Just like last season, sophomore Mike Shiner is leading the way for the Olentangy Liberty High School boys bowling team.
Fortunately for the Patriots, his supporting cast is stronger than it was a year ago when they finished 7-13 overall.
"There's still a big gap between Mike and everyone else on our team, but the rest of our boys have worked hard to close that gap some, and that's made us a stronger team than we were last year," seventh-year coach Linda Ridolfo said.
The other top returners are seniors Drew Crea and Ryan Shumaker and junior David Valz.
Rounding out the roster are senior Max Gunn, junior Austin Limbert and sophomores Spencer Dirrig, Evan Pfeifer and Ryan Rabinowitz.
In Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-North Division matches last season, Shiner had a team-high 207 average per game, followed by Crea (160) and Valz (156).
"Drew, David, Mike and Ryan all bowled in the summer to give us a solid core," Ridolfo said. "Our boys are getting stronger and more consistent each week."
Liberty beat Worthington Kilbourne 2,106-1,975 on Dec. 20 to improve to 3-5 overall and 2-4 in the COHSBC-North. The Patriots are 0-3 in the OCC-Capital Division, having lost to Olentangy (1,941-1,874 on Dec. 4), Hilliard Bradley (2,140-1,771 on Dec. 6) and Hilliard Davidson (2,100-1,920 on Dec. 18). The matches against Olentangy, Bradley and Davidson also counted in the COHSBC-North standings.
The Patriots defeated Worthington Christian 1,895-1,829 on Dec. 11 and lost to Westerville North 2,312-2,153 on Dec. 13 in other COHSBC-North matches. They also rolled a 1,816 to finish second in a tri-match Dec. 12 against Ready (1,910) and St. Charles (1,597).
Last season, Liberty went 2-10 in the 13-team COHSBC-North to tie Kilbourne for 11th behind co-champions Westerville North (11-1) and Jonathan Alder (11-1). Liberty went 2-3 in the OCC-Capital to tie Bradley for fourth, behind Davidson (4-1), Hilliard Darby (3-2) and Orange (3-2) and ahead of Olentangy (1-4).
The Patriots rolled a 3,507 to finish 11th in the 24-team sectional tournament at Columbus Western Bowl behind champion Jonathan Alder (4,020), as the top nine teams and top nine individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to district at HP Lanes.
Shiner won the sectional title with a 724 series and rolled a 619 at district to place fifth and secure one of three state berths for individuals not on a qualifying team. At state at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl, he rolled a 582 series to place 31st of 119 competitors, behind champion Danny Simmons (702) of Warren Champion.
"We're not so worried about our wins and losses," Ridolfo said. "I would be very pleased to get our entire team to district this year."
Braves showing marked improvement
Olentangy is enjoying a turnaround season.
A year after finishing 7-18, the Braves enter their match against Davidson on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at Ten Pin Alley with a 5-2 overall record. They are 3-2 in the COHSBC-North and 1-0 in the OCC-Capital.
"We joined the (COHSBC-North) this year and the competition is fierce," second-year coach Jim Brehm said.
The Braves return senior Tommy Schwartz, juniors Dom Donadio and Jon Jansen and sophomores Patrick Balling, Brandon Bice and Jordan Ustaszewski. Donadio, Jansen and Schwartz are team captains.
Last season, Bice and Usta-szewski tied for the team lead with a 166 game average, followed by Balling (160), Jansen (156) and Schwartz (152).
Rounding out the roster are seniors Noah Gilmore and Daulton Rife Harter, junior Matt Walker and sophomores David Miller, Ricky Thiebout and Joe Waldron.
"The strength of our team is depth," Brehm said. "Last year, our goal for the boys was reaching 2,000. This year, a poor outing is when we roll under a 2,000. Our goal is to consistently reach 2,200 and to peak at 2,400 when tournament time rolls around."
Olentangy opened with a 2,114-1,954 win over Buckeye Valley on Nov. 28. The Braves then beat Liberty in an OCC-Capital and COHSBC-North match and defeated Westerville Central 2,075-2,028 on Dec 5.
After a 1,994-1,843 win over Delaware on Dec. 11 in a non-league match, the Braves lost to Westerville South 2,245-1,912 on Dec. 12, defeated Gahanna 2,125-2,061 on Dec. 17 and lost to Thomas Worthington 2,203-2,124 on Dec. 18 in COHSBC-North matches.
Last season, Olentangy finished 22nd (2,942) in the sectional at Columbus Western Bowl and did not have any individual district qualifiers. The Braves won the Olentangy Classic a year ago by rolling a 2,211 to finish ahead of Orange (2,206) and Liberty (2,017).
"Our goal is always to win the Olentangy (Classic on Jan. 23 at Delaware Lanes) and to advance in the tournament," Brehm said.
Pioneers off to solid start
Orange is aiming for the OCC-Capital championship after tying for second in the league a year ago.
The Pioneers dropped to 2-1 overall and in the COHSBC-North with a 2,420-2,325 loss to Westerville South on Dec. 17. They open their OCC-Capital schedule Thursday, Jan. 3, against Liberty at Sequoia Pro Bowl.
Orange opened with a 2,177-2,081 win over Thomas on Dec. 4 and beat Gahanna 2,098-1,780 on Dec. 12. Its match against Jonathan Alder on Dec. 14 was postponed.
"After the way we bowled against Westerville South, I think we can win the OCC-Capital because we left 120 pins out there that day and could have won that match," first-year coach John Sheets said.
The Pioneers return seniors Garrett Moore, Nick Sansone and Daniel VandeWater and sophomores Ben Kunz and Stephen Spezzano.
Last season, VandeWater led the team with a 190 game average, followed by Moore (168), Sansone (163), Kunz (151) and Spezzano (151). Moore rolled a 489 series against Westerville South to set the program record for a two-game score.
Rounding out the roster are senior Denny Doan and sophomore Tyler VandeWater.
"This is the best group of bowlers that this school has ever had," Sheets said. "Daniel is one of the best bowlers in the area, and Garrett is out to a great start."
Last season, Orange finished 10-9 overall and went 6-6 in the COHSBC-North to tie Big Walnut for sixth.
The Pioneers placed seventh (3,800) in the sectional at Columbus Western Bowl and advanced to district, where they finished 16th (3,274) behind champion Jonathan Alder (3,962) as the top three teams qualified for state.
"My biggest goal is (for the team) to at least make it to district, and then we'll look at trying to make it to state," Sheets said.