The Olentangy Liberty High School softball team spent the offseason intent on building a tighter bond as it tries to improve on back-to-back losing records.
Cari DeAngelis took over as coach after Bob Lee retired following his seventh season leading the program.
The Patriots went 10-15 and were Division I district runners-up in 2016 before going 9-11 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Buckeye Division last season. They opened with a 13-2 loss to Pickerington Central on March 26 before beating Mount Vernon 2-1 but losing to Jeromesville Hillsdale 6-2 on March 31.
Liberty lost to Dublin Coffman 3-2 on April 2. Its league opener is Wednesday, April 11, at Orange.
"I believe our team is going to be a huge success this year," senior outfield Marissa McPhail said. "With the new coaching staff, we've really focused on team bonding and relationship building with each other. We had meetings to work together on ways to support each other in the game and life. ... We're becoming a team off the field, and this will only make us more successful on the field."
DeAngelis was the Patriots' junior varsity coach for five seasons before serving as varsity assistant the past two years. She also has coached the Orange girls golf team to back-to-back Division I state championships.
There are four other seniors in the program in addition to McPhail, although one of them, shortstop Kennedy Kashmiry, is expected to miss the season because of a knee injury suffered during the girls basketball season.
The other seniors are Natalie Battaglia (OF), Lillee LaRosa (CF) and Sinead Duffy (1B/3B).
Juniors Arica Flaugher (C), Sydney Lane (3B/1B), Sammy Leonhardt (SS) and Katelyn Wilhelm (P) and sophomores Lexi Byrd (1B) and Katelyn Leary (P/1B) are other key returnees.
Leonhardt batted .345 last season, and Flaugher hit .314 with four home runs and 15 RBI.
Juniors Lindsay Aninao (C) and Lauren Pomorski (2B) and freshman Dani Schoenly (OF) also are looking to contribute.
"(Flaugher is a) pretty big hitter so we'll be looking to see some good offensive numbers from her," DeAngelis said. "We've got Katelyn Wilhelm and Katelyn Leary pitching. Both will definitely be seeing some time. Both are really talented and bring two different styles, so I like the idea of switching them in for each other. Wilhelm is more of a power pitcher and Leary has a really good changeup and finesse."
The Patriots had just one senior last season in Randi Saito (OF/P), as Kashmiry led the team in batting average (.474) and RBI (16). Junior Taylor Karlo (OF) had 12 RBI last season but did not come out this spring.
"Our infield and outfield are solid, with amazing pitching," McPhail said. "I think we'll be a force to reckon with."
Baseball team looks to get back on track
After winning a program-record 27 games in 2015 and then going 24-4 in 2016, things didn't go as well last season for the baseball team.
With that in mind, the Patriots are looking to return to being one of the area's top teams after going 13-13 overall and 7-8 in the OCC-Buckeye and losing in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
Liberty, which returns 12 seniors and has returning players in the sophomore and junior classes as well, opened with wins over Staten Island (New York) St. Joseph by the Sea (8-2) and Vandalia Butler (8-0) on March 27 and a victory over Palos Heights (Illinois) Shepard (14-2) on March 28 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Patriots then beat Hilliard Darby 8-2 and Findlay 19-1 on March 31 before opening league play April 3 at Orange.
"We're trying not to believe the hype," seventh-year coach Ty Brenning said. "The No. 1 thing we have to do is continue to be detailed and carry our preparation through the season. If we can continue to get better throughout the month of April, we could be a team that peaks at the right time.
"We have 12 seniors. These are really high-character kids, and we hope their character and leadership is on display and plays out as the season progresses."
Senior Mitch Milheim, a left-hander who has committed to Ohio State, should be the No. 1 pitcher after going 2-4 with a 2.75 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 28 innings last season. He also hit .342 with 11 RBI.
Junior Jack Metzger likely will be the No. 2 starter. He went 1-2 with four saves and a 2.02 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings last spring.
Senior Michael Osmond is a left-handed pitcher who has committed to Wittenberg.
Senior Pete Atkinson should be the No. 1 catcher, with junior Mitchell Okuley also seeing time at the position. Okuley, who has committed to Ohio State, hit .373 with 16 RBI last season and starts in the outfield.
Sophomores Corbin Parrish (OF/P) and Brennan Rowe (INF/P) also are returning starters. Rowe should see significant time at shortstop, second base and third base, while Parrish starts in center field and bats leadoff.
Junior Craig Lutwen (INF/P) should see most of the innings at third base, with junior Justin Nelson at first base and pitcher.
