Olentangy Liberty High School gymnastics coach Misty Lloyd-Matthews was worried that her team would take a step backward this season after losing three-time individual state-qualifier Jacklyn Hayes to graduation.
But even though no one on her roster has been able to match Hayes' scoring, the Patriots have remained competitive through a collective effort.
"I was nervous because Jackie was a great leader and one of the top gymnasts in the state, and I knew we didn't have any one person who could replace her," Lloyd-Matthews said. "But our team has become more balanced to help make up the difference now that we can't rely on Jackie to score big for us in every event. I'm proud of our girls because a lot of them have improved to help us fill that gap."
Liberty improved its team score in each of its first three meets and is 3-1 in the OCC-Central Division.
The Patriots placed second (123 points) in the nine-team Hilliard Invitational on Dec. 15 at Hilliard Davidson behind champion Upper Arlington (128) and finished second (126) in a five-team meet Jan. 3 behind champion and host Worthington Kilbourne (133). They then scored a 128.35 to win a nine-team meet Jan. 11 ahead of runner-up and host Orange (118.6), as Katherine Faircloth won uneven bars (8.55), balance beam (8.15) and floor exercise (8.8) and Alena Southwick won vault (8.45).
"We haven't had one outstanding meet where everyone has hit yet, but the girls' attitudes and work ethic have been amazing and they keep getting better," Lloyd-Matthews said. "Katherine has been an amazing leader and Lauren Uttam and Alena Southwick are doing really well. Sophie D'Amico and Lydia Edwards have come back 10 times stronger this season. I couldn't be more pleased with this team right now."
The Patriots will play host to six teams in a meet Friday, Feb. 1, and Lloyd-Matthews said it's crucial that they beat Davidson that day since their matchup with the Wildcats will count in the league standings.
The OCC-Central meet will be held Feb. 9 at Dublin Coffman.
Last season, Liberty finished second (126.95) in the OCC-Central meet, behind Kilbourne (134.75) and ahead of Delaware (116.075), Davidson (111.325), Westland (92.75) and Dublin Scioto (83.95).
The Patriots finished second in the overall league standings with 20 points (4-1), behind Kilbourne (24, 5-0) and ahead of Davidson (14, 3-2), Delaware (14, 2-3), Scioto (6, 1-4) and Westland (6, 0-5).
"We need to win our last OCC match so we can stay up there in the OCC," Lloyd-Matthews said. "We want to give Kilbourne a run in the OCC meet and at least finish second in the OCC if we can't beat them."
Braves fighting through injuries
Olentangy scored a season-high 132 when it finished second to Coffman (138) in a quad-meet Dec. 21 before its lineup was hit hard by injuries.
Juniors Bridgette Boyle (separated shoulder) and Colleen McHugh (back) aren't expected to compete this season and freshman Tara Manz has yet to perform in a meet because of an injury.
Injuries also kept junior Anna Tantari and sophomore Felicia Stump out of the lineup when the Braves finished second (127.025) in an OCC-Ohio quad-meet Jan. 17 behind Thomas Worthington (133.75) and ahead of Upper Arlington (133.95) and Grove City (117.25).
Lloyd-Matthews would not disclose the nature of the injuries to Manz, Tantari and Stump.
"We started with a bang, but Anna and Felicia are two of our leading scorers and, without them competing for us, we're not the same team," Lloyd-Matthews said. "The nice thing is everyone on our team has been pulling their own weight. McKenna Basore, Lexie Spence and Emma Morgan have been our top performers while Anna and Felicia have been out."
Olentangy is 2-2 in the OCC-Ohio, but Lloyd-Matthews is confident her team can move up in the league standings after competing in the OCC-Ohio meet Feb. 9 at Coffman. The Braves will compete against Hilliard Darby in their OCC-Ohio finale Friday, Feb. 1, in a seven-team meet at Liberty.
Last season, Olentangy finished third (135.125) in the OCC-Ohio meet, behind Coffman (136.475) and Grove City (136.225) and ahead of Thomas (131.2), Upper Arlington (125.875) and Darby (116.075).
The Braves finished second (19, 4-1) in the overall league standings, behind Coffman (24, 5-0) and ahead of Grove City (17, 3-2), Thomas (13, 3-2), UA (8, 1-4) and Darby (4, 0-5).
"We need to beat Hilliard Darby and then I'm hoping we'll get our three starters back in time to do much better in the OCC meet," Lloyd-Matthews said. "When they return, those three girls will change the dynamics of our team."
Pioneers continue to show improvement
Despite having only five of its 10 gymnasts at its disposal Jan. 22, Orange matched its season high with a 118.6 to finish third in a quad-meet, behind Hilliard Bradley (128.3) and Davidson (125.625) and ahead of Delaware (115.775).
Natalie Herning placed fifth on bars (7.4) and the all-around (31.45), seventh on vault (7.9) and floor (8.5) and eighth on beam (7.65), and Danielle Chickerella finished fourth on vault (8.075), sixth in the all-around (31.175) and beam (7.85), eighth on bars (7.0) and ninth on floor (8.25).
With a full roster Jan. 11, the Pioneers also scored a 118.6 to finish second of nine teams behind Liberty.
"We're doing about as well as can be expected with a young and small team," coach Jen Hedrick said. "We continue to score higher each meet, which is all I can ask for. Natalie and Danielle are doing a great job of leading us and Kaleigh Jurcisek, Madison Lindeman and Julia Vogel have done well, too."
The Pioneers are 3-1 in the OCC-Capital and Hedrick is hoping they can finish at least second in the league meet Feb. 9 at Coffman.
Last season, Orange finished fifth (118.825) in the OCC-Capital meet, behind Jerome (128.925), Bradley (127.575), Big Walnut (125.1) and Central Crossing (119) and ahead of Mount Vernon (102.975) and Franklin Heights (27.5).
The Pioneers finished fourth (12, 2-3) in the overall league standings, behind Jerome (24, 5-0), Bradley (20, 4-1) and Big Walnut (16, 2-2).
"It would be nice to finish second or higher in the OCC meet," Hedrick said.