Olentangy Orange High School bowling coach John Sheets figured his boys team was going to have a down season after it lost its top two athletes from a year ago to graduation in Garrett Moore and Daniel Vandewater.
Fortunately for Sheets, his assumption appears to have been wrong, as the Pioneers opened with three consecutive victories.
Orange, which finished 10-5 overall last season, opened Dec. 2 with a 2,012-1,889 victory over Liberty in a match that counted toward the standings in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-North Division and the OCC-Capital.
The Pioneers also beat Westerville North 2,210-1,572 on Dec. 9 and Thomas Worthington 2,093-2,075 on Dec. 10 in COHSBC-North matches.
"When we lost our top two bowlers I thought we'd be lucky to go .500 this year," Sheets said. "But we picked up a guy who didn't bowl for us last year and the rest of our guys got stronger, and now I think we're actually stronger top to bottom than we were last year."
After a one-season hiatus from the team, junior Tyler Shields has returned to become the Pioneers' No. 1 bowler.
Rounding out the lineup are seniors and twins Jamie and Jordy Norz, juniors Conner Harmon, Ben Kunz and Stephen Spezzano and sophomore Tyler Vandewater.
"Tyler Shields is a two-handed bowler and Tyler Vandewater and Stephen Spezzano have gotten a lot better since switching to a two-handed style this year," Sheets said.
Sheets said his team's two major goals are to defend its OCC-Capital title and to make it back to district.
Last season, Orange tied Hilliard Davidson atop the OCC-Capital at 4-1, followed by Olentangy (3-2), Hilliard Darby (2-3), Hilliard Bradley (2-3) and Liberty (0-5).
Orange placed fourth at sectional and 14th at district.
"Since we have a stronger team this year I think we can win the OCC by ourselves instead of splitting it again," Sheets said. "I'm also confident our guys will be strong enough to make it to the second round of the (postseason)."
The girls team lost its first three matches to start 0-3 in the COHSBC-North and 0-1 in the OCC-Capital.
The Pioneers' top scorer has returned in junior Djahne Stroud, who rolled a team-high 293 in two games in a 1,574-1,340 loss to Liberty on Dec. 2.
Stroud was an individual district qualifier last season, when the Pioneers finished 1-4 in the OCC-Capital behind Bradley (4-1), Liberty (3-2), Davidson (3-2), Olentangy (2-3) and Darby (2-3).
Rounding out the roster are juniors Kelsey Krumm and Brooklyn Mayle, sophomore Raelynn Bishop and freshmen Hailey Huffman and Sarahkate Palmor.
Palmor rolled a team-high 299 in two games in a 1,401-1,119 loss to Westerville North on Dec. 9.
"Djahne brings good experience and we picked up a freshman (Palmor) who has been bowling awhile," Sheets said.
"We're probably going to struggle again, but we're continuing to improve our scores and I could see us winning one or two matches before the season is over."
Braves out to hot start
Olentangy's girls team beat Liberty 1,762-1,610 on Dec. 10 to improve to 4-0 overall, 3-0 in the COHSBC-North and 2-0 in the OCC-Capital entering a COHSBC-North match against Big Walnut on Dec. 17.
Returning to lead the Braves are seniors Kaitlyn Kelley, Samantha Rinehart, Stephanie Sturms and Lizzie Weisenstein, junior Emily Brehm and sophomore Abby Matias.
Sophomore Courtney Farkas and freshman Stephanie Shurman complete the roster.
"The strength of this year's team is a great core group of seniors led by Kaitlyn Kelley," coach Jim Brehm said. "They all really like each other and have a blast bowling, and so far it equates to early success.
"My biggest surprise has been the performance of Lizzie Weisenstein. She has been knocking the pins down with regularity and having a great time doing it."
The boys team lost to Liberty 2,264-1,971 on Dec. 10 to drop to 1-1 in the OCC-Capital and beat Worthington Christian 2,111-1,741 on Dec. 16 to move to 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the COHSBC-North before facing Big Walnut on Dec. 17.
Leading the Braves are senior Mathew Walker, juniors Patrick Balling, Brandon Bice and Jordan Ustaszewski and sophomores Andrew Foust and Dominic Spain.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Connor Kruse, Nick Rose and Joe Waldron, sophomore David Miller and freshmen Becky Friend and Spencer Kruse. Friend opted to compete for the boys team instead of the girls team this season.
