Maximus Stienecker gets a kick out of the reaction he often receives when he steps onto the field at left guard or inside linebacker for the Hartley High School football team.

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Stienecker quickly silences all opponents who might think they can man-handle the undersized, two-way senior.

"Last year (when I played) center (weighing 175 pounds), almost every game the nose guard or (defensive tackle) would start laughing, or they'd say something like, 'Are you the center?' " Stienecker said. "I kind of use it to my advantage in some things like leverage, and mentally you kind of have a chip on your shoulder because people don't think you're as good."

Stienecker has played the disrespected card perfectly this fall.

Moved from center to left guard in the offseason to replace a first-team all-state selection in 2017 graduate Thomas Casimir, Stienecker and his fellow offensive linemen had helped the Hawks average 331 yards rushing through eight games.

Hartley improved to 8-1 overall with a 24-19 win over North Canton Hoover on Oct. 20 as Elijah Carter rushed for 120 yards and one touchdown and Alexander Blackmon ran for two scores. The Hawks are 2-0 in the CCL and will look to wrap up the league championship and a home playoff berth in Division III, Region 11 when they play host to St. Charles on Friday, Oct. 27.

Having Stienecker at such an important spot on the line never has been an issue despite his lack of size.

"We don't even look at (a player's size)," coach Brad Burchfield said. "It's about how much you're willing to care about your team. He's very athletic and very tough."

Stienecker sees an offensive line that has matured significantly since Hartley lost to Toledo Central Catholic 35-16 in its season opener Aug. 25 when he was the only player with extensive experience.

"It's all about technique and leverage, just bear-crawling and getting low," Stienecker said. "These big guys (on opposing defenses) hate bear-crawling. Being a lineman at Hartley is awesome because ... the game's all in your hands, and that's what you want as a lineman."

Although Stienecker attended Duquesne University's football camp as a running back, he's never been a running back for Hartley and isn't sure that he'll play football collegiately.

His father, Scott, played baseball at Bowling Green but later transferred to Ohio State where he got involved in promoting concerts at the university.

Scott Stienecker eventually became president and CEO of PromoWest Productions.

The family now resides in Blacklick, and the younger Stienecker transferred from the Gahanna school district to St. Matthew School in the Catholic Diocese as an eighth-grader.

Around that time, he met DeSales senior linebacker Ty Van Fossen, and the two have remained close friends despite attending different high schools.

Stienecker and Van Fossen visited the University of Cincinnati together during the offseason. Van Fossen has since committed to play for Bearcats coach Luke Fickell, a DeSales graduate.

"(Cincinnati) actually offered me an assistant coaching job to come there as a student coach, to be a graduate assistant, eventually," Stienecker said.

Stienecker has been a defensive standout since late last season. He had 42 tackles and three tackles for loss through eight games this season.

After not playing much defense during last year's regular season, Stienecker started at linebacker in a 14-7 win over Kettering Alter in a Division IV state semifinal and made five tackles.

In Hartley's 3-5 alignment, he and senior James Reese III line up at inside linebacker, with senior Anthony Blackmon at middle linebacker.

Hartley allowed an average of just 8.7 points in its first seven wins this season.

"I do feel undersized (at linebacker), but it's technique," Stienecker said. "I don't think I tackle traditionally. ... I just love the culture here."

Volleyball team reaches district semi

The 11th-seeded girls volleyball team played fifth-seeded Pickerington North in a Division I district semifinal Oct. 24 at Franklin Heights.

The winner plays fourth-seeded Olentangy Orange or 19th-seeded Lancaster in a district final at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at Franklin Heights. The district champion plays Dublin Scioto, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Darby or Pickerington Central in a regional semifinal at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at Worthington Kilbourne.

Hartley opened the tournament with a 25-2, 25-5, 25-7 win over 49th-seeded Mifflin on Oct. 16 and beat 43rd-seeded Briggs 25-10, 25-2, 25-9 in the second round Oct. 18 to improve to 18-6.

Hartley was the Division II state runner-up last season.

Kitsmiller qualifies for regional meet

Freshman Ellie Kitsmiller will represent the girls cross country team in the Division II regional meet Saturday, Oct. 28, at Pickerington North.

