Having had last season end with a "heartbreaking" 1-0 loss to Granville in a Division II district semifinal, the Big Walnut High School softball team has begun its 2014 campaign with the slogan, "unfinished business," emblazoned on the back of its jerseys.
The mantra, said eighth-year coach Jeff Hatfield, comes partially from a disappointing end to the 2013 season and partially from the desire of a group led by numerous seniors.
"We're a very senior-laden team; we start seven seniors," Hatfield said. "So we have a lot of game experience there, and I think that we started to see signs last year of what we could be capable of. And I believe the girls want to finish their career on a very competitive note."
Big Walnut, which has moved up to Division I this season, opened April 1 with a 13-3 win over Dublin Coffman and begins OCC-Capital Division play Monday, April 7, at Olentangy.
Last season, the Golden Eagles finished 19-10 overall, marking their highest win total since going 20-8 in 2009, and placed fourth (8-6) in the league behind champion Olentangy (13-1).
Among the returnees are seniors Hayley Apple (3B), Shelbie Borchers (SS), Brooke Hatfield (OF) and Shaye Kuhlman (OF) and sophomore Kate Petty (P).
Last year, Kuhlman led the team in batting average (.506), hits (44) and runs (33) and was named second-team all-state, first-team all-district and second-team all-league. Hatfield (.435, 18 runs, 32 RBI) was named second-team all-district and first-team all-league, Borchers (.394, 20 runs, 15 RBI) was honorable mention all-district and special mention all-league and Apple (.346, 22 runs, 32 RBI) was honorable mention all-league.
Petty went 10-7 in the circle with a 1.66 ERA a year ago.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Katelynn Cheadle (OF), Sara Petty (OF) and Leah Shaw (2B), sophomores Kaley Daniel (utility) and Britni Hayes (C) and freshman catcher Jessica Coletta.
According to coach Hatfield, the Golden Eagles struggled with mental errors at times last season. He hopes that having seven seniors in the lineup will help they hammer out some of the those mistakes that kept opponents in games a year ago.
"Last year in a few key games, we gave teams an extra out, so we're trying to cut down on that," he said. "We're focusing on two, three or four things, but making those things good. At this point it's muscle memory, and we've got a lot of reps."
Baseball team looks to build on last year
The baseball team is hoping to improve on last season, when it finished 17-12 overall and placed fourth (7-7) in the OCC-Capital behind champion Olentangy Orange (12-2).
To do that, Big Walnut will need its young players to jell quickly after losing seven players from a year ago to graduation.
"Last year, we were pretty young, but we graduated some senior leadership," fourth-year coach Chris Holly said. "So we've got some holes to fill ... but we've got some guys this year who are young, but have a ton of experience."
While Big Walnut may be younger this year, it won't have the added pressure that the 2013 squad had following the winningest season in program history.
In 2012, the Golden Eagles broke the program record for victories in a season by going 23-6 -- the previous mark was 18, set in 2003 -- and won their first league title since joining the OCC-Capital in 1998. They also were a district finalist.
"Last year's team followed a great team when we set the wins record, and they learned from them and they were hungry and wanted to recreate the season that (the 2012 team) had," Holly said. "(Last year's team was) a pretty good team, but it didn't really have the mentality. But these guys are young, and it's largely the same team. Our mentality is changing, and we're getting hungry now, and our goal is to win a championship."
The Golden Eagles, who opened with a 3-0 win over North Union on April 1 and begin league play Monday, April 7, at Olentangy, have returned four starters in seniors Jeremy Bok (OF/P) and Kyle Duncan (C/P), junior Matt Tarney (SS) and sophomore Nick Moser (CF).
Last season, Moser had a team-high 18 stolen bases and was first-team all-district in Division II and second-team all-league and Bok batted .344 and led the team in RBI (20) and runs (22) and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Duncan went 5-2 with a 1.69 ERA and Tarney was honorable mention all-league.
Also on the team are senior Ryan Griesen (INF/P), juniors Michael Blackburn (OF), Brandon Daniels (OF/P), Garrett Grover (1B/P) and Brayden Shepherd (INF/P) and sophomores Jakob Evans (3B/P) and Tommy Fleser (INF/P).
"I'm expecting good things from this team," Holly said. "Once a couple things start clicking for us, I think this team's going to be a fun team to watch."
Adams, Burks lead way for tennis team
The boys tennis team had a down year in 2013, finishing 7-11 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Capital.
But after only losing three players from a year ago to graduation, second-year coach Ryan Balaz expects his squad to rebound this season.
"We had a lot of new kids last year playing a lot of new spots," Balaz said. "Given everybody's new spots, we did alright, but it was a step back from 2012. It was a rebuilding year.
"This year, we're looking to get up to double digit (wins) again. We have eight seniors ... and last year we only had 13 players and this year we're up to 19, so the program is growing and that's great."
Seniors Logan Adams and Grant Burks will lead the way, playing first and second singles, respectively.
Rounding out the program are seniors Scott Bailey, Cole Davis, Adam Freeburg, Garrett Jackson, Andrew Nussbaum and Jesse Rines, sophomores Grant Bartlett, Cameron Duncan, Isaiah Kolb and John Osburn and freshmen Mitchell Cholley, Lane Davis, Jared Deel, Stephen Pushkin, Hunter Rankin, Nick Schulz and D.J. Werner.
"We have a lot of kids back who did play varsity and who are really good leaders," Balaz said. "They're team leaders vocally and with their actions. The other kids really look up to them, on and off the court."
Big Walnut opened with a 5-0 loss to Dublin Scioto on April 1. It has three league matches this week, as it travels to Olentangy on Tuesday, April 8, and Orange on Thursday, April 10, and plays host to defending champion New Albany on Wednesday, April 9.
"We want to finish top three in the OCC-Capital," Balaz said. "It's pretty tough, with Olentangy and Orange and New Albany, so finishing top three is an accomplishment. And we want to have a (Division I) district qualifier. We haven't had one since 2010, so it's about time to get back into having district qualifiers."
Track teams getting set for Eagle Relays
The track and field teams will play host to the 37th annual Red Edwards Golden Eagle Relays on Saturday, April 12.
Big Walnut swept the 14-team meet last season. The boys team won the title for the first time since 2010, scoring 91 points to hold off runner-up Olentangy (86.5), and the girls team won the event for the fifth consecutive season, scoring 92 points to edge runner-up Westerville Central (81).