"The boys are a lot stronger physically this year. They have muscles on top of muscles," coach Brehm said. "The strength of the team is that on any given day, any one of the boys could throw a 250. The skill level has improved greatly. Consistency is always a consideration when you talk about bowling, and our kids are no different in that respect.
"Some of our early scores have been extremely high and they seem to take turns doing it. In our first four matches we had a different medalist each time."
Shiner back to lead Patriots
Liberty's boys team beat Worthington Kilbourne 2,254-1,936 on Dec. 13 to improve to 3-2 overall and 2-2 in the COHSBC-North before facing Westerville South on Dec. 17. The Patriots are 1-1 in the OCC-Capital.
Junior Mike Shiner competed at district last season and has returned to lead the Patriots with seniors Austin Limbert and David Valz and junior Spencer Dirrig.
Rounding out the lineup are freshmen Austin Abel and Jack Baggs.
"We're competing better than we have the past two years," Shiner said. "I'm staying around a 200 to 205 average and the rest of our guys have improved. Our freshmen are doing really well, too."
The girls team defeated Kilbourne 1,361-1,347 on Dec. 13 to improve to 2-3 overall and 2-2 in the COHSBC-North before facing Westerville South on Dec. 17. The Patriots are 1-1 in the OCC-Capital.
Leading the Patriots are juniors Nicole Masajlo and Carly Schoonover. Also competing are sophomores Shannon Kelly and Sydney Paris.
"Most of our girls are still learning the sport, so it's going to be a development season," coach Linda Ridolfo said.
Nov. 26 -- Ready at Sawmill Lanes
#*Dec. 2 -- Orange at Sawmill Lanes
*Dec. 5 -- Westerville Central at Sawmill Lanes
#*Dec. 10 -- Olentangy at Sawmill Lanes
*Dec. 13 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Delaware Lanes
*Dec. 17 -- Westerville South at Sawmill Lanes
*Dec. 18 -- Gahanna at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 7 -- Thomas Worthington at Sawmill Lanes
#*Jan. 8 -- Hilliard Darby at Ten Pin Alley
*Jan. 14 -- Big Walnut at Capri Lanes
#*Jan. 16 -- Hilliard Bradley at Sawmill Lanes
*Jan. 21 -- Worthington Christian at Sawmill Lanes
#*Jan.22 -- Hilliard Davidson at Ten Pin Alley
*Jan. 29 -- Westerville North at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
Feb. 6 -- Olentangy and Orange at Sawmill Lanes
Nov. 25 -- Lexington at Delaware Lanes
#*Dec. 3 -- Hilliard Davidson at Ten Pin Alley
*Dec. 9 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Delaware Lanes
#*Dec. 10 -- Olentangy Liberty at Sawmill Lanes
*Dec. 16 -- Worthington Christian at Delaware Lanes
*Dec. 17 -- Big Walnut at Delaware Lanes
#*Jan. 6 -- Orange at Delaware Lanes
*Jan. 10 -- Westerville Central at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
Jan. 17 -- Eastmoor Academy at Eastland Lanes
#*Jan. 21 -- Hilliard Bradley at Delaware Lanes
*Jan. 22 -- Gahanna at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 24 -- Westerville North at Delaware Lanes
#*Jan. 28 -- Hilliard Darby at Ten Pin Alley
*Jan. 30 -- Westerville South at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
Feb. 6 -- Orange and Liberty at Sawmill Lanes
#*Dec. 2 -- Liberty at Sawmill Lanes
*Dec. 9 -- Westerville North at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Dec. 10 -- Thomas Worthington at Capri Lanes
#*Dec. 17 -- Hilliard Davidson at Capri Lanes
#*Dec. 18 -- Hilliard Darby at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 19 -- Worthington Christian at Capri Lanes
#*Jan. 6 -- Olentangy at Delaware Lanes
#*Jan. 9 -- Hilliard Bradley at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
*Jan. 14 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 17 -- Westerville Central at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 23 -- Westerville South at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 29 -- Gahanna at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 31 -- Big Walnut at Capri Lanes
Feb. 6 -- Olentangy and Liberty at Sawmill Lanes