A year hasn't changed much for the Olentangy Liberty High School boys soccer team.
Despite losing nine starters from last year's Division I state championship team, the Patriots appear to have barely lost a beat. They entered the week at 15-3-1 and once again were the top seed in the district tournament, defeating 12th-seeded St. Charles 1-0 in a district final Oct. 26 at Westerville Central.
But as his team celebrated on the same field on which it clinched last year's district title, coach Rick Collins saw a noticeable difference.
"Last year, (winning district) was expected. Last year, it was state finals or bust," Collins said. "This year, a lot of people expected us to drop off. These guys didn't. Our goal was to win a district final. Once we win that, then we'll see what happens."
Senior forward Taylor Scott scored the only goal of the district final with 16 minutes, 51 seconds to play, as the Patriots won their third consecutive district championship. Liberty, which also was making its sixth consecutive district final appearance, advanced to play Hilliard Bradley in a regional semifinal Oct. 30.
"Donny (Deep, a junior forward) had drawn two defenders. I saw the ball coming out of the air and I knew I was close to the goal, so I put a strike at (St. Charles goalkeeper Josh Zebula)," Scott said. "I saw the goalkeeper on the front line, so I put that through the back of the net."
Liberty advanced to the final with a 6-0 win over visiting and 16th-seeded Pickerington North in a district semifinal Oct. 23. Deep scored two goals to lead the Patriots, who ended North's season for the third consecutive year.
The regional semifinal winner plays Canal Winchester or Dublin Coffman in a regional final at noon Saturday, Nov. 2, at Dublin Jerome. The regional champion plays Beavercreek, Cincinnati Turpin, Mason or West Chester Lakota West in a state semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, at a site to be determined, with the winner advancing to the state final Nov. 9 at Crew Stadium.
Of those teams, Liberty lost to Coffman 1-0 in an OCC-Central Division game Oct. 1.
"Throughout the year, we played some really good teams. I haven't seen a team we feel like we can't beat," Collins said. "We lost nine starters (from 2012) but at the same time, we had a lot of guys coming back with experience. We got the younger guys playing time throughout the season, even if they're not starting. They've been in big games. The guys on this team can step in and play at a high level."
Patriots girls fall in district final
Watterson's Ellie Gantz scored with 1:18 left in the first overtime Oct. 26, sending the sixth-seeded Eagles past the fourth-seeded Liberty girls 1-0 in a Division I district final at Gahanna.
The Patriots, who were seeking the program's first district title, finished 11-3-5 overall and 4-2-1 in the OCC-Central. Junior goalie Miranda Kuhns made six saves.
"I just saw the ball go over Liberty's defenders and I got to it first, got a touch on it and shot it over (Kuhns)," Gantz said.
Liberty advanced to the final with a 1-0 home win over 10th-seeded Hilliard Bradley in a district semifinal Oct. 22. Junior forward Natalie Flahive scored the last of her 20 goals this season.
Flahive also had 10 assists.
Senior midfielder Julia Bruno, a Miami University recruit, had 12 goals and seven assists and junior midfielder Emma Ranalli added four goals and eight assists.
Liberty finished third in the OCC-Central, behind Coffman (6-0-1) and Hilliard Davidson (5-1-1) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (4-3), Marysville (3-3-1), Upper Arlington (2-3-2), Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).
Liberty also defeated visiting and 39th-seeded Logan 9-0 in a second-round district game Oct. 17.
Flahive and Ranalli were first-team all-league. Bruno was on the second team, Kuhns was special mention and junior defender Katie Best was honorable mention.
"They're a good team and good teams find a way to come together when it counts," coach Lisa Saiben said. "We've been on and off here at the end of the season (going 3-3-3 in the final nine games), but we've definitely had a lot of different people step into whatever roles we've asked. We do have a lot of girls who can play multiple positions and give some quality minutes and give our starters some rest. That was awesome for us."
Late run improved Braves boys' fortunes
Six wins in seven games late in the season brought Olentangy's boys to the brink of a district final appearance, but the Braves' run ended with a 2-0 loss at seventh-seeded Canal Winchester in a Division I district semifinal Oct. 23.
Olentangy finished 9-9-1 overall and 4-3 in the OCC-Capital. Canal Winchester, which had scored 53 goals in 17 games before playing Olentangy, got both goals from forward Sebastian Duque in a five-minute span of the second half.
"We knew if we played disciplined defense and broke one and maybe caught (a break) to be honest, we could be successful," Braves coach Matt Weiss said. "It was 0-0 in the first half and we felt confident, but they have a lot of fire power and the longer we went without getting more chances, the fewer chances we had left. There wasn't much we could have done about that."
Olentangy was 3-7-1 after a 2-1 loss to Thomas on Sept. 26. The Braves, whose only regular-season loss in their late surge was to Liberty, 4-1 on Oct. 12, were seeded 21st in the district tournament. They defeated visiting and 23rd-seeded Marysville 4-0 on Oct. 16 before upsetting 11th-seeded Orange on the road 1-0 on Oct. 19.
Olentangy was fourth in the OCC-Capital, behind New Albany (6-0-1), Worthington Kilbourne (5-0-2) and Orange (5-1-1) and ahead of Big Walnut (3-4), Delaware (2-5), Mount Vernon (1-6) and Franklin Heights (0-7).
First-team all-league and all-district senior forward Logan Schwing shared the team lead in scoring with junior midfielder Jon Perger, with both having six goals. Senior midfielder Taylor Jahr added four.
Senior goalkeeper Adam Miller was first-team all-league. Perger was on the second team, senior forward Jon Bechtol was special mention and junior defender Adam Lee was honorable mention.
Early exit halts Pioneers' progress
Orange's boys finished 9-7-1 overall and 5-1-1 in the OCC-Capital in what coach Scott Bryant considered a season full of transition.
After early season struggles, the Pioneers hit their stride to upset then-top-ranked Beavercreek 2-0 on Sept. 21 and finish third in the OCC-Capital in spite of six underclassmen starting by the end of the year.
"This season was like a rollercoaster, very up and down," Bryant said. "The beginning of the year was rough, as we were trying to find our way with a very inexperienced group. We had a whole new back line and goalkeeper situation we were working through, all while still trying to find that elusive goal scorer. Also during this time we were playing some very tough teams. We made some tactical and personnel changes and moved some guys around after (a 2-1) loss at Marysville (on Sept. 12), and that's when things began to click."
Bryant said a handful of personnel moves kick-started a 5-1-2 run to end the season. He moved junior Luke Gabbert and senior Jordan Vinicky from the midfield to defense and sophomore Isaac Arefi and junior Brett Schutte from defense to the midfield.
Orange took a first-round bye in the district tournament before losing to Olentangy.
Senior midfielder Cory Dietz and senior defender Brandon Simon were first-team all-league. Gabbert was on the second team, junior forward/midfielder Connor Blakely was special mention and senior defender James Sturmi was honorable mention.
Dietz, who had five goals and an assist, also was second-team all-district.
"He was the playmaker and link between our back line and our offense," Bryant said. "He also was a ball winner and crusher as a defensive presence."
Blakely had seven goals and an assist, and sophomore midfielder Zach English added seven goals.
Braves girls lose district semifinal
Olentangy's girls season ended with a 2-0 loss at third-seeded Davidson in a Division I district semifinal Oct. 22.
Sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Hill made 12 saves against the Wildcats, who scored both their goals in the second half. Olentangy, which was seeded 19th, finished 6-9-3.