Upper Arlington Roundup: Golden Bears girls water polo team speeds to undefeated start

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Upper Arlington girls water polo player Violet Houser tosses the ball during a practice drill April 12 as Caroline Ubert watches. The Golden Bears, defending state champions, are 12-0 entering the Milford Invitational on April 24.

Upper Arlington girls water polo standout Caroline Colombo stopped short of saying the Golden Bears' plan is to overwhelm opponents with their speed, but that approach paid off in the form of an undefeated start even as UA diversifies its attack.

“We’ve been swimming for nine months or more, so we’re very conditioned,” Colombo said, citing water polo being moved to spring from its usual fall season because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. “Winter training is brutal. We’re in excellent shape and a lot of our game is speed, so the fact that we have a lot of speed and all that endurance is really helping.

“We’re trying to focus more on a set defense and probably more plays. We do a lot of fast breaks but that can get repetitive, so setting up an umbrella and doing more things than just having a fast break, shooting and scoring have helped us. If we work on our skills, we can do some pretty cool things.”

Colombo, a Butler swimming recruit, is one of six seniors and a handful of offensive threats for UA, which is 12-0 entering the Milford Invitational on April 24 and is seeking its second consecutive state championship, sixth in eight years and 18th overall.

Colombo had 125 goals, 30 assists and 72 steals as a sophomore in 2019 and has been ThisWeek’s Girls Water Polo Athlete of the Year each of the past two seasons.

Classmates Sophia Elliott, Carley Hart, Addie Jay, Lydia Muldoon and Lilli Swanson also return. Hart is UA’s goalie, and Caroline Porterfield and Samantha Schaefer lead a strong junior class.

“(Porterfield) is very strong, and Samantha scores a lot and is a powerful force,” first-year coach Caitlain Spangler said. “Lilli has an incredible shot. Caroline Colombo is a force to be reckoned with. She usually gets double teamed. Lydia Muldoon is one of the best defensive players in the state. They’re doing so many good things.”

Spangler succeeded Dan Peterkoski, who led the Bears to 12 state titles, 17 league championships and 16 district titles in 17 seasons.

Porterfield, a Georgia Tech swimming recruit, shared the 50-yard freestyle championship with teammate Riley Huddleston at the Division I state meet and helped the 200 free relay to first place.

“We have a lot of great shooters, but something we’ve started focusing on more is defense because we’ve been getting a lot of fast breaks with our swimming and shooting skills,” Muldoon said. “Now we’re really getting more into our defensive plays. We’re really in shape and we’ve started emphasizing overall skills.”

Elite swimmers

pacing boys team

A handful of talented seniors, led by Stanford swimming recruit Avery Voss, had led the boys water polo team to a 12-4 record entering the Ohio Cup on April 17 and 18.

Seniors Jimmy Colombo, Jackson Gooding, Hayden Jay, Keegan Jones and Thomas Ray pace a team that fourth-year coach J.J. Spangler said is perhaps the deepest in his tenure.

Gooding and junior Garrett Widman are the Bears’ goalies, while Jay will swim at Virginia Tech and Ray at Old Dominion.

“We have a lot of talent in the sophomore and senior classes. They’re huge classes and they mesh well together with their talent and skill. They push each other,” said Spangler, whose team was ranked first in the North Region last week. 

“It’s a group that challenges each other. They get a little bit tough in practice on each other but it’s all love. This team is considerably deeper. We have two lines we can sub in that we have full confidence in.”

Other top players have included sophomores Caden Colombo, Clark Pabst and Patrick Ray.

Voss was the Division I state swimming champion in the 100 free and runner-up in the 50 free and also helped the 200 free relay to a state title along with Jay.

The swim team finished as state runner-up for the second consecutive year.

“We’re pretty balanced. Having a lot of threats in the pool makes the offense flow really well, so everyone seems to be scoring,” Thomas Ray said. “Our sophomores score. Our seniors score. Avery Voss is a force to be reckoned with. Jimmy Colombo, Hayden Jay and I are pretty strong outside shooters.”

Versatility on display

for softball team

The softball team was 7-3 before playing DeSales on April 16, and part of that was due to multifaceted performances from a handful of players.

In a 15-2 win at Central Crossing on April 7, pitcher Maxine McCraw was one of four Bears to collect at least three hits – Sophie Leohner had four – and in the circle allowed only three hits while striking out 13 and walking one in a complete-game victory.

Sophia Schweisthal also homered twice.

Two days earlier in a 12-0, five-inning win over Olentangy, Caroline Langmeyer had two hits and five RBI, most of those coming on a three-run homer in the second inning, and struck out seven and walked one while throwing a complete game.

UA began OCC-Central Division play April 15 with an 8-7 win at Hilliard Bradley.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave