With three players who were 6-foot-8 and two who were 6-4 last season, the Olentangy Liberty High School boys volleyball team was able to dominate most opponents at the net.
The Patriots, who finished 17-4 overall and won the OCC-Cardinal Division title a year ago, won't have that size advantage this season, however, as their tallest player with varsity experience is 6-3 junior outside hitter Tyler Menges.
Menges, who is the team's lone returning starter, had a program-record 181 digs with 35 aces and 167 kills last season and was named special mention all-league and honorable mention all-region.
Liberty, which opened with a 25-20, 25-23, 25-23 OCC-Cardinal win over Westerville South on April 1, also returns junior setter Tyler Kready and sophomore setter Tommy Fallon, although neither was a starter a year ago.
"We were able to hit over a lot of teams last year, but we're a lot shorter this year so we're going to have to find other ways to score and defend instead of just relying on our height," ninth-year coach Dave Hale said. "We're going to have to do a better job of placing the ball and getting into the right positions on both offense and defense."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kishan Bhungalia (outside hitter), Max Sims (middle hitter), David Ward (middle hitter) and Connor Whitehurst (outside hitter) and juniors Hunter Kaufman (defensive specialist), Michael Linse (libero), Matt Nakasian (outside hitter), Jason Shirey (outside hitter) and Chadd Taura (middle hitter).
Among the seven players from a year ago who graduated were 6-6 opposite hitter/setter Alec Charbonneau and 6-8 middle hitters Nick Archer and Tyler Shirey.
Last season, Charbonneau set program records for aces (49) and assists (474) and was honorable mention all-state, first-team all-region and OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year. He is the program's career leader in aces (93) and assists (760).
Archer had 119 kills and 56 blocks in 14 matches a year ago and was first-team all-league and second-team all-region and is the program's career leader in kills (364). Shirey had 62 blocks and was honorable mention all-league and is the program's career leader in blocks (210).
Last year, Liberty set single-season program records for wins, aces (166), digs (763) and kills (713) and went 10-0 in the OCC-Cardinal to win its first league title since 2009 and its first outright league title.
Westerville North and Dublin Scioto tied for second at 7-3, followed by Dublin Jerome (3-7), Westerville South (3-7) and Westerville Central (0-10). Worthington Kilbourne has joined the OCC-Cardinal after being in the OCC-Ohio last year.
Seeded fifth in the East Region tournament a year ago, Liberty defeated Westerville Central 25-11, 25-15, 25-14 in its postseason opener and beat seventh-seeded Westerville North 25-21, 25-19, 25-16 in a semifinal before losing to top-seeded Hilliard Darby 25-23, 25-16, 25-17 in a final.
"We're inexperienced overall at the varsity level, but most of these guys played for a very successful (junior varsity) team last year and they're used to winning," Hale said. "Last year, our j.v. guys played really well together. They were smart and they anticipated where the ball was going and got in a good position. They will need to follow that same formula to be successful at the varsity level this year."
Braves coach excited about team's potential
Olentangy is in its first season and is competing in the OCC-Capital along with Delaware, Gahanna, Mount Vernon, Pickerington Central and Pickerington North.
The Braves opened March 30 with a 25-15, 23-25, 25-12, 25-15 win over Whetstone and began league play April 2 at Pickerington North.
Expected to play key roles are seniors Trey Augustine (opposite hitter), Adam Green (libero), Kyle Hardin (opposite hitter), Andrew Horstman (middle hitter) and Joe Morycz (outside hitter) and juniors Austin Bruening (setter), Taylor Jahr (middle hitter) and Justin Moeller (outside hitter).
Also on the team are seniors Erik Brandt (defensive specialist), Nathan Neilson (defensive specialist), Alex Saunders (defensive specialist) and Jake Wrubble (defensive specialist), juniors Jon Bechtol (middle hitter) and Michael Delaney (outside hitter) and sophomore Tyler Hardin (defensive specialist).
"We had 33 kids sign up, which is astounding for a first-year program," coach Travis Weitthoff said. "We have enough kids for three teams, which some schools are struggling to put together a j.v. team. I was shocked by our talent and numbers.
"I think we're going to be competitive this year. The kids are like sponges. They pick up everything quickly, so our goal is to maximize their growth and make sure they reach their potential."