Others looking to contribute include seniors Brandon Brown (INF/P), Carson Comer (INF), Ryan Elgin (OF/P), Beau Foster (OF/P), Corey Mayer (INF), Jake Miller (OF), Blake Newberry (OF/P), Kyle O'Mery (C/P) and Connor Osmond (INF), juniors Drew Lane (P) and Ben Wenner (P/INF/OF) and sophomore A.J. Rausch (INF/OF/P).
The program will feature two varsity teams, with the B team named "Liberty Silver."
"All of the kids are allowed to play in 27 games, so with us having so many seniors, we wanted to give some kids the ability to play about five or six (extra) games," Brenning said.
Volleyball team must overcome inexperience
With eight seniors leading the way last season, the boys volleyball team went 10-11 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Buckeye and reached a Division I East Region semifinal.
An almost entirely new lineup will try to lead the Patriots past those marks this spring.
The most experienced returnee is senior libero Shiva Dubbaka.
Liberty opened April 3 with a league match at Orange.
"We are super young," 14th-year coach Dave Hale said. "Our (junior varsity) team from last year is basically who we have moving up. They (had a great record last season) but there's a difference between sophomores on varsity and being on j.v."
Sophomores Nick Irelan (outside hitter) and Sean McCabe (setter) gained varsity experience last year. McCabe spent most of last season as the j.v. setter and has club experience, while Irelan should be one of the team's top hitters.
Junior middle hitter Llwyatt Hofer didn't play last season but competed as a freshman.
Junior Rithvik Potluri should join Irelan at outside hitter.
Joining Dubbaka as seniors are Michael Carline (defensive specialist), Tanish Gandhi (defensive specialist/right-side hitter) and James Rogers (middle hitter). Rogers is in his first season in the program.
Sophomore Tyus Thompson should see time at right-side hitter and middle hitter, while junior Timothy Gies is looking to contribute at right-side hitter.
"Hopefully we'll keep improving game after game," Hale said. "It's definitely going to be a learning experience, and we've just got to keep on growing and getting better. We want to try to improve and not repeat the same mistakes."
March 27 -- Staten Island (N.Y.) St. Joseph by the Sea and Vandalia Butler in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
March 28 -- Palos Heights (Ill.) Shepard in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
March 31 -- vs. Hilliard Darby and Findlay
*April 3 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 4 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 6 -- vs. Westerville South
April 7 -- vs. Medina and Marysville
*April 9 -- at Westerville South
*April 11 -- at Westerville North
*April 13 -- vs. Westerville North
April 14 -- vs. Mount Vernon and Big Walnut
*April 16 -- vs. Westerville Central
*April 18 -- at Westerville Central
*April 20 -- at Olentangy
April 21 -- vs. Grove City and Cleveland St. Ignatius
*April 23 -- vs. Olentangy
*April 25 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 27 -- vs. Westerville South
April 28 -- vs. Pickerington Central
*April 30 -- at Westerville North
*May 2 -- vs. Westerville Central
*May 4 -- at Olentangy
March 26 -- at Pickerington Central
March 31 -- vs. Mount Vernon and Jeromesville Hillsdale
April 2 -- at Dublin Coffman
April 4 -- at Upper Arlington
April 6 -- vs. Central Crossing
April 9 -- at Marysville
*April 11 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 12 -- vs. Westerville South
April 13 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
April 14 -- vs. Dublin Jerome (DH)
*April 16 -- at Westerville North
*April 18 -- vs. Westerville Central
*April 19 -- at Olentangy
April 20 -- at Newark
April 21 -- vs. Watterson
*April 23 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 25 -- at Westerville South
*April 26 -- vs. Westerville North
April 27 -- vs. North Union
*April 30 -- at Westerville Central
*May 2 -- vs. Olentangy
May 3 -- at Buckeye Valley
*April 3 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 5 -- vs. Westerville South
April 6 -- at St. Charles
*April 10 -- at Westerville North
*April 11 -- vs. Mount Vernon
*April 12 -- vs. Westerville Central
*April 17 -- at Olentangy
*April 19 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
April 20 -- at Dublin Scioto with Pickerington North
*April 24 -- at Westerville South
*April 26 -- vs. Westerville North
*May 1 -- at Westerville Central
*May 3 -- vs. Olentangy
May 4 -- vs. DeSales
*May 8 -- at Mount Vernon
May 11 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis and track & field teams:
April 6 -- Home vs. Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Brother Rice
*April 9 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
*April 5 -- Home vs. New Albany
April 7 -- At Upper Arlington
*April 10 -- At Big Walnut
*April 5 -- At Olentangy Orange
*April 10 -- Home vs. Westerville South
April 11 -- Home vs. UA
TRACK & FIELD
April 6 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby
April 10 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome