The Olentangy Liberty High School girls track and field team began the 2013 season by winning its first five invitationals and ended it with a historic finish as now-junior Claire Wiles became the first Patriots athlete to score in a running event in the Division I state meet.
With Wiles leading a group of returnees that also includes standout seniors Katy McFarland, Ebony Nelson and Alena Southwick, fourth-year coach James Dingus hopes this year's team will be even deeper and more successful.
"There's more of a different feel than in previous years," Dingus said. "I look at our numbers and we're younger, but I think we're a deep team across the board. I think we're kind of reloading."
Wiles was fifth at state in the 1,600 meters (5 minutes, 3.53 seconds) last year, and followed that up in cross country by winning a district championship, placing fourth at regional and finishing 12th at state.
"She looks as strong as ever," Dingus said of Wiles. "Our whole distance unit should be strong."
Liberty opened April 8 at Worthington Kilbourne.
Other top returnees include sophomore Claire Linn, who with Wiles and 2013 graduates Sarah Miller and Kylie Spring helped the 3,200 relay to 15th at state. Nelson was third in the discus at district and 15th at regional. Southwick was OCC-Central Division champion in the 100 hurdles -- setting a program-record of 15.55 seconds in the preliminaries -- and ran on the winning 400 relay, and sophomore Haley Pickelheimer was league champion in the 300 hurdles.
According to Dingus, other contributors will include seniors Jessica Martz (distance), McFarland (high jump, sprints) and Taylor Melick (throws), juniors Bobbi Hines (throws), Autumn Lowder (long jump) and Stephanie Paul (distance), sophomores Lauren Cobb (pole vault), Olivia Collignon (pole vault), Angela Kile (throws) and Caitlin McConaghy (pole vault) and freshmen Mara Johnson (hurdles, sprints), Ali Matta (distance), Sam Silber (hurdles, sprints) and Abby Summers (sprints).
"Last year, we were exceptionally senior-heavy," Dingus said. "Now, those underclassmen are going to have to step up. It'll be good for us to get some competition under our belts. At the end of the day, I think we're going to be a strong, well-rounded team."
Bauman, Ginter return for Braves
Olentangy's season began April 9 at home against Big Walnut. The Braves' first championship meet is more than a month away, but first-year coach Jen Sosa said her team is keeping postseason goals front and center.
Olentangy returns two state qualifiers from a year ago in Georgia Tech signee Nicey Bauman, who was second in the 300 hurdles (43.56) and third in the 100 hurdles (14.97), and junior Emily Ginter, who was 10th in the high jump (5 feet, 2 inches). Ginter was seventh in the same event at state as a freshman.
Bauman won OCC-Capital, district and regional championships in the 300 hurdles, and was a district champion and regional runner-up in the 100 hurdles. She was second in both the 60 hurdles (8.71) and 200 (25.6) in the Division I state indoor meet March 8 at the University of Akron.
According to Sosa, Bauman also will compete in the 200, 400 and 1,600 relay this season.
"Many of our athletes have already set their sights on postseason competition," Sosa said. "Together as a team, I think we have great potential. The girls expressed to me back in the fall that they wanted to create a positive, team-oriented environment this season, which I think will lead to a fun and successful spring."
Ginter, who was third in the high jump at regional last year, will compete in middle-distance events.
According to Sosa, other top athletes will include seniors McKenna Martin (throws) and Elizabeth Weinstein (throws), juniors Claire Hardesty (distance), Cameron Householder (distance), Emma Laffey (sprints), Alana Poff (pole vault) and Rachel Truman (sprints) and sophomores Maddy Bull (sprints), Emma Sepion (middle distance), Sarah Speck (distance) and Kendall Supinger (middle distance)
The Braves have 75 athletes this year.
Sosa, a native of Homer, N.Y., and former runner at Brandeis University, replaced Candun Griffin, who coached the Braves for one season. Sosa coached Orange's girls cross country team last fall and was girls track coach at Berkshire Middle School last year.
"We are very excited," she said. "We have some great leaders and talented athletes returning from (last year) as well as many very promising newcomers."
New Pioneers coach expects balanced effort
Orange lost its top athlete from 2013 in Katelyn Daniels, who swept the Division I discus and shot put state championships for the second consecutive year. First-year coach Adam Walters is looking to his middle-distance runners and a promising group of freshmen to score points this season.
According to Walters, senior Udoka Durunna could be the Pioneers' most prominent contributor this year. She was fourth in the high jump at district and seventh at regional last season.
Daniels now is competing at Michigan State.
"We're going to have balance," Walters said. "Udoka brings back a lot of experience. ... She should consistently earn us points."
Walters replaced Ingrid Simpson, who now is an assistant coach for Ohio Dominican's cross country and track and field programs. Walters also is Orange's boys cross country coach.
According to Walters, other top contributors will include seniors Stephanie Lewis (sprints), Allison Priest (hurdles), Alana Stillion (distance) and Adie Tyler (pole vault) and juniors Thelma Agyekum (sprints, middle distance), Anna Dove (sprints, middle distance) and Mikaela Lyons (sprints, long jump).
Walters did not discount possible contributions from the program's 20 freshmen, including Tiere Richardson, who was 13th in the triple jump (31-2 1/2) in the indoor state meet last month.
Richardson's brother, 2013 Orange graduate Triston Richardson, was 14th in the pole vault at state last year.
"I'm excited about that class," Walters said. "They're talented and they have a shot at scoring us some points and providing some depth. We're going to shoot for being in the top three in the OCC (-Capital) and at the county meet (the Delaware County Elite 8 on May 8 at Orange). I feel good about what we have the potential to do."
Orange opened April 5 with a fifth-place finish (70) in the 15-team Newark Invitational behind champion Westerville Central (92.83). Agyekum won the 100 (13.05) and helped the 400 relay to first (51.41) with Durunna, Lyons and Richardson, and Durunna was third in the high jump (5-0).
The 800 relay was second (1:52.43) with four freshmen -- Angel Frye, Bailey Hurley, Brynna Johnson and Richardson.