Even before his team had played a match, Olentangy High School boys tennis coach Jeff Luxenburger thought this year's Braves could be the most talented team the program has ever had.

With two-time Division I state tournament qualifier Stu Brdicka atop the lineup, an influx of young talent has bolstered Luxenburger's expectations despite only three players returning from a year ago.

"From the top to bottom of our lineup, this is the most talented team that we have had. Not only that, but these guys come to practice with amazing attitudes and the willingness to work as hard as they can each day," said Luxenburger, who is in his seventh season. "We have a grueling schedule this year, as there is so much top-level talent in central Ohio, but if we come prepared to each match and play to our full ability, I think we're going to have a successful season."

Olentangy opened April 5 with a 5-0 win at Westerville South in OCC-Buckeye Division play.

Brdicka went 25-2 last season, winning his first 24 matches but falling to eventual runner-up Vlad Rotnov of Solon 2-6, 6-0, 6-4 in the first round at state.

Brdicka, a senior and Ashland recruit, also advanced to state as a freshman in doubles.

"Stu has improved steadily every year, and I'm hoping for another successful season," Luxenburger said. "He definitely has a gift for the game, and he is a joy to watch on the court. His physical game has matured to match his always strong mental game, so as long as he stays healthy he's going to be tough for any opponent to beat."

Senior Alex Konstan and sophomore Ayush Sunkad, the other two returnees from last year, will rotate between third singles and doubles. Konstan placed third at sectional to qualify for district.

"Alex is such a physical player who is so talented and can beat just about anyone when his mental game is on," Luxenburger said. "He will be playing some doubles this year, too, and he does so much to lift up his partner on the doubles court."

Freshman Sam Routzahn usually will play second singles, although he was at first singles against South.

Rounding out the roster are juniors Jayanth Donthireddy, Neel Shetty and Tucker Strawser and freshmen Akhil Damarla and Roshan Sriram.

"With guidance from our upperclassmen, these young guys are going to learn a lot this season," Luxenburger said.

Against South, Sunkad played second singles. Konstan and Strawser were at first doubles and Donthireddy and Shetty played second doubles.

The Braves will get their chance to supplant defending league champion Orange when they visit the Pioneers on Tuesday, April 17. Last season, Olentangy went 15-3 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish second behind Orange (5-0).

Sprinters to lead boys track team

Considering the conditions, first-year boys track and field coach Ken Whalen was happy with what he saw from his team April 6 in the eight-team Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby.

Junior Zach Shiblaq won the pole vault (13 feet, 6 inches) and senior Jeremy Kendle was second in the 400 meters (52.27 seconds) to lead Olentangy to 30 points and eighth place behind champion Hilliard Davidson (126). While it was sunny and about 55 degrees at the start of the meet, the weather quickly deteriorated into steady rain with stiff north winds and an approximately 25-degree wind chill by the end of the event.

Senior Cullen Sainey was third in the 3,200 (10:21.1) and junior Carter Schaefer was fourth in the 1,600 (4:53.74).

"We might not be as deep as last year, but we will get there. We will be solid," said Whalen, referring to the graduations of Division I state runner-up pole vault Kyle Brookshire and distance standout Anthony Sasso, who was ninth in the 800 and now runs at High Point. "We treat these (early meets) almost like scrimmages right now. We want to get better for May."

Whalen, who has been the boys cross country team's coach for the past three seasons, replaced eight-year coach Brad Komenda in July.

Olentangy returns several of its top sprinters in seniors Ali Iverson, Kendle, Jaden Konadu and Joel Michael and junior DeAnte Ables, but is bringing along new throwers in sophomores Gabe Chrysler and Noah Dursik and another new vaulter in sophomore Cade Carter.

Whalen treated the Panther Invitational as his varsity team's season opener, saying the Braves fielded many of their junior varsity competitors in the team's scheduled opening meet the previous night at Centennial.

"Our (400 relay) will be very good. We just need to practice more," Whalen said. "We have some solid, solid sprinters. We don't have anybody outstanding, just four really good ones. We don't have the experience with our distance runners like we did last year with Zach (Balthaser) and Sasso; they were standouts, but these guys are learning."

