During its second season under coach Nicole Stines last spring, the Olentangy Liberty High School girls lacrosse team won four more games and advanced two rounds further in the postseason than in 2016.

The Patriots believe they could be ready to reach even greater heights this spring because their juniors and seniors now are in their third season in the same system.

On March 20, Liberty opened with a 15-9 victory over Dublin Jerome, which won 16 games a season ago.

The Patriots then beat Watterson 16-7 on March 24.

"Our team is really starting to come together," said senior midfielder Madison Rapier, who has committed to Kent State. "We've been working hard to improve our game and I think it definitely has been showing. I'm excited to see how our team will improve through the season and I'm hoping that we'll get stronger and better and show improvement not only in the physical aspects of the game but the mental aspects as well."

Liberty, which went 14-7 overall a season ago and placed second (6-1) in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind New Albany (7-0), has a 10-member senior class that also features attacker Grace Buckey, defender Addy French and midfielder Mollie McCormack.

In a 15-9 loss to New Albany in the Division I, Region 1 final last season, Rapier had four goals and McCormack scored three.

The Patriots open league play April 5 against New Albany.

Other key returnees at attacker include senior Lauren Alexander and juniors Molly Bursinger, Kendall Gallagher, Anna Lovett and Anna Maitano. Bursinger has committed to Grand Valley State.

Joining French on defense are senior Emma Kern and juniors Kara Bradley, Addie Druckenbroad and Jenna Lickovitch.

Senior Maddie Harrington returns at goalkeeper, with sophomore Gillian O'Rourke serving as the backup.

Sophomores Emma Shear and Julia Swaro are key midfielders.

Others on the roster include juniors Rory Ball (attacker) and Meghan Heitzman (attacker), sophomore Paige Haughn (attacker) and freshman Kelsey Eckhert (defender).

Liberty lost seven players to graduation, including goalie Ellie Corder, who is playing at North Greenville University, and Claire Buckey, who is playing field hockey for Ohio University.

"They're just excited with this being my third year coaching and the third year we finally have things more set in place. The girls are starting to be a lot more receptive," Stines said. "Defensively we lost a lot of good players, but I think overall we look really solid and have a lot of girls that have stepped up.

"They're going to be hungry for it, so I'm excited. The senior leadership is the best I've seen because a lot of them are third-year players on varsity and they want it. They're finally starting to gain the confidence to think they're good players. We're looking to make a run for it."

Boys lacrosse team loaded with experience

The boys lacrosse team also is coming off a memorable season.

Despite having several underclassmen in key roles, the Patriots went 16-6 overall, won the OCC-Buckeye championship at 7-0 and made it to a Division I state semifinal for the second time in three seasons.

In addition to returning an 11-member senior class that is filled with experienced players, there's plenty of younger talent in the pipeline as well.

"I'm very excited for this season," senior defender Christian Kelly said. "We have a lot of young talent that has really started to step up and fill some holes in our team. Our coaching staff has really done a great job putting some players in positions they can thrive in. Personally, my goal is to put my team in the best position to win and take our team to state."

Liberty opened with a 9-2 win over Toledo St. Francis on March 17, beat Delaware 10-4 on March 22 and lost to Cincinnati St. Xavier 13-5 on March 24. It begins league play April 9 against Big Walnut.

The Patriots have four players who have committed to Ohio State, including senior goalie Skylar Wahlund and senior midfielder Johnny Wiseman.

Junior long-stick midfielder Andrew Guagenti and freshman midfielder Aidan Kenley are the other commits to the Buckeyes, who also signed 2017 Liberty graduate Griffin Hughes.

Wiseman had 49 goals and 29 assists last season to support an offense that was led by Hughes, who finished with 61 goals and 24 assists and was league Player of the Year.

Senior attacker John Paolo had 31 goals, senior defender Gabe Meyer had 50 ground balls and Wahlund made 156 saves.

Senior attacker Spencer Towne contributed 23 goals and nine assists and has committed to Capital.

"We have lots of returning players, which is nice," sixth-year coach Jason Godwin said. "We have several who play with club teams and a couple that play box lacrosse (in the offseason)."

Other key players on defense include juniors James Howenstine and Carson Tate, with junior Peter Spallino at defensive midfielder.

Senior Kadin Seimet and junior Ethan Donelson are others at midfielder.

In addition to Kenley, the Patriots figure to have another impact freshman in Alex Theuerkauf, who can play attacker or midfielder.

Junior Kyle Dolan (attacker) and sophomores Timmy Fitzgerald (attacker), Jacob Kessler (midfielder) and Sam McCormack (midfielder) are others looking to contribute.

In addition to Hughes, Liberty lost defender Dylan Comella and long-stick midfielder Chase Snyder, who are playing for Capital and Rollins, respectively.

"We have a pretty tough schedule," Godwin said. "We've joined the Midwest Lacrosse Conference, which has (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan) Brother Rice and Detroit Country Day. I think we raise the bar every year with our schedule, and this year is no different. We teach our kids that it's important to have competition at the highest level."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

Schedules

BOYS LACROSSE

March 17 -- Toledo St. Francis at Fortress Obetz

March 22 -- at Delaware

March 24 -- vs. Cincinnati St. Xavier

April 4 -- vs. Detroit Country Day

April 6 -- vs. Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Brother Rice

*April 9 -- vs. Big Walnut

*April 12 -- at Westerville South

April 14 -- at Lake Forest (Ill.)

April 15 -- at New Trier (Ill.)

*April 17 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

April 19 -- vs. Upper Arlington

April 21 -- vs. Hudson

*April 24 -- at Westerville North

*May 1 -- at Olentangy

May 4-5 -- Midwest Lacrosse Conference tournament in Indianapolis

*May 8 -- vs. Westerville Central

*May 11 -- at New Albany

GIRLS LACROSSE

March 20 -- at Dublin Jerome

March 24 -- at Watterson

April 3 -- at Columbus Academy

*April 5 -- vs. New Albany

April 7 -- at Upper Arlington

*April 10 -- at Big Walnut

*April 12 -- vs. Westerville South

*April 13 -- vs. Westerville North

*April 17 -- at Olentangy Orange

April 18 -- at Granville

*April 26 -- at Westerville Central

*May 1 -- vs. Olentangy

May 3 -- vs. Thomas Worthington

May 10 -- vs. Medina

May 12 -- vs. Cincinnati Sycamore

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty baseball, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:

BASEBALL

March 30 -- Home vs. Massillon Jackson

March 31 -- At Hilliard Davidson

*April 4 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange

SOFTBALL

March 29 -- At Davidson

March 30 -- Home vs. Mount Vernon (DH)

April 2 -- At Dublin Coffman

April 4 -- At Upper Arlington

BOYS TENNIS

April 3 -- At Gahanna

April 4 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley

TRACK & FIELD

April 3 -- Home vs. Delaware

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*April 3 -- At Orange

*League contest