Pioneers have depth, talent 'all around the field'
Eight months pregnant with her first child, Olentangy Orange High School girls soccer coach Jen Odebrecht knows she won't see the entire season for a team she thinks could be the program's best since its inception in 2008.
Junior goalkeeper Mackenzie Brunke returns after a breakout season in which she helped the Pioneers reach a Division I district final, and senior forward Stephanie Lewis is expected to pace the offense after becoming the program's all-time leading scorer last year.
"This is the most depth and talent we've had since we started," said Odebrecht, the only coach in team history. "We have talent all around the field. So much can happen between now and the end of the fall, but we have a chance to start strong and, if we can play up to the talent we have, we really could have a special season."
Orange finished 10-6-3 overall and 3-1-2 in the OCC-Capital Division a year ago, losing to Dublin Coffman 4-1 in a Division I district final. Lewis' 14 goals gave her 33 for her career entering this season, six ahead of second-place Hana Abu-Kweik, a 2011 graduate.
Brunke started the entire 2012 season as the Pioneers allowed 20 goals in 19 games.
Other top returnees include senior midfielder Emily Burton, who scored twice in a 4-0 win over Westerville North in the opener Aug. 17, senior forward Sophie Level, senior defenders Courtney Lichtenberg and Cori O'Boyle and junior center-midfielder Emily Beaver. Burton and Level are four-year starters.
Beaver, who started as a freshman, is back after missing last season with a knee injury.
The junior class, which Odebrecht said is the largest to come through the program, also includes defenders Diandra Locker, Natalie Miller and Taylor Momburg, forwards Alexis Simon and Abbey Simonds and defender/goalie Gabby Hopkins.
Odebrecht also expects sophomore midfielders Lexie Chafin and Callie Toomajian to contribute.
"I really have no area of concern with this team," said Odebrecht, whose team's OCC-Capital opener is Tuesday, Aug. 27, at home against defending league champion New Albany (6-0). "The back is strong. Our midfielders are extremely quick. Really, it's a question of do we mentally show up every night? I think this could be the best team we've had in six years, but we have to live up to those expectations."
New Braves coach counting on returnees
Nine seniors and 10 letterwinners return for Olentangy, which went 4-2 in the OCC-Capital a year ago and finished 7-6-4 overall with a 2-0 loss to Watterson in a Division I district semifinal.
The returning experience is why first-year coach Megan Kirsten stopped short of saying the team is rebuilding despite losing its goalkeeper and some primary offensive contributors.
"I like their speed and how well they work together," said Kirsten, who succeeded Drew Zellers in April. "I don't want to say this is a trial year, because it's not. I think we have too much talent for that to be the case."
Among Olentangy's losses to graduation were second-team all-district forward Catie Crum and honorable mention all-district goalie Bailey Hatch (65 saves). Payton Naylor, a second-team all-league junior forward who had three goals last year, returns along with honorable mention all-league defender Alana Poff, a junior.
Kirsten, a 2007 Liberty graduate, played for Ashland University and most recently was an assistant coach for the Patriots. A seventh-grade math teacher at Hyatts Middle School, she is the daughter of former Olentangy football coach Ed Terwilliger, who retired in May after 24 seasons.
"I grew up wanting to be a Brave," said Kirsten, whose team opened Aug. 20 at Dublin Jerome.
Olentangy's OCC-Capital opener is Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Big Walnut.
Other returning letterwinners include senior forward/midfielder Bailee Bonanno, senior midfielder/defenders Stephanie Dawson and Morgan Harrison, junior forwards Hayley McCullough and Morgan McCullough, junior midfielder Abbey Schwing and sophomore midfielder Abby Miller.
Senior forward Alli Lowery, a three-year letterwinner, sustained a torn ACL this summer and will miss the season.
Rounding out the roster are senior defenders Bridget Boyle, Amanda Sepion, Caressa Studer and Allison Zahler, senior forward/midfielder Kira Underwood, junior defender Cassidy Marino, junior goalie Alex Russell, junior defen-der/midfielder Lauren Scott, sophomore midfielders Maddy Bull, Stephanie Burzynski and Kaylin Jankowski, sophomore midfielder/defender Marissa Eau Claire, sophomore goalie Kelsey Hill, freshman midfielder Julia Scott and freshman defender Erin Wilt.