Kitsmiller placed 19th of 111 runners in 20 minutes, 24.85 seconds in the district meet Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial, where the top five teams and top 20 runners qualified for regional.

The Hawks finished seventh (185 points) of 14 teams, behind champion Bexley (79).

Also scoring for Hartley at district were Anna Woods (41st, 21:58.19), Pailyn Groene (43rd, 22:02.05), Kate Sheely (45th, 22:03.58) and Bailee Zacovic (46th, 22:06.67).

The boys team finished eighth (181) in the 12-team district 2 meet, behind champion Heath (50), as the top four teams and top 16 runners advanced.

Evan Vautour led the Hawks by placing 26th (17:42.17) of 88 runners, followed by Luke Brandewie (31st, 17:49.18), Chase Rawlins (37th, 18:02.2) and Chase Orndoff (39th, 18:03.73).

At regional, the top 24 runners advance to the state meet Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway.

Girls soccer team upsets Pioneers

The seventh-seeded girls soccer team upset third-seeded Jonathan Alder 1-0 on Oct. 19 in the second round of the Division II district tournament.

Helena Donaghy scored with 33 minutes remaining and goalkeeper Sophia Cegledy made five saves for the Hawks, who were 7-10-1 before playing second-seeded Big Walnut in a district semifinal Oct. 24.

The Hawks entered that contest having won three of their previous four games, including a 3-0 victory over 11th-seeded London in a first-round home tournament game Oct. 16.

The semifinal winner plays top-seeded Granville or eighth-seeded Bexley in a district final Saturday, Oct. 28, at a neutral site to be announced.

The district champion plays in a regional semifinal on a date and at a site to be announced.

Field hockey team falls to Blue Aces

After losing 2-1 to Granville on Sept. 14, the field hockey team came up just short again in a rematch with the Blue Aces in the first round of the district tournament.

The 14th-seeded Hawks lost to third-seeded Granville 1-0 on Oct. 18 to finish 2-12-3 overall.

"We've seen a lot of improvement," coach Bridget Ebenhack said. "We've been able to stay positive and still work hard to get better every day."

Hartley, which lost four games by 2-1 scores, placed eighth in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League-East Division at 1-6-1, behind Granville (8-0), Columbus Academy (7-1), Watterson (6-2), Kilbourne (5-3), Bexley (4-4), New Albany (2-5-1) and Columbus School for Girls (1-5-2) and ahead of Lancaster (0-8).

The Hawks posted wins over Lancaster (5-0 on Aug. 24) and Coffman (5-0 on Oct. 2).

Senior Emily Timm (forward/midfielder) was the Hawks' leading scorer with six goals and four assists. Luci Kanowsky (mid-fielder/defender) and Nancy Pellegrino (midfielder/forward) were other key seniors, according to Ebenhack.

Junior Sienna Caridi (defender) and sophomore Audrey Ryan (forward) should lead a returning group that also should include juniors Jordan Akpofure (midfielder/forward), Azaria Greene-Williams (goalie) and Meg Samuel (defender) and sophomore Sam Hanson (defender).

Boys soccer team to return strong nucleus

Boys soccer coach Chris Kowalski is excited about his potential group of returnees.

Hartley went 4-11-2 overall and finished fourth in the CCL at 1-3, behind DeSales (4-0), St. Charles (3-1) and Watterson (2-2) and ahead of Ready (0-4).

"(The) boys had a great attitude and never gave up through the ups and downs of the season," Kowalski said.

"We were a very young team and we earned some valuable experience on and off the field that will pay off both individually and collectively in the future. We improved every week."

Hartley is losing six seniors, including first-team all-league selection Mac Wieging (defender).

Junior Matteo Agriesti (midfielder) also was first-team all-league, and senior Evan Armstrong (forward), junior Diego Pena (defender) and sophomore Carter Bjornson (midfielder) made the second team.

Other key returnees, according to Kowalski, should include Caleb Franz, Matthew Nash, Ako Nwokolo, Declan O'Brien, Eddie Hoeffer, Ryan Hawk, Mac Van Buren and Aaron Vina.

"I'm excited to build on the experience this group earned this year," Kowalski said.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek