Although it did not win a second consecutive Capital Hockey Conference division championship, the Olentangy High School hockey team hopes the experience it gained a year ago serves it well as it participates in the Blue Jackets Cup this weekend.
The Braves carried a six-game winning streak into their regular-season finale Feb. 4 against Thomas Worthington, knowing they had secured a spot in the championship bracket of the league's postseason tournament. Having won the program's first division title last year in the CHC-Blue, Olentangy went 10-6 with 20 points in the league this season to finish second in the CHC-White behind Cincinnati Moeller (25, 12-3-0-1).
Seeded sixth in the Blue Jackets Cup, the Braves will take on third-seeded St. Charles in the first round Thursday, Feb. 8, at Chiller Ice Works.
"We try and take one step at a time on that ladder," coach Mike Ross said. "(Moving up a division) means a lot more games against the big boys on a regular basis. Our goal all along was make it to the championship bracket of the CBJ Cup. Every point we've been able to get has been huge."
Ross said Olentangy has played its best since the Holly-Daze Tournament that concluded Dec. 30 in northwest Ohio. A 15-2 win over Gahanna on Jan. 6 began a stretch that saw the Braves go 9-1-2 in 12 games, including its first sweep of Orange.
"Those teams pushed us to our potential and we've carried that back here and, for the most part, played really well," forward Zach Shockcor said. "We've played the better teams more often. That's toughened us up."
Landon Johnson and Andrew Rogers were tied for the team lead in goals with 16 each through 27 games, ahead of Dakota Falk and Gabe Zipser (13 each). Olentangy is 16-9-2-1 overall, and closed out league play with a 3-1 win over Thomas Worthington on Feb. 4.
"At the beginning of the year, we were really rusty and we had no chemistry. The last couple weeks, we've all played well together," forward Brendan Johnston said, adding that Ross regularly has shuffled lines. "I like playing with Landon. I like to set him up. I like to develop chemistry with guys and play with them throughout the year, then at the end of the year we can click together well."
In its 17th season, the Blue Jackets Cup includes all of the CHC's 14 teams. The championship bracket consists of the top four teams in the CHC-Red, the top three in the CHC-White and the CHC-Blue champion.
The other six teams play in the consolation bracket.
The Olentangy-St. Charles winner will play second-seeded Liberty or seventh-seeded Springboro in a semifinal Friday, Feb. 9 at Chiller Easton. That winner will advance to the championship game against top-seeded Dublin Jerome, fourth-seeded Upper Arlington, fifth-seeded Moeller or eighth-seeded Watterson on Sunday, Feb. 11, at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
"The things we've been working on, we're starting to see the benefits of that work and repetition in practice," Ross said, pointing to better defensive play and forechecks and attempting to trim penalties. "The kids are starting to realize the price you pay to win a game. The bumps and bruises don't hurt when you win. They hurt a lot more when you lose."
Close losses hamper boys basketball team
The boys basketball team fell below .500 last week, losing two OCC-Buckeye games by a combined 10 points.
Olentangy was 8-9 overall before playing Hilliard Davidson on Feb. 6 and is 1-7 in the OCC-Buckeye entering a Friday, Feb. 9, home game against Orange.
The Braves fell to Liberty 73-66 on Jan. 31 and Westerville Central 79-75 in double overtime Feb. 2. Sean Marks had 20 points against the Patriots and Alex Sieve tied his career high with 20 against the Warhawks.
Those losses dropped Olentangy to 1-4 since a back-to-back stretch that saw the Braves edge Orange 75-74 in overtime Jan. 5 and upset then-top-ranked Upper Arlington 68-60 on Jan. 9.
"I am not into moral victories, but we've played our butts off," coach John Feasel said after the loss to Liberty. "An 8-7 team doesn't have to play their butts off when they're down 14 at half. They could just pack it in, but they've battled. But we can't dig holes it's hard to get out of. We have to keep it close and try to strike at the end. In our league, that's the way it's been. We're battling for every scrap, everything we can do.
"Every night, we battle and scrap and try to scratch out a win."
Girls bowlers clinch league title
The girls bowling team clinched the OCC-Buckeye championship Feb. 2 with a 2,063-1,670 win over Big Walnut at Delaware Lanes, and fell one win short of also winning the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-A Division title.
Olentangy went 7-0 in the OCC-Buckeye to edge runner-up Westerville Central (6-1) and was second in the COHSBC-A at 11-1, behind Gahanna (12-0). Gahanna handed the Braves their only COHSBC loss, 2,070-1,997 on Dec. 21.
The Braves were 12-1 overall before a tri-match against Liberty and Orange on Feb. 6 that did not count in either division's standings.
The boys team lost to Big Walnut 2,412-2,306 to fall to 7-6 overall before Feb. 6. They finished 7-5 in the COHSBC-A and 4-3 in the OCC-Buckeye.
Magistro joins football staff
Former Westerville Central football coach John Magistro will join the Olentangy coaching staff for next season, coach Mark Solis announced last week.
Magistro, who coached the Warhawks for nine seasons, will be an assistant coach in charge of linebackers.
Magistro's hire is pending school board approval, as are those of two other coaches he is bringing from Central -- Jeremy Chirpas, who will coach the defensive line, and Dave Dunkelberger, who will work with defensive backs.
Chirpas is Magistro's son-in-law.
"John and I have developed a great professional relationship the last five years and I have the utmost respect for him," Solis said. "He lives in our community and he has grandchildren in (Olentangy schools). Other teams wanted him as well, but I guess we had a good enough pitch to bring him here."
In Magistro's tenure with the Warhawks, he went 61-37, was named an OCC Coach of the Year three times and shared state Coach of the Year honors in 2011 with Findlay's Mark Ritzler. The Braves went 8-4 last season, losing to Toledo Whitmer 32-29 in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics and swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 9 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange. The Braves defeated the Pioneers 75-74 in overtime Jan. 5.
Feb. 10 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
*Feb. 9 -- At Orange. The Braves defeated the Pioneers 56-50 on Jan. 5.
Feb. 17 -- At 16th-seeded Teays Valley in first round of Division I district tournament. The Braves are seeded 29th.
Feb. 10 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Hilliard Davidson
SWIMMING & DIVING
Feb. 10 -- Division I sectional swimming meet at Kenyon College. The winner of each event automatically qualifies for district Feb. 17 at Ohio University. In addition, 27 at-large district berths will be awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
Feb. 12 -- Division I district girls diving meet at Dublin Community Recreation Center. The top four finishers advance to state Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Feb. 13 -- Division I district boys diving meet at Dublin Community Recreation Center. The top five finishers advance to state Feb. 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
*Feb. 15 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange