Despite finishing with a losing record for the first time in 17 years, the Big Walnut High School football team heads into the offseason on a high note, having won its final two games.
The Golden Eagles lost their first eight games before defeating host Olentangy Orange 17-0 on Oct. 25 and beating Franklin Heights 48-14 on Nov. 1 at home to finish 2-8 overall and 2-5 in the OCC-Capital Division.
Big Walnut's last losing season came in 1996, when it finished 2-8. The Golden Eagles went 5-5 in 1997 and finished with a winning record for 15 consecutive seasons from 1998 to 2012, making eight playoff appearances during that span and winning the Division III state title in 2007.
"It was the seniors' last home game," coach Joe Weaver said, referring to the win over Franklin Heights. "For them to go out like that on their home field for the last time, it was important. It was an experience they really enjoyed."
Against the Falcons, junior running back Brayden Shepherd ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries and senior Chase LaVeer caught two touchdowns passes from junior quarterback Jordan Wall.
Junior defensive back Conner Fry also scored, returning an interception 61 yards in the first quarter.
"It was a season full of adversity," Weaver said. "The kids, I have to give them all the credit in the world, they persevered through a lot. Each and every week, regardless of (our) record, when it came to game time, they played their hearts out."
Big Walnut placed sixth in the OCC-Capital, behind Worthington Kilbourne (7-0), New Albany (6-1), Olentangy (5-2), Mount Vernon (4-3) and Delaware Hayes (3-4) and ahead of Orange (1-6) and Franklin Heights (0-7).
"It was a meat grinder," Weaver said of the league schedule. "Each and every week, it was chock full of very talented football teams. Kilbourne had a great senior class and a bunch of great football players. New Albany did what they always do. It's a conference where you have to play mistake-free football every week if you want to have a chance."
Big Walnut loses 18 seniors, including LaVeer (WR/DB), Grant Burks (RB/LB), Austin Crow (TE/LB), Alec Eisnnicher (FB/LB), Austin Hale (OL/DL), Trey Huffer (OL/DL) and Joel Windle (RB/DB).
Eisnnicher was named first-team all-league. Crow and LaVeer were second-team all-league and Hale was honorable mention all-league.
"The talent and experience they have, that's going to be difficult to replace," Weaver said of the seniors. "They truly love to play for Big Walnut and they had that pride and they brought that passion every week."
Fry, Shepherd and Wall are among the expected returnees. Others include juniors Christian Johnson (RB), Blake Marioth (RB/DB), Joe Muench (WR/DB), Justin Richards (OL/DL), Tyler Satterfield (QB/DB/K), Will Smith (OL/DL), Joey Spaulding (OL/DL) and Cole Stark (WR/DB) and sophomores Tommy Fleser (WR/LB), Ethan Hale (OL/DL), Isaac Lucas (RB/DB) and Justin Nelson (TE/LB).
Lucas was special mention all-league.
"Any time you can return a quarterback, that's good," Weaver said of Wall. "We've got some guys coming back that are going to bring some good things to the table."
Disappointing year for volleyball team
By the girls volleyball team's standards, the 2013 season was a disappointment.
Big Walnut finished 14-9 overall and went 10-4 in the OCC-Capital to tie New Albany for third, behind co-champions Kilbourne and Olentangy (12-2) and ahead of Mount Vernon (5-9), Orange (5-9), Delaware (2-12) and Franklin Heights (0-14).
Seeded 13th in the Division I district tournament, the Golden Eagles lost to 10th-seeded New Albany 25-15, 26-24, 25-12 in the second round Oct. 16 after having a first-round bye. This marked the first season in which Big Walnut competed in Division I during the postseason.
"It was up and down," coach Ron Lehman said of the season. "We had some good moments. But overall, it was disappointing. I expected it to be better than it was."
Lehman completed his 24th year leading the program. Big Walnut has won 15 district championships during his tenure and was the Division II state runner-up in 2010. The Golden Eagles entered this season having won 11 OCC-Capital titles in the past 13 seasons.
"We had a couple of key (league) matches where we didn't show up," Lehman said. "We didn't give ourselves the chance to win those."
Big Walnut loses three seniors in Morgan Alley (setter), Kalynn Bowmar (middle hitter) and Brooke Hatfield (outside hitter).
Bowmar led the team in kills (177) and was first-team all-league and all-district, and Alley was second-team all-league.
"They were three solid players and gave us good leadership," Lehman said. "They'll be tough to replace."
Among those expected to return are juniors Claire Chatterton, Rachel O'Morrow and Krista Schmidt and sophomores Abby Kitchen and Tiffany Soisson.
