The Olentangy Orange High School girls tennis team nearly qualified both of its doubles teams to the Division I state tournament last season.
In their only season to compete together, sisters Anna Sanford and Alle Sanford captured a state title with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Alexa Abele and Maggie Skwara of Cincinnati Sycamore.
Jessica Phelps and Madison Wolfe fell just short, as they lost 6-4, 7-6 to New Albany's Jane Haffer and Alex Cash in a state-qualifying match during the district tournament.
However, just one of the four returned this season. Anna Sanford and Wolfe both graduated, with Sanford playing at Ohio State. Alle Sanford, a sophomore, decided not to compete at Orange. Phelps is a senior and one of three returning letterwinners.
"(Phelps) will likely see a lot of play at first singles. She has the potential to be a district or state qualifier," said second-year coach Matt Rutherford, whose team opens Tuesday, Aug. 19, with an OCC-Capital Division match against visiting New Albany.
Also returning are senior Madison Riley and junior Sruti Chigurupati.
"Madison Riley is a very strong team player that brings a solid doubles and singles game that has improved a lot since going out early last season with an injury," Rutherford said.
Also competing for singles positions are junior Valarie Vassiliev and sophomore Mary Damko. Completing the roster are juniors Kat Dahs and Sundari Vudatala and sophomore Izzy Prisluski.
"Valarie Vassiliev is a new member of the team that has taken a hiatus from tennis and once back in form will likely play somewhere in the singles lineup," Rutherford said. "Alle Sanford will not return because she is focusing on international and pro tournaments. But my goal for this group is to still have a winning record and qualify two or three players for the district tournament.
"Finding solid doubles combinations will be vital to our success. Also, our singles players will have to find confidence to compete with the top teams in central Ohio, persevere through adversity and stay positive. We will also need to improve our fitness a bit to battle through the heat and long three-set matches."
The Pioneers went 12-5 overall last season and finished second (37 points, 6-1) in the OCC-Capital behind New Albany (41, 7-0).
In the second-place OCC tournament, Orange won (18) ahead of Dublin Coffman (17), Gahanna (5) and Dublin Scioto (4).
Brdicka, Jones to lead Braves
Junior Bri Brdicka leads four returning letterwinners for Olentangy.
She was a district qualifier last season, losing to Upper Arlington's Olivia Kompa 6-0, 6-2 in the first round.
"Bri Brdicka has been our No. 1 singles player for the past two years and I'm thrilled to have her at the top of our singles lineup for a third year," fourth-year coach Jeff Luxenburger said. "She's spent much of her offseason playing tournaments and improving her mental game, which will serve to make her even more of a threat. She has always been an outstanding player, but it has been fantastic to see how she has built on and diversified her strokes and strategy."
Seniors Elyssa Ackerman, Namrata Arya and Madison Luse also return for the Braves, who open Tuesday, Aug. 19, with an OCC-Capital match at Big Walnut.
Others vying for positions are seniors Hannah Baney, Olivia Gornichec and Mackenzie Hammons, sophomore Alyssa Shakley and freshman Kathleen Jones.
"Kathleen Jones is a freshman and I've been excited to have her join the team for several years now, as she is ranked in the state and the Midwest and is an absolute powerhouse," Luxenburger said. "She spent most of her summer traveling to play tournaments with her dad and her exposure to so many terrific statewide and nationally ranked opponents is evident with every shot she hits."
The Braves finished 10-9 overall last season and placed third (28, 5-2) in the OCC-Capital.
They also placed third (6) in the third-place OCC tournament, behind Liberty (13) and Reynoldsburg (7) and ahead of Westerville Central (4).
"We're lucky to have a large group of strong returning players, so we'll spend a lot of time finding the right combinations among these very talented girls," Luxenburger said. "We're focusing on maximizing the depth that we have on our team, especially in doubles, and also on staying strong and healthy.
"I'm looking forward to some great challenges and matchups against our tough conference opponents, including New Albany and Olentangy Orange, and I think we'll be near the top of the OCC-Capital once again."
New Liberty coach excited about season
New coach Meaghan Colville inherited a complete postseason roster at Liberty, which opens Thursday, Aug. 14, against visiting Gahanna.
