A slow start to the season never got in the way of the Olentangy Liberty High School girls soccer team's belief that it was one of the state's best this fall.
The Patriots were just 3-4-3 through the season's first month but won five of their final six games of the regular season and went on to earn their fourth consecutive Division I district championship despite being the eighth seed.
On Nov. 7 in a state semifinal at Centerville, the Patriots lost to eventual champion Loveland 2-1 in overtime to finish 13-6-3 overall.
"We've been close since day one, but we faced a lot of bumps in the road this season," senior center back Olivia Sensky said. "We had a lot of frustrating games, but what was so special was how we overcame all of that. About two-thirds through the regular season, we sat down and talked a lot about what we represent and where we wanted to go. That was the turnaround. People were doubting us, so we had a lot of people to prove wrong, which only fueled our fire."
Sensky, who received first-team all-OCC-Buckeye Division, first-team all-district and second-team all-state honors, played through a hamstring injury late in the season.
Against Loveland, the Patriots took a 1-0 lead with 19 minutes, 40 seconds left in the second half on a goal by junior forward Laura Bichsel.
Loveland, which also beat Liberty 3-1 in a state semifinal in 2015, tied it with 5:52 remaining in regulation and scored the winning goal with 1:17 to go in the first overtime.
"Both times that we have made it to the state tournament, our regular seasons weren't the best," said senior forward Abby Townsend, whose team lost five regular-season games in 2015. "This showed us that peaking at the right time is what is most important. In the two years we made it to state semis we peaked at the end of the season."
The Patriots lose a nine-member senior class that also featured second-team all-league honorees Abby Jones (midfielder/forward) and Madison Rapier (forward) and honorable mention all-league selection Sydney Weaver (defen-der). Senior forward Anna Hadley was lost during the season with a knee injury.
In addition, coach Kristen McMahon announced at the team banquet Nov. 12 that she was stepping down after three seasons. She also served as an assistant for two seasons under former coach Lisa Saiben before taking over the program.
Liberty went 43-15-6 under McMahon, including 15-3-2 in 2016 when it lost in a regional semifinal.
"This is one of the most talented groups we've ever had, and their work rate is really, really high, so that, coupled with a positive attitude, they exceeded all expectations," McMahon said. "If you look at our season record and our rank in the Central District, no one would have expected us to have gone this far, so I'm extremely proud of the success they had despite all the obstacles."
The Patriots tied Westerville North for third (2-2-1) in the OCC-Buckeye behind Orange (4-1) and Olentangy (2-1-2) and ahead of Westerville Central (1-3-1) and Westerville South (1-3-1).
In the district tournament, Liberty beat 39th-seeded Franklin Heights 12-0 on Oct. 19, fifth-seeded Hilliard Bradley 2-0 on Oct. 24 in a semifinal and ninth-seeded Orange 3-1 on Oct. 28 at Dublin Jerome for the title.
The Patriots edged Hilliard Darby 3-2 in a regional semifinal Oct. 31 at Central and beat Jerome 2-0 in a regional final Nov. 4 at Dublin Scioto to advance to state.
Townsend finished with 10 goals and 14 assists, Rapier scored nine goals, Jones had seven goals and five assists and Sensky added eight assists.
Junior goalkeeper Riley Cartwright had 101 saves and a 1.26 goals-against average in 20 games.
Bichsel totaled five goals and two assists.
Others eligible to return include juniors Mara Follmer (defender), Gia Gaetano (midfielder), Jasmine Hauser (midfielder/defender) and Lyndsey Kijowski (midfielder), sophomores Caitlin Curmode (defender), Maddie Kelley (goalie), Elisa Koshan (midfielder), Emma Lindsey (midfielder) and Addi Moeller (midfielder) and freshmen Quinn Casey (midfielder) and Rachel Davidson (forward).
Gaetano and Kijowski each finished with four goals and two assists.
"(It was) game (No.) 8 or so when we decided to turn it around. It's pretty impressive what they did in that short amount of time," McMahon said. "Some of our best years have been following when we graduated a class of nine or 10. They know what the program's culture and expectations are, so that's something we never have to fight."
DeAngelis named softball coach
Cari DeAngelis recently was named softball coach in place of Bob Lee, who guided the program to a 135-59 record and four league titles in seven seasons.
Lee retired after 40 years of coaching at the prep level at the end of last season. The Patriots went 9-11 and lost in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
DeAngelis was a varsity assistant the last two seasons after serving as the junior varsity coach for five years.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity to lead the Liberty softball program," she said. "I want to thank Bob Lee for bringing me into the Liberty softball family seven years ago, giving me the chance to coach and helping lead to this opportunity. Having been with the program for all those years, I have a comfort level with the players, their families and the school that I believe will help me in the long run."
DeAngelis also has been the girls golf coach at Orange the last five seasons, guiding the program to the last two Division I state titles. She is planning to continue in that role.
"Liberty has seen some very talented players and teams through the years, dating back to when the school first opened," DeAngelis said. "I hope to continue to grow the program and its winning ways."
Mays takes over gymnastics program
Tara Mays recently was named gymnastics coach.
A 2010 Olentangy graduate who made it to state on balance beam as a senior, Mays is the second coach in program history after Misty Lloyd-Matthews led the Patriots for 14 seasons.
Mays was a Level 9 competitor who trained at Buckeye Gymnastics. She participated in cheerleading at Bowling Green for three seasons and at Purdue for one season, and has coached private gymnastics and cheerleading lessons since that time.
She also previously served as an assistant coach at Orange.
"Above all, I want the Liberty gymnasts to find joy in the sport and grow through the experience in the same ways that I did," Mays said. "At every level, gymnastics takes commitment. Athletes who bring a positive and willing attitude to practice and exert a strong effort will achieve."