The Olentangy Liberty High School field hockey team appears to be facing somewhat of a rebuilding season after losing nine graduates, including seven starters.

The Olentangy Liberty High School field hockey team appears to be facing somewhat of a rebuilding season after losing nine graduates, including seven starters.

But sixth-year coach Gena Bailey is cautiously optimistic that her team soon will be playing at the same level that it did last year when it finished 13-5, setting the program record for victories.

"When you take away eight or nine seniors, it's going to take a couple games before the kids get used to playing together," said Bailey, whose team opened last Tuesday against Worthington Kilbourne and plays host to Dublin Coffman today. "But what's really impressed me is the way we played at Thomas Worthington's play-day (Aug. 14) and ours (Aug. 16). We had only two losses in, like, seven games. That tells me we're on the right track."

Liberty, which set its previous record for victories in a season by going 9-6-2 in 2006, returns seven letterwinners in seniors Brittany Burga (defender), Maria Fortunato (midfielder), Erica Musson (forward), Brenna Novak (midfielder) and Katie O'Sullivan (midfielder), junior Kelsey Musson (forward) and sophomore Erinn Gharrity (defender).

Burga, Erica Musson, Kelsey Musson and O'Sullivan were regular starters last year. Erica Musson led the team with 22 goals, with Gharrity (7) and Kelsey Musson (6) ranking third and fourth. Gharrity played forward last year.

Rounding out the team are juniors Emily Case (forward), Emily Frost (forward), Brogan Pilkington (forward), Cassie Rohde (forward) and Katie Wright (goalie) and sophomores Katie Dye (forward), Torie Dye (midfielder/forward), Sarah Kuney (defender) and Kate Tallarico (defender).

"The kids want to win, and the kids on the team last year know what it takes to win," Bailey said. "Hopefully that rubs off on the new kids."

One of the primary goals Bailey has set for her team is to advance past the first round of the state-qualifying tournament. Seeded fifth in the district last season, the Patriots defeated Olentangy 1-0 in the opening round before losing to Watterson 4-0 in the second round. The win over the Braves marked the first time the program advanced to the second round.

"I've already put on their shoulders that we need, at least, to get to the second round," said Bailey, whose team plays Tuesday at Granville and at home against Columbus Academy on Sept. 4. "It's there. It's just a matter of how much they want it. Something tells me they will surprise me."

One of the keys to the Patriots' success will be the play of Wright, who replaces graduate and two-year starter Liz Searfos in goal.

"The only thing she needs to work on is her confidence," Bailey said of Wright. "She needs to believe, 'Yes, I can clear this ball. Yes, I can defend this.' ... I think Katie is going to have a good year."

•Experience is scarce for Orange as only one player has a letter. In addition, the Pioneers, who opened last Monday with a 4-0 loss to Gates Mills Hawken and played Granville last Tuesday, have no seniors.

"We're a very young team and a few girls haven't played before, so we'll have a lot of challenges," said coach Cara Wolfgram Evans, whose team plays today at Olentangy before playing host to the Hilliard club team Tuesday. "But the girls are trying their best. They know it will be a difficult year, but it doesn't deter them."

Orange's lone letterwinner is junior midfielder Jenna Sahutske, who played last season at Olentangy. Juniors Arielle Schoen (forward) and Brittany Stone (midfielder) and sophomore Chelsea Moran (defender) played junior varsity last year at Olentangy.

Rounding out the team are junior Holly Walton (midfielder), sophomore Bailey Metzger (defender) and freshmen Jennie Button (midfielder), Lindsay D'Aiuto (midfielder), Jessie Forrester (forward), Amanda Herrmann (forward), Nicole Jackman (midfielder), Jean Marie Peters (forward), Keila Perez (defender) and Ali Phillips (goalie).

This season marks Wolfgram Evans' first as a coach at the varsity level. A 1992 Dublin graduate, she spent six seasons as the coach at Dublin Grizzell Middle School before serving last season as a high-school referee.

"I'm really, really excited about the season," she said. "I've wanted to be a high school coach ever since I started coaching. This is a dream come true for me. É (Starting a program) was one of the things that really drew me to this job. I'm the first coach at Orange. That's an amazing thing to think about."

Wolfgram Evans expects her players to be a close-knit group.

"I will make sure my teams always have team spirit," she said. "I want them to be like a family, to create special bonds between them."

•Olentangy is coming off its best season as it went 5-10 last season.

The Braves, who lost to Liberty 1-0 in the first round of the state-qualifying tournament last year, return seven players in seniors Taylor Frim (goalie), Kayla Griffin (defender), Kelsey Laughlin (midfielder), Tera Parrella (forward), Caitlin Saupe (forward) and Megan Schroeder (midfielder) and junior Melanie Brady (defender).

Also on the team are seniors Brittany Pozzani and Kaitlyn Winegarner, juniors Kathleen Fenstermaker, Samantha Frazee and Molly Gilbert, sophomores Kelsey Cunningham, Emily Manganello, Kaitlin Sherry and Megan Valentine and freshmen Loren Armstrong, Elizabeth Bargdill, Cortney Doyle, Jordan Endres, Kaela Roeder, Arianna Yant and Marlys Young.

Olentangy, which is in its fourth season under coach Emily Douglas, opened last Tuesday against Academy. The Braves play host to Orange today and travel to Thomas Worthington on Tuesday and Hartley on Sept. 4.

At a glance

LIBERTY

•Coach: Gena Bailey, sixth season

•Next game: Today vs. Dublin Coffman

•Key players: Brittany Burga, Erinn Gharrity, Erica Musson, Kelsey Musson and Katie O'Sullivan

OLENTANGY

•Coach: Emily Douglas, fourth season

•Next game: Today vs. Orange

•Key players: Melanie Brady, Taylor Frim, Kayla Griffin and Megan Schroeder

ORANGE

•Coach: Cara Wolfgram Evans, first season

•Next game: Today at Olentangy

•Key players: Chelsea Moran, Jenna Sahutske, Arielle Schoen and Brittany Stone