Allison Neff has taken over a good situation as first-year coach of the Olentangy High School girls lacrosse team, as two of the top scorers and both goalkeepers have returned from a squad that finished 15-3 overall last season and won the OCC-Ohio Division at 6-0.
"I was the field hockey coach at Olentangy this past season and since the lacrosse position opened up, it made sense for recruitment purposes to coach both," she said. "The Olentangy team is a very accomplished and successful program and to not be a part of it would be a missed opportunity for anyone."
Neff, who replaced three-year coach Chelsea Huguenard, was girls lacrosse coach at Westerville South the past six seasons and played at Ohio State.
After losing to Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown 10-5 in the Division II North/Central Region final last season, the Braves lost seven players to graduation. The graduates included midfielders Christine Campbell (13 goals) and Kate Huter (59 goals, 29 assists) and attacker Mallory Quiggle (37 goals, 31 assists).
The top returning scorers are junior midfielder Katie Stegmann (55 goals, 12 assists) and senior attacker Rachel Dietz (33 goals).
Senior Erin Petrole and junior Madison Barnes will be in goal. Last season, Barnes had 96 saves and a .558 save percentage and Petrole had 72 saves and a .471 save percentage. Petrole has signed to play at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va.
"Both of our goalies are very talented and knowledgeable," Neff said. "Our center, Katie Stegmann, is very effective on the draw and, now that the new rules allow only three midfielders on the center circle, she will play a key role for possession.
"Rachel Dietz leads our offense with aggressive shooting and smart assisting. Senior Chelsea Cousins leads our defense and has played a major role in developing our settled defensive strategies."
The Braves, who will compete in the OCC-Capital this season with Big Walnut, Delaware, New Albany and Orange, opened March 22 by defeating Toledo St. Ursula 17-8. Entering the game, Neff still was working to determine the rest of the positions.
"We have a very developed junior class, including Stevie Jefferis, Mary Tarantine, the McCullough twins (Haley and Morgan), Alex McCafferty and Alexa Heller," she said.
Others returnees include seniors Chelsea Cousins, Kasia Placek and Jessyca Toland.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Madison Bowman, Madison Luse and Kaelynn Wilkes, sophomores Lindsey Brennan, Kendall Coffey, Laura Olivieri, Taylor Ries and Katelyn Rottkamp and freshman Dana Stover.
"We are a young team, but we have a very strong team, which is very rare," Neff said. "The team's lacrosse IQ is so high that we are able to implement several offensive and defensive plays prior to our first scrimmage."
Liberty's new coach familiar to program
Brenna Flynn found her way back home to be the first-year coach at Liberty.
Flynn was a member of Liberty's first graduating class in 2005. She played lacrosse at Olentangy before playing on Liberty's first team in 2004.
"I recently moved back to the Columbus area and my dad told me that he saw an ad in the paper looking for a new Liberty girls lacrosse head coach and I sent my application in about 30 minutes later," said Flynn, who replaced six-year coach Abby Osborn.
"I was there at the very start of it and the possibility of being able to be part of the program again was way too good of an opportunity to pass up."
Flynn played at Robert Morris University and was an assistant at Sewickley (Pa.) for three seasons before moving to Madrid to get her master's degree. She also played on the Madrid Osos club team.
The Patriots finished 11-6 overall last season after losing to Medina 11-6 in the Division I North/Central Region final.
Liberty, which went 4-2 to place third in the OCC-Ohio, now will compete in the OCC-Central with Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, Thomas Worthington and Upper Arlington.
The Patriots, who opened March 25 against Thomas, lost six players from last year to graduation, including four defenders.
"We graduated a lot of our defensive unit, but kept some power players in our midfield and offensive set," Flynn said.
Junior Elise Miller returns in goal, with seniors Ellie Schramm and Mackenzie Wright expected to lead the defense.
Juniors Dani Bursinger and Abbey Gay return to the midfield, with classmates Kelly Fitzgerald, Megan Maitino and Katie Watteraur-Jackson expected to lead the attack.
Other returnees at attacker are senior Gaby Perez and juniors Katie Gallagher and Katie Watteraur-Jackson. Other returnees at midfielder are senior Erin Hedrick and juniors Lexa Nutter and Christina Yamarick. Junior defender Maddie Passarella also returns.
Vying for time at defender are sophomore Morgan Collier and freshman Claire Buckey, while sophomores Micayla Gammon and Taylor Mallory and freshman Hannah Buckey are seeking time at midfielder. Sophomore Maddie Harper is an attacker.
"This is my first season as a head coach and I'm so unbelievably excited to be back where my lacrosse roots are and be with this new group of girls," Flynn said. "I can't believe that 10 years ago I was in their exact same shoes getting ready to start a new lacrosse season.
"The big thing we need to work on is settling down and playing solid offense. Once we get the ball down the field our first look should be for the goal, but if it isn't there we have to settle up and regroup without forcing unfortunate shots."
Orange to have younger roster
After losing 12 players to graduation, Orange will have a much younger roster this season.
"We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we are just working to come together and play as a unit," sixth-year coach Jaime Miller said. "We have some great returnees and a lot of new players that are fired up to be contributors."
The Pioneers finished 10-8 last season, losing to Rocky River Magnificat 17-6 in the second round of the Division I North/Central Region tournament.
Orange finished fourth (3-3) in the OCC-Ohio and now competes in the OCC-Capital.
Among the graduation losses were attacker Grace Smith, who led the team scoring, and goalies Bailey Castillo and Kendra Morgan.
Senior returnees Taylor Collet (attacker), Alyssa Combs (attacker) and Becca Keane (midfielder) should be among the offensive leaders. Other key offensive players are junior attackers Jen Spragg and Lauren Nobile and sophomore midfielder Sarah Ramsey.
"Becca Keane is one of our senior captains and we expect to see a lot of great things from her this year on the field," Miller said. "We're also expecting big things from Alyssa Combs, who returns this year after having to miss last year with an injury.
"I also think Taylor Collett, Lauren Nobile, Sarah Ramsey and Jen Spragg will be leaders on the offense."
Orange opened March 25 against DeSales.
With such an inexperienced roster, Miller said the Pioneers still were working through positions, although she said junior Olivia Kamer and senior Jen Peddicord "will secure the defense."