"The key to our success will be our belief that we can compete with anyone in the state," Colville said. "All the pieces are in place for us to make our move and the girls are ready to go. No one will outwork or out-compete Olentangy Liberty this season.
"We will be the underdogs because Liberty has not traditionally had a lot of success in tennis, but as I said, all the pieces are in place."
Liberty had five players advance to last year's district tournament, including junior Alexia Meyer, who reached a state-qualifying singles match before losing to Watterson's Lauren Ghidotti 6-2, 6-3.
"Alexia Meyer has proven to be a complete No. 1 singles player," Colville said. "She's confident and composed. She has competed at the national level and knows how to win. Her game continues to improve."
In doubles, Liberty's two entries -- sophomore Sidney Reineke and junior Avivah Wang and junior Lizzie Radkiewicz and senior Sonia Chhabria -- lost in the first round at district.
Also in the sectional lineup were junior Anna Delaney and senior Rachel Carline.
"Anna Delaney brings the energy to our team," Colville said. "Whether competing in singles or doubles, her knowledge, passion and love for the game are clear. She will be a leader, both on and off the court.
"Sidney Reineke had tremendous success as the lone varsity freshman last season. Now that she has some experience under her belt, I have no doubt that her game will continue to thrive. I'm looking for her to play an even bigger role in our singles lineup."
The Patriots also have added senior Sydney Setnar, who competed at New Albany last season.
"Sydney Setnar is a game-changer," Colville said. "She saw a lot of success at the No. 1 doubles position at New Albany and we expect more of the same here at Liberty."
Rounding out the roster are sophomores Cecelia Ko, Makayla Schaefer and Sahana Seth and freshman Cellini Ko, who is vying for a singles position.
Last season, Liberty finished 10-8 overall and third (30, 5-2) in the OCC-Central behind Upper Arlington (39, 7-0) and Dublin Coffman (34, 6-1). Its league opener is Tuesday, Aug. 19, at Central Crossing.
Aug. 14 -- vs. Gahanna
Aug. 16 -- Columbus School for Girls Doubles Davis Cup
Aug. 18 -- at Chillicothe
*Aug. 19 -- at Central Crossing
Aug. 21 -- at Dublin Scioto
Aug. 22 -- vs. Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit
Aug. 23 -- Watterson Memorial Tournament
*Aug. 26 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*Aug. 28 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Marysville
*Sept. 4 -- at Thomas Worthington
*Sept. 9 -- at Westland
Sept. 10 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
*Sept. 11 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 15 -- at Mason
Sept. 16 -- vs. Olentangy
Sept. 18 -- vs. Watterson
Sept. 20 -- OCC tournament at TBA
Sept. 22 -- at Delaware
Sept. 24 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 29 -- vs. Columbus School for Girls
Sept. 30 -- at Pickerington Central
*Aug. 19 -- at Big Walnut
Aug. 20 -- at Dublin Jerome
*Aug. 26 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*Aug. 28 -- at Mount Vernon
*Sept. 2 -- at Franklin Heights
Sept. 3 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 9 -- at New Albany
Sept. 10 -- vs. Hartley
*Sept. 11 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 15 -- at Pickerington North
Sept. 16 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*Sept. 17 -- vs. Delaware
Sept. 20 -- OCC tournament at TBA
Sept. 23 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 24 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 25 -- at Hilliard Bradley
*Aug. 19 -- vs. New Albany
Aug. 20 -- vs. DeSales
Aug. 21 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*Aug. 26 -- at Olentangy
Aug. 27 -- at Watterson
*Aug. 28 -- at Big Walnut
*Sept. 2 -- at Mount Vernon
Sept. 3 -- vs. Pickerington North
*Sept. 4 -- Worthington Kilbourne
*Sept. 9 -- vs. Delaware
*Sept 11 -- at Franklin Heights
Sept. 17 -- at Wellington
Sept. 18 -- vs. Westerville Central
Sept. 23 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
Sept. 20 -- OCC tournament at TBA
Sept. 24 -- at Olentangy Liberty
Sept. 30 -- vs. Worthington Christian