The Olentangy Liberty High School girls lacrosse team is hoping to pick up where it left off last season.
The Patriots return several key players from a year ago, when they finished 13-5-1 overall, won the OCC-Ohio Division title and reached the Division I North/Central Region final before losing to eventual state champion Medina 19-8.
"We want to win (our league) again and make it back to the regional finals," said sixth-year coach Abby Osborn, whose team opens Tuesday, April 2, with a league game at home against Hilliard Davidson. "We have a lot of varsity experience on the field. I think the returnees realize they have the potential to succeed and play a higher level of lacrosse."
Senior Eileen Barrett and sophomore Dani Bursinger are back to lead the midfield and senior Rachel Henderson returns to lead the attack.
Barrett, who has committed to the University of Tampa, had 29 goals last season and was named first-team all-league and second-team all-region. Henderson, who had 35 goals last spring and has committed to Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., and Bursinger both made second-team all-league.
Other key attackers are sophomores Kelley Fitzgerald and Megan Maitino, and junior Erin Hedrick is another key midfielder.
Senior Sabra Funderburg, who was honorable mention all-league last season, returns to lead the defense. Also expected to play key roles on defense are seniors Natalie Durtschi, Morgan Mallory and Jen Nelson and junior Ellie Schramm.
The Patriots also return their starting goalkeeper in sophomore Elise Miller.
"We are very fast in the midfield and we have a strong attack," Osborn said. "We also have a defense that has played together for three years."
Liberty went 6-0 in the OCC-Ohio last season to finish ahead of Hilliard Bradley (4-2), Orange (4-2), Olentangy (3-2), Dublin Scioto (2-3), Dublin Jerome (1-5) and Davidson (0-6). A game between Olentangy and Scioto was canceled.
The Patriots opened the postseason last spring with a 21-11 win over Orange in a second-round game and beat Rocky River Magnificat 9-8 in a region semifinal before facing Medina.
Braves feature experienced lineup
Olentangy is hoping its experience will help it make a deeper run in the postseason later this spring.
Last season, the Braves finished 10-4 overall, placed fourth in the OCC-Ohio at 3-2 and lost to Gates Mills Hawken 9-8 in overtime in a Division II North/Central Region semifinal after opening the postseason with a 20-9, second-round win over Jerome.
"We want to make it past the second (tournament game) after getting stuck there the last two years," said third-year coach Chelsea Huguenard, whose team opened March 25 against Tampa (Fla.) Alonso at the Lakewood Sports Complex in St. Petersburg, Fla. "We know it will take a lot of hard work. We are really stressing teamwork, playing together and working together and talking to each other all over the field."
Seniors Kate Huter and Christine Campbell and sophomore Katie Stegmann are the Braves' top returning midfielders, senior Mallory Quiggle and junior Rachel Dietz are back to lead the attack and senior Emily Watson and sophomore Alex McCafferty return to lead the defense.
Last season, Huter was first-team all-region and all-league, and Stegmann (19 goals, 14 assists) and Campbell (14 goals, 9 assists) were second-team all-region. Campbell has committed to Adrian College in Michigan.
Quiggle, who has committed to Lake Erie College in Painesville, was third on the team with 22 goals last year and had nine assists.
"Huter and Campbell will be leading our midfield, Quiggle will be running our attack and Watson is in charge of our defensive end," Huguenard said. "Stegmann's speed, stick skills and ability to see the plays make her a threat all over the field. Dietz is a returning starter who will be solid on the attack with Stegmann and (sophomore) Stevie Jefferis. (Sophomore) Kaycee Fulton is also a threat on the attack with a dangerous shot.
"McCafferty is a returning starter on defense with Watson and (junior) Chelsea Cousins will bring brains and communication to our defense."
Junior defenders Kasia Placek and Jessyca Toland also should be key contributors.
"Placek is a transfer from Philadelphia and will be a fantastic addition and Toland is moving up to varsity to help defensively," Huguenard said.
Seniors Hannah Laubenthal, Krysten Reardon and Emily Wall also are expected to see time on defense in front of junior goalie Emily Petrole, who is a third-year starter, and her backup, sophomore Madison Barnes.
Also vying for playing time in the midfield are juniors Rachel Dannenhaur, MacKenzie Freeman and Alyssa Lucas and sophomores Haley McCullough, Morgan McCullough and Mary Tarantine.
"We have a full roster," Huguenard said. "We have plenty of girls at every position who are ready to go in at any time."
Pioneers looking to build on last year
Orange is looking to build on last season, when it set a program record for wins by finishing 11-4-1 overall and placed third in the OCC-Ohio at 4-2.
The Pioneers, who return 14 players and have 12 seniors on their roster, opened 1-3-1 last season before winning 10 games in a row, including a 24-9 victory over Westerville Central in the first round of the Division I North/Central Region tournament.
Orange, which set its program record for goals in a game against Central, lost to Liberty in the second round.
"We have a lot of leadership and speed," said fifth-year coach Jaime Miller, whose team opens Friday, March 29, at home against Pickerington North. "We hope to utilize those attributes to push further into the (postseason) tournament and continue to raise our level of play.
"Our depth is pretty solid. We have a lot of seniors, but we have solid backups in every position on the field. The girls will constantly have to compete for time."
Among the key returnees are senior attacker Grace Smith, who had 60 goals and nine assists last year and was second-team all-state and first-team all-league and all-region, and senior midfielder Maria Nobile, who had 46 goals and six assists and was first-team all-league and second-team all-region.
Smith has committed to St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa., and Nobile will play for Walsh University in Canton.
Another key returnee in the midfield is junior Becca Kean, who was honorable mention all-league last year.
The senior class also includes attacker Kendra Hopeck, midfielders Brittany Barber and Leah Haugh, defenders Karlee Greene, Erica Heitmeyer, Alissa Morrison, Abbie Snyder and Abby Sturmi and goalies Bailey Castillo and Kendra Morgan. Haugh also could see playing time on defense.
Castillo was a defender last season, and Morgan and Morrison are first-year varsity players.
Three other attackers have returned in junior Alyssa Combs and sophomores Lauren Nobile and Jenny Spragg.
Also vying for time are juniors Taylor Collet (attacker), Jenn Peddicord (midfielder/def-ender) and Starr Perlman (midfielder), sophomores Olivia Kamer (midfielder/defender) and Katie Sarson (midfielder) and freshman Sarah Ramsey (midfielder).