-Central Division rival Dublin Coffman (174.5) as 40 teams scored.
Beam, Bowers, Shanklin and Soghomonyan all went 0-2 at state last year.
Beam felt that he pulled upsets in both a 6-2 second-round win over Teays Valley's Kadin Walls and an 8-7 decision against Mount Vernon's Colton Spurgeon in a semifinal.
"I think I won some matches maybe I shouldn't have won. I'm pretty happy overall," Beam said. "My coaches and family told me I could win, but I'm not sure a lot of people thought I could, so that was exciting. I've just tried not to miss any practices or workouts and push through any adversity.
"Being more physical this year has helped. In past years, I tried to play defense and just tried to stop whatever (my opponent) was doing. This year, I've actually tried to use my shots and wrestle my match."
Hockey team copes with stunning loss
Several of the hockey team's top contributors are eligible to return next season, including its top scorers and starting goaltender, but the Bears finished this memorable year earlier than they expected.
Seeded first in the district tournament and ranked second in the state for much of the season, UA fell to fourth-seeded New Albany 3-2 in a district semifinal March 1 at Chiller North to finish 36-1-1 overall. The Bears' only other non-win was a 3-all tie against St. Charles on Jan. 31.
UA was seeking its third state tournament appearance and first since 2007.
"It's tough to put into words because they worked their tails off for us," coach Brett Howden said. "It (was) a quiet locker room (after the loss). It's hard when a season ends like this, prematurely from what we anticipated or expected. We just wanted to let them know this season will not be defined by this game. We had a heck of a run. We did some stuff that not a lot of teams in Columbus have ever done and no one at UA has ever done. We're very proud."
The Bears easily set the program record for wins, surpassing the 2014-15 team that went 28-7-1.
UA finished 15-0-1 with 31 points in the CHC to win the Red Division championship ahead of runner-up St. Charles (24, 11-3-1-1).
Junior forward Will Cohen scored a team-leading 35 goals, ahead of sophomore forward Sam Burns (33) and senior forward Tim Kramer (29).
Burns led the team in assists with 43, four ahead of Cohen. Kramer had 36 assists and senior defenseman Will Lawless added 34.
Junior goalie Garrett Alderman made 606 saves on 639 shots for a .948 save percentage.
Other players eligible to return include junior forwards Tristen Elmhurst (16 goals, 18 assists) and Adam Karap (23 goals, 11 goals), junior defenseman Whitty Tevonian, sophomore defenseman Noah Domagalski and sophomore forward Max Robins (11 goals, 20 assists).