Coach Mark Liefeld didn't have the highest of expectations for the Bexley High School boys tennis team at the beginning of last season.
He knew the Lions were good, but neither he nor his players expected to win the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division II state team tournament. They hope the same magic can happen again this spring.
"Nobody expected what we ended up doing last year, and we didn't go into last season thinking about winning the team title," said Liefeld, who is in his fifth season. "We knew we were good, but we were going to take it one match at a time. There was a lot of development in-season.
"Our mind wasn't on any one particular goal. We hoped to go out and keep getting better. We had several first-year players step up during the season. We're hoping the same can happen again this year."
Bexley defeated Ottawa Hills 3-1 in a state semifinal before beating Gates Mills Hawken 3-2 in the championship match later that day. It was the program's first state team tournament appearance since 2012 and its first state title since 1975, when the event had only one division.
The Lions return four players from their lineup in juniors Jordan Koppes, Christian Roddy, Leo Schottenstein and Aaron Young. Doubles players Noah Hoffman and Josh Meyer graduated while senior Mark Nudelman, who played first singles, did not return to the team.
"Last year was the best season not just for me but the team as well, and it boosts our confidence," said Roddy, who has moved from second singles to the No. 1 court. "Winning a state championship wasn't one of our goals last year. We were underdogs, but now we know that we can do it."
Koppes is at second singles and sophomore Nolan Winston has moved up from j.v. to third singles. Schottenstein and Young are at first doubles, with sophomore Thibault Knox-Kelly and freshman Will Meyer at second doubles.
"We definitely have some momentum coming off last year," said Schottenstein, who teamed with Nudelman to place fourth in doubles in the Division II state individual tournament last spring. "We had zero expectations and we didn't think we would get to that level team-wise or as individuals. We have to stay humble, and we still have to prove ourselves."
Bexley went 14-6 overall last season and reached its OTCA state semifinal by defeating Columbus Academy 3-2 in the regional final. The Lions lost to Academy 4-1 in a league match, and that helped the Vikings win the league title at 6-0 with 46 points, ahead of the runner-up Lions (43, 5-1).
The Lions opened the season with a pair of 5-0 MSL-Ohio victories, defeating London on April 5 and Whitehall on April 6.
Whitehall was the first of 14 scheduled matches against Division I programs.
"We schedule a lot of Division I teams because it prepares you for the (Division II) postseason," Liefeld said. "They have deep teams and it only helps to make our team better."
Three seniors lead girls track team
Molly Fagin has returned to help lead the girls track and field team after finishing fourth in the 3,200 meters (program-record 11 minutes, 5.96 seconds) in the Division II state meet last year.
Fagin is one of three seniors setting the pace for the Lions, joining Libby Brown and Maggie Bunker.
"We have some great senior leadership in the sprints with Maggie Bunker, Libby Brown in sprints and hurdles and Molly Fagin in distance," seventh-year coach Jamie Hayes said. "With those three we have two (program) record-holders, Molly was fourth in the state last year in the 3,200 and Maggie and Molly both made regional finals. They can lead us in each area of the team."
Bunker holds the program record in the 100 (12.1) and was a member of the eighth-place 800 relay (1:48.45) with Brown, junior Margaux Harding and sophomore Lucy Powers in the regional meet. Brown was eighth at regional in the 300 hurdles (50.12).
Powers won the long jump (16 feet) at district and also will compete in sprints. Sophomore Kaitlyn Tidwell will compete in the jumps.
Two areas of strength for the Lions are distance and middle distance. Also running in those events will be five freshmen who helped the girls cross country team advance to state last fall. They are Ally Grieshop, Hannah Hayden, Karleigh Place, Maria Steinke and Leah Tadese.
"Our distance and middle-distance (corps) are stacked," Hayes said. "We had 15 girls under 2:56 in practice (in the 800)."
Throwers include seniors Sharon Brickey, Sonia Brickey and Celine Smith as well as junior Freddie Collins and sophomore Nya Harris.
Boys track team is 'real young'
Seventh-year coach Shane Roberts doesn't have a lot of returning experience on his boys track team, but he believes his young athletes could develop into top-notch competitors.
The Lions have five regional qualifiers back in seniors Grant Heilman and Zander Hirsch and juniors Alexander Garside, Grant Halliday and Charles McFadden.
Garside and McFadden joined senior Henry Bredemeier and 2017 graduate Simon Kroos on the fifth-place 400 relay (44.12) at regional, where the top four advanced to state. Halliday, Heilman and Hirsch were on the ninth-place 3,200 relay (8:09.55) with 2017 graduate Peter Hayden. Bredemeier did not return to the program.
"We're real young this season, especially in the sprints," Roberts said. "We had to have a meeting about what needs to be in your bag when you to go to a meet. We're young, but this whole group of kids impresses me. They come in and work hard and there's not a complainer in the bunch."
Joining Garside and McFadden in sprints are senior Bradley Binsky, junior Ted Schoedinger, sophomore Danner Rogers and freshman Spencer Stevenson, who also can run middle-distance events. The hurdles will be run by sophomores Gadi Bandler and Anthony Samson and freshmen William Petry, William Ross and Ronan Sears.
The distance and middle-distance areas will be a strength, with Halliday, Heilman and Hirsch joined by seniors Gabriel Hoffman, Josh Needleman and Sam Warner and junior Theo Snowdon.
"Our distance and middle distance are our strength because of the experience there," Roberts said. "We have guys who have been there before."
Senior Kohl White, junior Zack Ford-Welz, Rogers and Stevenson are competing in the jumps, and senior Zach Gillam, sophomores Hunter Johnson and Justin Mauk and freshman Ryan Kemp lead the throwers.