On the opening day of practice in October, Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball coach Sam Krafty talked to his players while holding a piece of the net that he cut down after his team's Division I district championship victory in 2015.
There were times when even coming close to battling for a district title seemed unlikely this season, but the Patriots did it anyway.
Liberty left Ohio Dominican with a runner-up trophy March 3 despite being the district's 23rd seed and after having lost two of its top players earlier in the season because of injuries.
"It means so much to me and our team to get this far, especially being a senior and knowing your season could end with one game," guard Emma Humenay said. "Beating the odds and fighting for those that are hurt and for our season really drove our journey."
After beating 10th-seeded Eastmoor Academy 55-51 in overtime Feb. 28 in a district semifinal at New Albany, Liberty lost to third-seeded Pickerington Central 54-12 in a district final.
Sophomore wing player Kelly Levering scored seven points for the Patriots, who trailed 16-6 by halftime and were outscored 23-3 in the third quarter.
Humenay scored three points on a 3-pointer that tied her for the most in program history with 122. She also set the program mark for 3s in a game when she made seven in a 69-48 victory over Olentangy on Jan. 15.
"I actually thought we were pretty darn solid early (against Central)," Krafty said. "The plan was to make them chase us. Defensively we were tough as nails in the first half and I thought we rebounded well. Today they came out and guarded us.
"We had a nice run. I didn't think we'd get here, but we're here and it was fun."
Liberty finished 14-12 overall and went 6-4 in the OCC-Buckeye Division to tie Westerville Central for second behind Westerville South (10-0) and ahead of Olentangy (5-5), Westerville North (3-7) and Orange (0-10).
Humenay made first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district after averaging 11.5 points.
Senior guard Kennedy Kashmiry averaged 10.9 points before suffering a season-ending injury in a 52-44 victory at 11th-seeded Westerville Central on Feb. 20 in the first round of the district tournament.
Liberty then won 51-41 at 15th-seeded New Albany on Feb. 23.
Kashmiry, who was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and Humenay led a six-player senior class that also included post player Lauren Spicer and wing player Sydney Englehart.
Levering averaged 8.3 points and was honorable mention all-district and all-league.
In a 47-38 loss to Olentangy on Dec. 5, Liberty lost sophomore wing player Teegan Pifher to a season-ending injury. She averaged 17 points over the first two games after making first-team all-league last season.
Pifher and Levering should be among the top returnees along with juniors Jessie Barna (wing player), Abby Erickson (post player), Kiera McCloskey (guard) and Betsy Merritt (guard) and sophomore guard Gina Santangelo.
"Over the past couple years injuries have always hit us," Humenay said. "One thing that keeps us going is our team chemistry and the willingness we have to fight for each other. ... Clearly what we have here is special."
Valz to compete at state in bowling
Senior Daniel Valz will compete in the Division I state boys bowling tournament Friday, March 9, at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
On March 3 in the district tournament at HP Lanes, Valz rolled a 596 three-game series to place fifth. The top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state.
"The throw was the same as last week, but it was still pretty difficult," Valz said. "I definitely improved (from the sectional when I placed 20th)."
The boys team last had a state individual qualifier when Jack Baggs made it in 2014.
"(Valz) bowled well," coach Linda Ridolfo said. "He had a couple runs of strikes."
Four wrestlers make state tourney
The wrestling team will have four representatives in the Division I state tournament Thursday, March 8, through Saturday, March 10, at Ohio State.
Senior Trevor Lawson (182 pounds), junior Carson Kharchla (170) and sophomore Blake Saito (132) enter after winning championships while senior Jordan Rosselli (126) was runner-up in the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby.
Liberty was third (144.5) behind champion Lancaster (170) as 38 teams scored.
"We're super happy with the three (district) champions this year and hope we can carry (that) over to (state)," coach Mark Marinelli said.
Lawson is 34-2 and opens state against Vandalia Butler senior Jansen Love (33-6), while Kharchla is 34-2 and opens against Massillon Jackson senior Tyler Tolarchyk (35-13).
Saito takes a 30-5 record into his state opener against Ashland junior Jake Visintine (32-12). Rosselli is 17-5 and will open state against Mason senior Dylan Waugh (39-7).
Last season at state, Lawson was runner-up at 170, Rosselli was fourth at 120 and Saito was seventh at 106.
Also placing at district were Davin Lambert (fifth at heavyweight) and Kaden Tong (sixth at 220). Lambert is a state alternate.
Luke Blaine (120) and Jayce Fitzpatrick (145) both lost in the third round of consolation. Josh Sutton (113) lost in the second round of consolation and Hunter Ford (106) went 0-2.
Hockey season ends in district final
The hockey team's hopes of making it to a second consecutive state tournament ended with a 4-1 loss to top-seeded Dublin Jerome on March 3 in the district final at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Second-seeded Liberty fell behind 2-0 before Connor Hisaw scored with 10 minutes, 36 seconds left in the second period with Sam Turner and Austin Barok assisting.
