Last season, the Olentangy Liberty High School girls swimming and diving team didn't have the speed in the sprint freestyle events that Laurie Karr has become accustomed to during her seven-year tenure as coach.
An influx of newcomers has helped strengthen the Patriots in those events, which has Karr optimistic her squad will put together another quality season.
The Patriots opened Dec. 1 by defeating Orange 127-55. Liberty also beat Gahanna 118-50 on Dec. 7 before placing sixth (161) of the 48 teams that scored in the Ned Reeb Invitational, which Upper Arlington (439) won Dec. 8 at Ohio State.
"Almost half of our team is new kids who have joined, and they're all experienced swimmers who know how to train and have learned our system pretty quickly," Karr said. "It's been very competitive for our relay spots because we've picked up some fast freestylers, and our older kids have responded by getting faster because they want to hold on to their relay positions. The competition we have every day in practice is making us faster as a team, and it's nice to have some speed in the sprints and relays this year."
Liberty also features two of the top returning divers in the state in juniors Olivia Ball and Brittany Menninger.
In last season's Division I state meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton, Ball scored 493.2 points to place first in diving. Alex Clay, a 2012 graduate, placed fifth (458.1) and Menninger finished 10th (432.95).
Returning in the swimming events are seniors Olivia Bently and Cameron Hiltner, junior Makenzie Karr and sophomores Bailee Braun, Madelyn Miller and Caroline Racke.
Last season, Bently finished 17th at state in the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 6.73 seconds).
Freshmen competitors include Becky Brock and Justine Kenny.
Liberty is coming off a season in which it won its fifth league title in six years. The Patriots scored 281 points to win the OCC-Cardinal Division meet at the Union County YMCA ahead of Westerville Central (245), Dublin Jerome (226), Olentangy (156.5), Westerville South (147.5), Marysville (114), Westerville North (94) and Dublin Scioto (92).
Liberty will compete in the OCC-Central meet this season with Central Crossing, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, Marysville, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington and Westland.
In last year's sectional meet at the Union County YMCA, Liberty scored 316 points to finish second of 11 teams as Coffman (333) won.
The Patriots then scored 128 points to finish seventh at district at Ohio State behind champion UA (522) as 27 teams scored. Ball scored 482.85 points to win diving ahead of Clay (479.3) and Menninger (462.3).
At state, Liberty was 16th (41) behind champion UA (300.5) as 55 teams scored.
"We're shooting for runner-up in the OCC behind Upper Arlington because they win state every year," coach Karr said. "We'd like to get more than one swimmer to state this year, and we expect both our divers to make it there and do well again."
Pioneers feature versatile athletes
After opening with a loss to Liberty, Orange finished 45th (4) in the Ned Reeb Invitational.
Also on Dec. 8, the Pioneers scored 128 points to beat Centennial (115) and Bexley (74).
Back to lead the Pioneers are seniors Ally Buchanan and Brooke Pulkrabek, junior Haley Johnson and sophomore Kara Miller.
Rounding out the roster are senior Kaitlin Brown, juniors Hannah Brown, Julia Pinciotti, Alana Stillion and Jasmine Wright, sophomores Cierra Beaumier, Jessie Collins-Guess and Kaylin Muren and freshmen Eily Cogan, Azelin Valiulis and Joy Wharton.
"We have a lot of experienced swimmers and our girls are much more versatile in what they're able to swim," third-year coach Dan Harris said. "The kids have bought into the notion that the success of our team depends on what they're doing, because they can't wait on someone else to do it for them."
Last season, Orange finished fifth (155) in the OCC-Capital meet behind New Albany (326), Delaware (282), Watkins Memorial (170) and Mount Vernon (155) and ahead of Big Walnut (110) and Hilliard Bradley (92).
Olentangy has replaced Bradley in the OCC-Capital this season.
The Pioneers placed eighth (118) in the Union County YMCA sectional before scoring one point to tie Teays Valley for 26th at district, where Pulkrabek, Johnson, Miller and Buchanan finished 24th in the 200 medley relay in a team-record 2:02.47.
"Our new division of the OCC is going to be tough," Harris said. "New Albany and Delaware are both really strong, and Olentangy and Big Walnut have a lot of speed. Our biggest goal is to qualify as many athletes as we can to the district and state meets."
Braves coach aiming for lofty goals
Olentangy opened Nov. 30 with a 121-49 loss to Granville.
In a quad-meet Dec. 1, Olentangy lost to Scioto 92-80, beat Worthington Christian 138-6 and lost to Westerville Central 107.5-74.5.
The Braves then finished 22nd (47) in the Ned Reeb Invitational.
Returning are seniors Morgan Bowden, Nicole Chase, Hannah Helber and Brenna Parker, juniors Colleen McHugh, Mara Nebraska and Erica Poling and sophomore Aly Fomich.
McHugh is a diver.
First-year coach Axel Birnbrich said freshmen Ellie Nebraska, Abbey Newman and Carly Wolfe have promising futures.
"Our main strength should be our sprint freestylers, but we look good in the breaststroke and backstroke, too," Birnbrich said.
After finishing fourth in the OCC-Cardinal meet last season, Olentangy placed fourth (227) in the Union County YMCA sectional and 11th (77.5) at district, where McHugh was seventh (373) in diving.
Also at district, 2012 graduates Madison Wolfe and Victoria Langwasser, Chase and Mara Nebraska finished ninth (1:52.42) in the 200 medley relay, and Wolfe finished 17th (1:00.68) in the 100 butterfly.
"Our goals are to win the OCC and to get a couple of individuals and all three relays to state," Birnbrich said.