Liberty climbing 'the mountain'
A phrase she and her teammates chant during practices might best sum up the state of the Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball team for junior Emily Perry.
Like Perry, who is contributing after missing last season with a knee injury, the Patriots have come a long way from the squad that won just five games two years ago and went 10-12 last season.
"We do this thing where we say that we're moving up the mountain," Perry said. "We just want to keep moving up that mountain."
Its hopes of winning a league championship or being seeded near the top of the district for the postseason might be out of reach, but Liberty believes it is on its way to a winning season.
The last time the Patriots finished above .500 was in 2004-05, when they went 13-9.
Liberty was 9-5 overall before playing Hilliard Bradley on Jan. 15. The Patriots improved to 5-3 in the OCC-Central Division by beating Thomas Worthington 43-32 on Jan. 11.
The return of Perry, who was expected to be the point guard last year and now is splitting time at both guard spots, has been among the reasons for the Patriots' improvement.
Liberty also has taken significant strides with its outside shooting.
Senior forward Kennedy Wilke made a school-record six 3-pointers during a 57-28 win over Chatham (Ontario) John McGregor in the first round of a KSA Events tournament Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla. She was averaging 10.5 points through 13 games.
Senior guard Maddie Redwine, who also missed action last season with injuries, made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points in a 58-47 loss to Olentangy on Dec. 11.
Senior post player Karla Levering has been another steady contributor after missing all but the first seven games of last season with an injury.
Freshman forward Alexa Fisher and Redwine both missed time earlier this season with injuries.
The Patriots lost junior post player Melissa Veerman to a season-ending knee injury in early December.
Liberty advanced to the championship game of its KSA bracket but lost to Nelson County (Ky.) 48-33 on Dec. 31.
The Patriots followed with league losses to Hilliard Davidson (47-45 on Jan. 4) and Dublin Coffman (53-43 on Jan. 8).
"We went toe-to-toe with Davidson and Coffman, but they hit their free throws down the stretch," coach Ron Florey said. "We haven't won a lot of games (in past years) and we're still finding our way. The (OCC-Central) is a solid division. I don't think there are any really bad teams in it.
"We shot the ball extremely well when we were in Florida. We shot 5-for-9 from (3-point range) against Davidson but (against Coffman) we were only five of 16, so that's not very good. We really have a lot of people that can shoot it. ... Rebounding is a big issue for us."
Orange blowing past league foes
After beating Olentangy 57-52 on Dec. 15, Orange outscored its next five OCC-Capital opponents by an average of 36.4 points.
In the middle of its league schedule were two non-league games against state-ranked teams.
The Pioneers edged Africentric 67-63 on Jan. 5 and lost to Reynoldsburg 63-58 on Jan. 14. Africentric was ranked second in last week's Division III state poll and Reynoldsburg was fourth in Division I.
Senior point guard Taylor Agler made six 3-pointers to help the Pioneers build a 30-21 lead by halftime against Reynoldsburg. In the second half, however, the Raiders' Shiloh Murphy scored 18 of her 23 points and Agler was held to four.
"That's what constant pressure will do," coach Mary Ann Grimes said of Agler's second-half struggles. "It was just mental fatigue. They played their hearts out."
To read more on the game, go to "On the Recruiting Trail" at ThisWeekSPORTS.com.
The Africentric game will go down as one of the best in program history for senior guard Mya Walker.
After she scored 32 points in an 82-65 win over Africentric last season, she duplicated that performance with 32 points in the rematch. She scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and made 14 of 24 shots from the floor against an Africentric lineup that includes 6-foot-2 senior Marley Hill, a University of Cincinnati signee.
"Sometimes I'm a little frustrated with how slow and lethargic we can play, but Taylor did a great job of getting (Walker) the ball, and Mya hit some shots," Grimes said.
"She did a good job of getting some outside shots. Africentric was a great, great game, and Mya did an incredibly great job."
Olentangy also rolling in new year
Like Orange, Olentangy hasn't struggled against the rest of the OCC-Capital since the teams met.
The Braves and Pioneers play again Jan. 26 at Olentangy.
After losing to Fairborn 47-41 on Dec. 29 to finish sixth in the Pickerington North Holiday Classic, Olentangy blew out league foes Watkins Memorial (64-27 on Jan. 4) and Mount Vernon (62-24 on Jan. 8).
The Braves then beat Delaware 51-37 on Jan. 11 to sweep the Pacers. Olentangy won the first matchup 80-51 in its league opener Nov. 30.
Senior forward Megan Beidelman scored a season-high 25 points against Watkins Memorial, and freshman Kelly Meade and Beidelman both scored 13 in a 60-44 non-league win over Hilliard Bradley on Jan. 5.
Senior forward Katie Heath, who averaged 9.3 points through 10 games, got hurt in a 58-46 win over Northland on Dec. 28 in the Pickerington North tournament and missed the next four games.
Senior forward Brooke Zwayer missed the first eight games with a knee injury but has been back since the Braves' 67-50 loss to Centerville on Dec. 27 in the first round of the Pickerington North tournament.
"Brooke has been starting to play a lot better," coach John Feasel said. "To our benefit, we've learned to play without her. Megan Beidelman had 25 against Watkins Memorial and Lydia Hyburg and Kelly Meade have made some shots. We need to put four real solid basketball quarters together."