Jerome goaltender Harrison Graff made 39 saves as his team improved to 30-4-3-2.
Liberty finished 28-7-3, including winning one game in regulation and one in overtime but losing four times to the Celtics.
"The 2-0 hole hurt us," coach Kevin Alexander said. "I don't think our boys have anything to be ashamed of. That's a heck of a team we lost to. Every time we got back in the game, they kept coming."
Boys basketball team falls in second round
With a 56-44 loss to visiting and 23rd-seeded Northland on March 2 in a second-round Division I district tournament game, the boys basketball team finished 11-13 overall.
The 14th-seeded Patriots trailed 27-19 by halftime. Junior guard Nick Nakasian led Liberty with 17 points.
"They've got good athletes and we only made two free throws while they made 16," coach Greg Nossaman said.
The Patriots lose only one senior in post player Dan McFarland, who did not play in the first 10 games but ended up averaging seven points.
During a 73-66 loss to Olentangy on Jan. 31, junior wing player Ben Roderick scored his 1,000th career point but also suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Patriots then lost their next five before beating 20th-seeded Hilliard Davidson 64-45 on Feb. 24 at home in the first round of the district tournament.
Roderick averaged 24.4 points and was first-team all-district and all-OCC-Buckeye as the Patriots went 4-6 to tie Orange for fourth behind Westerville North (8-2), Westerville Central (6-4) and Westerville South (5-5) and ahead of Olentangy (3-7).
Nakasian averaged 13.5 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Junior guard/forward Mitch Kershner averaged 10.5 points and was honorable mention all-league, and junior guard Mitchell Okuley averaged seven points.
Juniors Llwyatt Hofer (forward), Jack Metzger (forward), Joey Thatcher (guard) and Grant Wilson (guard) and freshman guard Henry Hinkle also were key contributors.
Sophomores Tyson Chapman (guard), Kal Jayaraman (wing player) and A.J. Rausch (guard) are others eligible to return.
"It's fun to be around the kids and you want them to be successful because they're just good kids that come from good families," Nossaman said. "Our freshmen ended up 16-6 and our (junior varsity) ended up with five losses. If everybody comes back we'll have eight seniors next year, so we've got a lot of guys coming back."
Gymnasts to return 'strong junior class'
Although it is losing five athletes to graduation, the gymnastics team's only district all-around competitor is eligible to return as part of what first-year coach Tara Mays calls a "strong junior class."
On Feb. 24 in the district meet at Worthington Kilbourne, junior Hannah Roy was 13th in the all-around (34.075) as the top eight advanced to state. She also was 11th on balance beam (8.925) and tied for 13th on floor exercise (8.85).
The Patriots finished eighth (129.7) of 24 teams behind champion Thornville Sheridan (145.425) as the top three teams advanced.
Senior Maia Kropp tied for 15th on floor (8.825).
"I had two really close to making it as an individual (to state with) Maia Kropp and Hannah Roy," Mays said. "As a team, I'm so proud of every single one of the girls. We ended our season with our all-time high (score). Overall the season was amazing (and it was a) great team to coach for. All the girls work hard and help one another."
In addition to Roy, juniors Chelsea Naples and Abigail Archer and sophomore Noelle Meeker also were among the team's top scorers.
In the OCC-Buckeye, Liberty placed third (14, 2-2) behind Olentangy (20, 4-0) and Orange (14, 3-1) and ahead of Westerville Central (6, 1-3) and Big Walnut (6, 0-4). Roy was third in the all-around (34.2) in the league meet Feb. 10 at Davidson as the Patriots placed second (128.15) behind Olentangy (140).
Freshmen Halle Deericks and Addie Francis were others who competed at district.
"I feel really confident with the girls that will be returning," Mays said.
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
*Finishes: 11-13 overall, 4-6 (tied for fourth) in OCC-Buckeye
*Senior lost: Dan McFarland
*Key returnees: Llwyatt Hofer, Mitch Kershner, Jack Metzger, Nick Nakasian, Mitchell Okuley and Ben Roderick
*Finishes: 14-12 overall, 6-4 (tied for second) in OCC-Buckeye
*Seniors lost: Mackenna Bay, Sydney Englehart, Emma Humenay, Kennedy Kashmiry, Lauren Spicer and Jess Thomas
*Key returnees: Jessie Barna, Kelly Levering, Teegan Pifher and Gina Santangelo
*Finishes: Third in OCC-Buckeye, eighth at district
*Seniors lost: Emily Beem, Laura Edwards, Maia Kropp, Gracelyn Scheetz and Hadil Sellmi
*Key returnees: Abigail Archer, Halle Deericks, Addie Francis, Noelle Meeker, Chelsea Naples and Hannah Roy