Chatterton tied Soisson for the team lead in aces with 34 and was second on the team in both kills (158) and digs (183). O'Morrow led the team in digs (241) and was honorable mention all-league.
Girls tennis team fulfills main goals
The girls tennis team fulfilled its main goals this season.
Big Walnut finished 12-8 overall and went 4-3 (22 points) in the OCC-Capital to place fourth, behind New Albany (41, 7-0), Orange (37, 6-1) and Olentangy (28, 5-2) and ahead of Kilbourne (17, 3-4), Delaware (17, 2-5), Mount Vernon (6, 1-6) and Franklin Heights (0, 0-7).
"Coming into the season, we had goals of having a winning record, double-digit wins and finishing in the top four of the OCC," coach Ryan Balaz said. "We accomplished all of those. It was a really successful year on the court and there was really good team chemistry off the court."
Bailey Sewalk and Blake Stenger were one match away from being Big Walnut's first district qualifiers in five years.
The seniors had a first-round bye in doubles in the Division I sectional tournament Oct. 3 at Upper Arlington and defeated Newark's Emily Mettile and Katianna Evans 6-0, 6-1 in the second round before losing to Watterson's Mollie Godbout and Sophia Wible 6-0, 6-1 in a district-qualifying match.
The Golden Eagles' last district qualifiers were Maddie Hamann and Darcy Predieri, who lost in the first round of the 2008 Division II district tournament in doubles. Big Walnut moved up to Division I in 2009.
Also competing at sectional were seniors Bella Goodrich and Caroline Ford and junior Erika Kessler in singles and the doubles team of seniors Alex Berger and Janie Serna. Each of the singles players lost in the first round and Berger and Serna had a first-round bye before falling in the second round.
"We didn't play as well (at sectional) as I would have liked, but that happens," Balaz said. "It was just a bad day for us. We had some tough draws and tough matches."
The Golden Eagles competed in the fourth-place OCC tournament Sept. 28 at Hilliard Darby, scoring six points to finish fourth behind Hilliard Davidson (18) of the OCC-Central, Pickerington North (15) of the OCC-Ohio and Darby (11) of the OCC-Cardinal.
Big Walnut loses seven seniors in Berger, Ford, Goodrich, Serna, Sewalk, Stenger and Hannah Flynn. Those players helped the Golden Eagles win 46 matches over the last four seasons.
"Seven of the eight who played varsity are graduating, so it will be a new chapter for Big Walnut girls tennis next year, and that's exciting," Balaz said. "But I'm sad to see those girls go."
The Golden Eagles expect to return only one letterwinner in Kessler.
"She'll be our only senior (next year)," Balaz said. "She'll be asked to play first singles and be a role model for the other girls."
Boys golf coach expected more
Boys golf coach Chuck Workman was hoping for more from his team this season.
"Overall, I thought we might do a little better than what we did," he said. "We got better as the season went on, and I pointed out to them that it shows the more you play, the better you are."
Big Walnut went 14-14 in the four-round OCC-Capital tournament to finish fourth, behind New Albany (27-1), Olentangy (24-4) and Mount Vernon (19-9) and ahead of Orange (13-15), Kilbourne (8-20), Delaware (7-21) and Franklin Heights (0-28).
Junior Kyle Gose had a 78 average in league play to earn second-team all-league honors. Junior Kyle Bash averaged an 83 and was honorable mention all-league.
"Central Ohio is a great area for golf," Workman said. "The (league) we're in, (New Albany, Mount Vernon and Olentangy) were seeded in the top eight in the sectional tournament. Considering that, I think we did fairly well."
The Golden Eagles shot a 329 in the 13-team Division I sectional Oct. 1 at Darby Creek to finish seventh, behind district-qualifiers New Albany (299), Dublin Coffman (304) and Olentangy Liberty (307).
Gose led the Golden Eagles with a 79, finishing three strokes behind the final individual district qualifier, Marysville's Morgan Tarrant (76).
Also competing at sectional for the Golden Eagles were juniors Chad Little (81) and Kyle Bash (82) and freshmen Henry von Hollen (87) and Nick Dimitroff (90).
Big Walnut closed the season by placing fourth (330) in the Delaware County Cup on Oct. 3 at Royal American, behind Liberty (309), Olentangy (311) and Orange (323) and ahead of Delaware (338) and Buckeye Valley (353).
Gose led the Golden Eagles with a 76, tying Olentangy's Matthew Homza and Liberty's Doug Simpson for medalist honors.
Big Walnut has no seniors on its roster and expects to return its lineup intact. Workman said he has emphasized to his players the importance of improving their games during the offseason.
"I told them that's something they need to do next year, play a little more before the season starts," he said. "Hopefully, they will."