The Olentangy Orange High School girls soccer team was all smiles when a team picture was taken last Saturday after the Pioneers lost to top-seeded Bexley 3-0 in a Division II district final at Dublin Scioto.
After giving up two goals in the first three minutes, the Pioneers held Bexley to one the rest of the way, despite playing a player down after sophomore defender Kristen Cunningham received a red card for an intentional handball.
"It would've been great to win, but we had a very nice season," said junior midfielder Lauren Jay, whose team finished 13-5-2 overall. "Being a first-year program, for us to come this far is just phenomenal."
Bexley improved to 20-2-1 as it earned its fourth consecutive district championship.
"They enjoyed being the underdog all year," said coach Jen Odebrecht, whose team defeated Jonathan Alder in 2-1 in double overtime in a district semifinal Oct. 22. "Everyone thought we weren't going to be able to do much this year. We made it to the district final, something many programs work years to do."
The Pioneers were second in the OCC-Capital Division at 4-1-1 behind Big Walnut (6-0) and ahead of New Albany (4-2), Watkins Memorial (2-3-1), Delaware (1-3-2), Mount Vernon (2-4) and Franklin Heights (0-6).
Orange had no seniors. Junior forward Erin Wetherby, sophomores Hana Abu-Kwiek and Chelsea Deffenbaugh and freshman Rachael Wintering, who all split time between forward and the midfield, are expected back. Juniors Jay and Victoria Calvert and sophomore Lauren Juttner are expected to return to the midfield.
Junior Kaitlyn Pearse, who had 12 saves in the district final, and freshman Shauni Kerkhoff are expected back in goal, with juniors Mackenzie Schmidt, Lynn Trick and Hannah Pfau and sophomores Cunningham and Taylor Kerkhoff expected to play roles on defense and in the midfield.
Jay, who shared OCC-Capital Player of the Year with Big Walnut's Brittany Guglielmi, was first-team all-district. Schmidt was first-team all-OCC and second-team all-district. Cunningham, Deffenbaugh and Abu-Kwiek were second-team all-OCC and Trick received honorable mention.
•Liberty finished 6-10-3 after losing to second-seeded Hilliard Davidson 2-0 in a district semifinal Oct. 21. It surprised Gahanna 4-0 on Oct. 14 and Hilliard Darby 1-0 on Oct. 16 in the first two rounds.
The Patriots went 1-4-2 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish behind Dublin Jerome (6-1), Westerville North (3-1-3), Westerville Central (4-3), Westerville South (3-2-2), Dublin Scioto (2-2-3) and Marysville (2-3-2) and ahead of Olentangy (0-5-2). Jerome and North were district finalists.
"My motto has always been the more tough teams you play, the better prepared you're going to be for the district tournament," coach Erin Mullady said. "We knew after the draw we had been placed in a spot where we could do well."
The Patriots will lose seniors Marisa Garverick-Herrera (3 goals, 4 assists) and Madison Wright (11 goals, 6 assists) from the midfield and Cassie Swafford and Kelly Watson from the defense. Wright was first-team all-OCC and a second-team all-district and Swafford was second-team all-OCC.
"They meant a lot," Mullady said. "They're natural leaders on the team and in the school. They're going to be hard to replace."
Junior Taylor Rambo and sophomores Katie Costin, Michelle Devilbiss, Ali Swafford and Michelle Van Schaik are expected to return on defense in front of sophomore Abbey Smith and junior Andrea Karl in goal.
Junior Natalie Radabaugh (6 goals, 1 assist) and sophomore Aubrey Fisher should be back at forward and junior Erin Novak and sophomore Maria Bruno, Cassie Coville, Megan Griffith and Megan Novak (1 goal) are expected to return in the midfield.
"We moved a lot of people around and messed around with the lineup until we found something that would work," Mullady said. "The girls were very receptive to everything we wanted to do. While it is hard to lose those four seniors, we're bringing back 14 letterwinners and we could do even more next year."
At a glance
•Record: 6-10-3 overall, 1-4-2 (seventh) in OCC-Cardinal
•Seniors lost: Marisa Garverick-Herrera, Cassie Swafford, Kelly Watson and Madison Wright
•Key returnees: Katie Costin, Andrea Karl, Natalie Radabaugh, Taylor Rambo and Abbey Smith
•Record: 13-5-2 overall, 4-1-1 (second) in OCC-Capital
•Seniors lost: None
•Key returnees: Chelsea Deffenbaugh, Lauren Jay, Lauren Juttner, Kaitlyn Pearse and Lynn Trick