Other expected contributors include senior Cullen Sainey, juniors Caden Ehrhardt (distance), Afton Freeman (middle distance) and Jaylen Martin (hurdles, jumps, sprints) and freshman Liam McGreevey (jumps, sprints).

Field events to pace girls track team

Central Michigan recruit Siobhan Szerencsits will attempt to reach her third Division I state meet in the pole vault for the girls track and field team, which again expects to be led by its field athletes.

Szerencsits was fourth at state last year and tied for eighth as a sophomore.

High jumper and sprinter Holly Nation, a senior, also is among the returnees for Olentangy, which opened April 6 by finishing fifth (42) of eight teams in the Panther Invitational behind champion and host Darby (136).

"Our field events will continue to be strengths for us, particularly with Holly in the high jump and Siobhan in the pole vault," fifth-year coach Jen Sosa said. "We also have a strong group of hurdlers. Our relays, sprints and (3,200 relay) are showing a lot of potential. Mainly we are working on coming together and gaining experience -- we've got a few new faces there that show a great deal of promise, as well as veterans that have made great strides since last season."

Nation was second in the high jump (5-0) and third in the 400 (1:02) at Darby. Sophomore Ruth Pfeiffer was third in the 300 hurdles (51.62), the 400 relay was third (53.3) with senior Emily Hansel, junior Muskan Arora and sophomores Sierra Cardi and Megan Hill and the distance medley relay was third (14:17.47) with senior Melina Endsley, sophomores Meghan Boggess and Kate McCauley and freshman Olivia Johnston.

According to Sosa, other key contributors will include seniors Kaitlin DiGiovine (hurdles), Katie Slyh (distance), Emily Suchan (throws) and Halle Williams (throws), juniors Lex Brookshire (distance), Stephanie Frank (throws), Katie Geniusz (sprints) and Lauren Tarpey (jumps), sophomores Anne Freeman (throws), Evette Harrell (long jump), Olivia Neidhardt (distance), Kylie Roberts (sprints) and Cara Susey (hurdles, sprints) and freshman Abby Brennan (sprints).

"We've got a lot of goals this season. My top priority is making the most of the group we've got this year; we have so many key seniors graduating this year and we will be losing a significant group that will be competing for Berlin next year," Sosa said. "So we are capitalizing on their final season as Braves and accomplishing as much as possible individually and as a team."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BOYS TENNIS

*April 5 -- at Westerville South

April 7 -- Hilliard Bradley Invitational

*April 10 -- vs. Westerville South

April 11 -- at Columbus Academy

*April 12 -- at Westerville Central

*April 17 -- at Olentangy Orange

April 18 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*April 19 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

April 23 -- at New Albany

April 25 -- at Pickerington Central

April 26 -- at Gahanna

April 28 -- New Albany Invitational

April 30 -- at Bexley

May 1 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley

May 2 -- at Pickerington North

May 3 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

May 7 -- vs. Wellington

May 8 -- vs. Upper Arlington

TRACK & FIELD

April 6 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby

April 9 -- at Olentangy Orange

April 13 -- Friday Night Eagle Invite at New Albany

April 20 -- Freedom Relays at Olentangy Liberty

April 25 -- vs. Big Walnut

April 27 -- Olentangy Invitational

May 4 -- Delaware County Elite 8 at Olentangy Orange

May 10, 12 -- OCC-Buckeye at Olentangy Orange

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball and boys volleyball teams:

BASEBALL

April 12 -- At Westerville North in makeup from April 9

*April 13 -- Home vs. Westerville Central

April 14 -- Home vs. Teays Valley in makeup from March 31

*April 16 -- At Olentangy Orange

*April 18 -- Home vs. Orange

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 10 -- Home vs. Westerville Central

*April 12 -- Home vs. Orange

*April 17 -- At New Albany

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 12 -- At Orange

April 14 -- Home vs. Mason

*April 17 -- Home vs. New Albany

SOFTBALL

*April 12 -- Home vs. Westerville North

April 13 -- At Reynoldsburg

*April 16 -- At Westerville Central

April 17 -- At Watterson

*April 18 -- At Orange

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*April 12 -- At Orange

*April 17 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty

*League contest