Big Walnut High School football coach Joe Weaver will remember this season for the hard work he saw from his players.
"It was a great season," he said. "We had a bunch of kids who showed up week in and week out and played their tails off. It was fun to be a part of."
The Golden Eagles finished 6-4 overall, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and only the second time in the last seven seasons. They finished 16th in Division II, Region 7, as the top eight teams qualified for the playoffs.
"It was a tough match each and every week," Weaver said. "Some went our way and some didn't. But every week the kids showed up to play."
Last season, Big Walnut finished 9-3, defeating Beechcroft 14-7 in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Marion-Franklin 44-17 in a regional semifinal.
"We came up short of the playoffs," quarterback Carson Chatterton said. "But I know for my senior season I had so much fun."
Although Big Walnut missed the playoffs, it did post its 15th consecutive winning season. The last time the Golden Eagles failed to have a winning season was 1997, when they finished 5-5 under coach Rex Sponhaltz. Their last losing season came in 1996, when they finished 2-8 under Sponhaltz.
Big Walnut, which has won seven league championships since joining the OCC in 1997, went 4-3 in the OCC-Capital Division to tie Olentangy Orange for third, behind New Albany (7-0) and Olentangy (6-1) and ahead of Mount Vernon (3-4), Delaware Hayes (2-5), Watkins Memorial (2-5) and Franklin Heights (0-7).
The Golden Eagles, who shared the league title with New Albany and Orange last season, lost to Olentangy (40-24 on Sept. 14), New Albany (17-6 on Oct. 12) and Orange (10-0 on Oct. 19).
Olentangy (Division I) and New Albany (Division II) qualified for the playoffs, with each advancing to a regional semifinal Nov. 10 and Nov. 9, respectively.
Next fall, Watkins Memorial moves into the Licking County League. Its spot in the OCC-Capital will be filled by Worthington Kilbourne, which currently is in the OCC-Cardinal.
Canal Winchester, which currently is in the MSL-Buckeye, will join the 32-member OCC next year, taking Kilbourne's spot in the OCC-Cardinal.
"Olentangy is always a dogfight," Weaver said when asked about the OCC-Capital. "New Albany has become a rivalry. Orange is improving every year. The OCC is good football. It's a very competitive league. I put it up against any other league in the state of Ohio, as far as top to bottom competition."
Big Walnut loses 20 seniors, including 10 regular starters in Chatterton, Alex Clark (RB/LB), Cody Conley (DB), Gabe Kitchen (WR/DB), Parker Marsch (LB), Seth Myers (WR/DB), Adam Shaheen (WR/DB), Julian Simon (OL/DL), Brant Weiss (TE/DL) and Logan Williams (OL/DL).
Senior Anthony Roberto opened the season as a starting cornerback but missed the final seven games with a knee injury.
"We're definitely going to miss those guys," Weaver said. "There was a wide array of incredible athletes."
Chatterton finished 78-for-146 passing for 971 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions and had 314 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 93 carries. Clark had 211 yards rushing and two scores on 44 carries.
Myers and Shaheen tied for the team lead in receptions with 24 apiece. Myers had 273 yards receiving and two touchdowns and Shaheen had 222 yards receiving and five scores. Kitchen had 19 catches for 260 yards and two scores.
Myers and Shaheen were named first-team all-league and Chatterton, Simon and Weiss were second-team all-league.
"Every year teams lose their senior class and every year the younger kids need to step up," Chatterton said. "It's a tradition at Big Walnut that they do that."
Sophomore running back Christian Johnson led the team with 638 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 116 carries.
"We needed a young back," Weaver said. "He stepped up to a challenge this year. He accepted his role well."
"I have to give it up to (the offensive) line," Johnson said. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have had the opportunity I did."
In addition to Johnson, among those expected to return are juniors Grant Burks (RB/LB), Austin Crow (OL/DL), Alec Eisnnicher (RB/LB), Austin Hale (OL/DL), Trey Huffer (OL/DL) and Chase LaVeer (WR/DB).
Crow and Eisnnicher should be leaders on defense next year. This season, Crow had 102 tackles (35 solo), seven tackles for loss and two sacks and was first-team all-league and Eisnnicher had 96 tackles (27), 12 tackles for loss and three sacks and was second-team all-league.
Hale was special mention all-league and Johnson was honorable mention all-league.
Weaver already is looking ahead to preparing for next season.
"Our expectation is to go out and win week one," he said. "I don't have a starting lineup in my head. But I know I got a bunch of kids that are disappointed the season ended and are ready to go at it."
OCC title highlight for volleyball team
After failing to win a league or district title last year, the girls volleyball team returned to form this season, winning the OCC-Capital championship.
"It was a good season," said coach Ron Lehman, who completed his 23rd season leading the program. "We had our ups and downs. But it turned out fairly well."
Big Walnut finished 16-5 overall and went 13-1 in the OCC-Capital, finishing ahead of Olentangy (12-2), Mount Vernon (11-3), New Albany (7-7), Delaware (6-8), Orange (5-9), Watkins Memorial (2-12) and Franklin Heights (0-14). The league championship was the Golden Eagles' 11th in 13 seasons.
Kilbourne replaces Watkins Memorial in the league next season.
"They should compete," Lehman said of the Wolves. "It will make our league tougher."
Big Walnut was seeded third in the Division II district tournament and had a first-round bye. It defeated Jonathan Alder 25-20, 25-20, 25-21 on Oct. 20 before losing to sixth-seeded Amanda Clearcreek in a district semifinal 25-21, 13-25, 25-20, 25-23 on Oct. 25.
"I was disappointed we didn't do better in the tournament," Lehman said.
Middle hitter Natalie Chatterton, who was named OCC-Capital Player of the Year and first-team all-district, was one of four seniors on the team.
"She had a great year," said Lehman, who was OCC-Capital Coach of the Year. "She worked hard and played really well for us. She was a big part of our success."
The other seniors are libero Alexis Newman, outside hitter Abby Painter and defensive specialist Kylee Williams.
Chatterton led the team with 188 kills and was third on the team with 40 aces. Painter was second on the team in kills (161) and first in aces (47) and was first-team all-league and second-team all-district. Newman led the team with 320 digs and was second-team all-league, and Williams was third on the team in digs (137) and second in aces (43).
"It's quite a bit to replace," Lehman said. "Our two leading hitters are gone. But we've got a lot of good younger players. Hopefully they'll work hard in the offseason and step into a good role for us."
Among those expected to return are juniors Morgan Alley (setter), Kalynn Bowmar (middle hitter) and Brooke Hatfield (outside hitter) and sophomore Claire Chatterton (outside hitter).
Alley was second-team all-league and Bowmar, who was third on the team in kills (135), was honorable mention all-league. Claire Chatterton was second on the team in digs (140).
"I'm hoping one or more of them steps up and extends the leadership," Lehman said.
This season marked the second in a row in which the Golden Eagles failed to reach a district final. Last season, they lost 25-14, 23-25, 25-23, 25-21 to Jonathan Alder in a district semifinal.
Big Walnut, which has won 15 district titles under Lehman, was the state runner-up in 2010.
"I expect to win the league next year and I want to go further in the tournament than we have in the last couple years," Lehman said.