Olentangy girls' evolution evident
Olentangy High School girls soccer coach Drew Zellers has been impressed with the way his team has progressed from last season.
"We beat (Dublin) Jerome (1-0 on Aug. 21) and they're one of the better teams in the state," he said. "We tied Thomas (Worthington), who beat us twice last year. We tied Westerville Central, who also beat us last year. It's definitely an improvement."
With a scoreless tie against Thomas on Aug. 23, a 2-1 win over Big Walnut on Aug. 28 in the OCC-Capital Division opener and a 1-all tie against Westerville Central on Aug. 30, the Braves were 2-1-2 overall before playing a league game against Orange on Sept. 4.
Thomas ended the Braves' season last fall, beating Olentangy 1-0 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. The Braves finished 9-8-1.
Through five games, forward Payton Naylor led the team in scoring with two goals. Midfielders Megan Landon, Ally Lowery and Abbey Schwing each had one goal.
"We're doing a very good job of keeping possession of the ball and getting all the players involved in the attack," Zellers said.
He also is quick to credit the defense and the role it has played in the team's evolution.
"We're keeping it to less than one goal a game," Zellers said. "Last year at this point we had already given up eight or nine goals."
Goalkeeper Bailey Hatch allowed four goals and made 35 saves through five games. She had seven saves in a 2-1 loss Aug. 18 against Granville, 12 against Jerome, four against Thomas, six against Big Walnut and six against Westerville Central.
"She's got some things she needs to work on, but she reads the game well," Zellers said. "I see her as one of the top goalies around because of what she can do."
While Zellers said he's happy with what the Braves have accomplished so far, he wants to see continued development and his players having a solid 80 minutes.
"We're doing a good job of keeping ourselves in the game, but we need to step up and really finish the game," he said. "We're trying to turn the program into a winning culture."
Liberty having good start
Liberty was unbeaten through four games heading into an OCC-Central contest Sept. 4 against Upper Arlington.
"We haven't lost yet, but we still have some tough games ahead of us," coach Lisa Saiben said. "We were young last year and we're still young this year. But we've shown in those games that we've grown. I'm excited for the possibilities."
The Patriots entered the week 3-0-1 overall, having beaten Pickerington Central 2-1 on Aug. 21 and Westerville North 2-0 on Aug. 23 before tying Gahanna at 1 on Aug. 30 and beating Central Crossing 11-0 on Aug. 28 in the league opener.
Liberty lost sophomore midfielder Natalie Flahive to a hip fracture during the Westerville North game. She was the team's leading scorer last season (11 goals, 9 assists) despite missing six games with an injury.
"We're going to miss her," Saiben said. "But we've got some kids who are ready to step in and score some goals for us. So we'll see."
Sophomore Elizabeth Castro led the Patriots with five goals through four games. She was followed by sophomore Kylie Slusser, who had four goals, and senior Samantha Kulp with two.
Juniors Sam Carney and Miranda Kuhns have split time in goal. Kuhn had 20 saves and Carney had six.
"We have a really great group of girls who want to work hard and get better," Saiben said.
While the first quarter of the season has gone well, Saiben knows Liberty must continue to work hard to continue its winning ways.
"We need to work on being more consistent and playing a whole game together," she said. "It can't be 10 minutes here or 15 minutes there or a good first half or a good second half. It needs to be a whole game."
Orange hoping for a recovery
Although her team defeated Worthington Christian 1-0 on Sept. 1, Orange coach Jen Odebrecht said the Pioneers were not where they expected to be.
Orange was 2-3 overall before playing Olentangy on Sept. 4.
"We have been off to an extremely frustrating and difficult start," Odebrecht said. "I feel really good about our talent and chemistry. We just haven't been able to put together 80 minutes without a mistake."
Starting sophomore center midfielder Emily Beaver tore an anterior cruciate ligament and her loss has had an effect on the entire team, according to Odebrecht.
"It's been a huge adjustment not having her in the middle of the field," Odebrecht said. "The chain reaction of what it does to the starting 11 and moving people around, we're still struggling to find someone to replace her."
Sophomore goalkeeper Mackenzie Brunke has impressed the coach with her play, making more than 30 saves through five games.
"We've had some great performances from her which have kept us competitive," Odebrecht said. "She's been absolutely phenomenal and has really caught some people by surprise. Hands down, she's been our most consistent player."
Orange lost its OCC-Capital opener 3-1 to New Albany on Aug. 28. It was a rematch of last year's Division I district semifinal, which the Pioneers won 1-0.
Orange went up 1-0 in the second half when Taylor Delara headed in a goal off Carly Swisher's pass from the left side. The Eagles' Vanessa Eastwood then scored three goals.