Tyler Hennen welcomed four starters back in his first season as Licking Heights High School baseball coach after three seasons as an assistant.

Hennen replaced Jeff Boyer, who stepped down after 36 seasons.

The Hornets fell to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the LCL-Buckeye Division with a 6-3 loss to Newark Catholic on April 5.

“It’s been a decent start because we’ve been competitive in every game, but we are a hit or two away from being 4-2 instead of 2-4,” Hennen said. “Our goal is to contend for the LCL-Buckeye Division title, to host a tournament game and reach at least a (Division I) district semifinal.”

The returning starters are seniors Tyler Barner (P/1B), Killian Brewer (P/CF), T.J. Lako (SS) and Tim Sanford (C/CF/3B).

Last season, Lako batted .297 with 18 RBI and was named honorable mention all-league and Brewer was 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA in 29 2/3 innings.

“Barner and Brewer are pitching options 1A and 1B,” Hennen said. “Brewer has a little bit more velocity and Barner has a little better curveball, but they’re actually about even. The only difference is one is a lefty (Brewer), so matchups and pitching counts will determine a lot of things.”

Lako is batting leadoff with Barner and Brewer in the middle of the lineup. Hennen said Sanford’s versatility will help the Hornets, who began the season with sophomore Brett Weaver (RF) batting second.

Sophomore Chase Lilly (3B) is a good contact hitter, Hennen said.

Softball team has
high expectations

The softball team also has a new coach as Jessica Robertson has replaced Bo Ramsey, who stepped down after five seasons.

The Hornets were 2-5 overall and 0-2 in the LCL-Buckeye before playing Granville on April 7.

Key returnees are seniors Madison Bridger (SS/OF), Jessica Gunter (P), Katie Palombaro (1B) and Cearra Smith (2B) and juniors Carrie Aitken (OF), Emily Meidl (OF/2B), Abi Pack (3B) and Rhianna Weall (C).

Last season, Pack batted .506 with 23 runs scored, 24 RBI, nine doubles and three triples, and Bridger batted .368 with 20 runs, five doubles, three triples and 20 walks in the leadoff spot. Weall hit .328 and Palombaro had two home runs and 22 RBI.

Freshman Kara Gunter (SS/P) is another key player.

“We have a lot of experience and talent and Kara gives us another option at pitcher and has been solid at shortstop,” Robertson said. “We have high expectations. We want to be very strong in the league and position ourselves to get a good seed in the (Division I) district tournament, where we can make some noise as we continue to build this program.”

Boys track team
has ‘solid group’

The boys track and field team has some key returnees as it looks to improve on its last-place finish in the LCL-Buckeye meet last year.

Returnees include seniors Omar Jollah and Griffin Roberts and juniors Nathaniel Amoah and Spencer Schell in sprints, sophomore Dalton Weber in distance and junior Victor Adebayo in hurdles.

Coach Tim O’Cain, in his 19th year, expects sophomore Amari Wright to help in sprints, senior Ethan Stotridge and freshmen Hosie Elias and Garret Miller to add depth in distance and senior Trejen McDougald to help in hurdles.

Sophomore Derek Harper and freshman Jaun Fernandez are expected to lead in middle distance. Senior Garrett Sommerkamp is back to lead the way in throws and will be supported by junior Randy Mbouge and sophomore Cameron Hershey. Freshman Tyson Chiriac will compete in the long jump with Stotridge.

The Hornets’ lone Division I regional qualifier last season was 2016 graduate Jaylen Stokes, who fouled on each attempt in the discus after placing fourth (147 feet, 3 inches) at district. Senior Ja’lan Walker finished eighth in the shot put (42-7 1/4) at district, but he and classmate John Bryant (sprints) did not return this season.

“We haven’t found anyone interested in the high jump or pole vault, which is unusual for us, and unfortunately some guys who could’ve helped us did not return, but sometimes these days, kids have to work and have other commitments,” O’Cain said. “The good news is that we have a solid group that has worked well together and were active in indoor. I think we’re further along than we were at this point last year.”

Myers, Strange should
lead girls track team

The girls track and field team has returned a Division I regional qualifier from last season in senior Chan’lier Myers, who finished eighth in both the 100 meters (12.69 seconds) and 200 (25.66) and ninth in the 400 (59.38).

First-year coach Alyson Wand, who has been girls cross country coach for two years, expects another big season for Myers.

“We have big goals and dreams for Chan’lier,” said Wand, who replaced Zach Grubb, who led the program for four years. “We’d like to see her improve her regional finishes in all of her events and qualify for state in one or two of them as well.

“I also think Kelsey Strange will have a great senior season in the 1,600 and 800. She’s already close to setting the school record in the mile.”

Joining Strange in middle distance is junior Hannah Swisher. Sophomore Emily Swisher and freshman Olivia Crosby are expected to lead the team in distance events and sophomore Maya Boyce should be a key contributor in sprints. Junior Cherokee Bodell will lead the team in throws, with help from sophomore Yaa Boachie and freshman Kimitra Kusi.

Senior Deshae Williams and Boyce will compete in jumps, but the Hornets have no athletes in hurdles or pole vault.

“I believe that this will be a building year as we have many new, young athletes,” Wand said. “Our success will be measured in growth, not just as individuals, but as a team. We are working hard to build a strong foundation.”

Seniors Tessa Kenney (middle distance) and Milan Rankins (hurdles) and junior Saalihah Mumin (sprints) did not return. Last season, Mumin placed sixth in the 400 (1:00.68) at district, while Rankins was league runner-up in the 100 hurdles (15.86).

Boys volleyball team
has five letterwinners

The boys volleyball team has returned five letterwinners but remains a young program.

Patrick Kenney (libero/defensive specialist) and Tanner Werling (middle hitter) are the only seniors.

The other three returning letterwinners are sophomores Ben Hasson (right-side hitter), Kobe Moenter (outside hitter) and Carson Robison (right-side hitter/setter).

“We have a lot of new faces to our team,” said second-year coach Tina Cox, whose team finished 2-7 last season. “Even the three sophomores who are back don’t have a lot of experience. Our focus is to build a stronger program. Building is good, but it takes awhile to get a sturdy foundation.”

Newcomers include juniors Dubois Johns (middle hitter) and Justin Willis (outside hitter), sophomores Daniel Goins (defensive specialist), Bryce Jenkins (middle hitter), Cameron Meyers (defensive specialist), ReaKwon Rogers (middle hitter) and Bryce Thompson (defensive specialist) and freshmen Ja'Ron Barber (right-side hitter/setter) and Tyler Humbert (setter).

The Hornets fell to 1-4 with a 25-23, 25-22, 25-18 loss to Whetstone on April 6.

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek