Many of the Olentangy High School girls volleyball team's top contributors filled the same roles last year when it reached a Division I district final, so maybe it is not surprising that the Braves had an even stronger start this season.
The Braves were 15-3 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division before playing Westerville North on Oct. 2, four wins better than they were through 18 matches a year ago and two better than the same span in 2016.
Still, senior setter Maggie Samij-lenko feels like something is different.
"It's a whole new program. We're completely reinvented," she said. "The feeling in the gym has changed. The ending to our season (a three-game loss to DeSales in a district final) stuck with us. It was not OK with us. We know what is expected of us and that this is our year to show it. We feel like we have a chance to go farther in the tournament this year because we've faced some challenges and we think we're improved."
Samijlenko was impacted by perhaps the biggest tactical change of the season, as senior right-side hitter Emily Margolies also has been setting throughout the year. Olentangy alternates between running a 5-1 offense and a 6-2, rotating Anna Cecil and Maddie Harris on the right side, and Samijlenko runs the 5-1 in addition to more setting from the front row.
Samijlenko had 360 assists through 17 matches, ahead of Margolies' 144. Olivia Margolies, Emily's twin, led Olentangy in kills through 17 matches with 266, ahead of Emily Margolies (152) and Sophie Sparks (122).
According to coach Sarah Polhemus, Emily Margolies, who like her sister is an Ohio University commit, asked about setting before the season.
"It's something that frankly I wish we would have thought about earlier in her career," Polhemus said. "She is a tremendous athlete and can absolutely handle that new role. She's been working on it and it's something I've seen her step up and want to do. She wants to be better at it."
Samijlenko, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania commit, said she is enjoying the different challenges.
"Em and Liv have that twin connection and that changes everything, but just having a second option if we need it is huge," Samijlenko said. "If I am struggling, we can depend on Em. We have a way to go back and forth. We always have a plan in place. I'm pretty comfortable with that. In club I've been running a 5-1 for years and I am the only setter on my team."
Olentangy won 12 consecutive matches from Aug. 23-Sept. 18 before back-to-back OCC-Buckeye losses to Orange (25-21, 25-13, 27-25 on Sept. 20) and Liberty (25-20, 22-25, 11-25, 25-21, 15-9 on Sept. 25).
The Braves entered the week tied with Orange for second place, two matches behind Liberty at 6-0. Olentangy will visit the Pioneers on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and play host to Liberty on Oct. 11 in the league finale for both teams.
"I am incredibly pleased with 15-3," Polhemus said. "We've just focused on what we need to do and how we control our pace of the game. We've beaten some tough teams. We pushed hard in August and loaded our schedule and I think that paid off.
"They don't need a lot of coaching from me. They coach themselves quite a bit on the court and take ownership of this team."
Goalie gives field hockey team a lift
The field hockey team is not having the type of season to which it has become accustomed, but coach Biz Brehm still is encouraged by the efforts of several players, including goalkeeper Dani Beidelman.
Beidelman, a sophomore, became a goalie over the summer after Brehm's younger sister, Erika, graduated and former backup Olivia Himes was reassigned to newly opened Berlin.
Olentangy is 4-9 overall entering a Monday, Oct. 8, game at Lancaster and improved to 3-4 in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League-West with a 4-2 win over Dublin Jerome on Sept. 27.
"I threw (Beidelman) in (goal) in maybe the third or fourth game of the season and each game, her percentages are getting better and better," Brehm said after a 2-1 win at Hartley on Sept. 26. "She had 11 or 12 saves against Granville (in a 1-0 loss Sept. 22). She is learning on the fly. Where I miss Erika is that on breakaways, she'd go out on a breakaway, truck the kid, we'd get a corner and defend (the shot). Dani is learning so fast on the fly and during games. She's doing amazing making all kinds of saves. That's what helps us win these 1-0 and 2-1 games, having somebody in the net that you can depend on."
The win at Hartley broke a three-game losing streak. Grace Cory scored in the first half to tie the game and Anna Barstow netted the game-winning goal with about 17 minutes left.
Olentangy's earlier wins were against Dublin Scioto, 2-1 on Aug. 29, and Berlin, 2-0 on Sept. 12.
Ciara Szerencsits has a team-leading five goals. Barstow has four and Cory has three.
Khayat leads tennis team into sectional
Nour Khayat, who has been the girls tennis team's first-singles player for much of this season, is seeded second in a Division I sectional tournament Thursday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 6, at Upper Arlington.
Olentangy's sectional lineup will largely be unchanged from the regular season. Priyanka Agochiya and Archita Sriram also will play singles, and the doubles teams will consist of Khushi Agarwal and Faith Shielu and Amanda Jones and Jothsna Sabbasani.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles will advance to district Oct. 11 and 13 at Reynoldsburg.
Olentangy was 5-8 overall before its scheduled regular-season finale Oct. 3 against Watterson. It finished OCC-Buckeye play at 3-2 after a 3-2 loss at Liberty on Sept. 20.
The Braves split two matches last week, losing to Pickerington Central 3-2 on Sept. 25 and edging Hilliard Davidson by the same score the next day.
Golf teams work to extend season
The boys and girls golf teams participated in Division I sectional tournaments Oct. 2, hoping to prolong their seasons into this week and beyond.
The boys played at Turmberry, where the top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the district tournament Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Apple Valley.
The girls were in a sectional at Royal American. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Cooks Creek.
From both district tournaments, the top two teams and two individuals not on qualifying teams advance to state Oct. 19 and 20 at Ohio State.
The girls are scheduled to wrap up their regular season Saturday, Oct. 6, in the Pickerington North Fall Classic at Cooks Creek. The boys play in the Wedgewood Showcase the same day.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy cross country, field hockey, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 6 -- Marion Harding Invitational
Oct. 8 -- At Lancaster
Oct. 4 -- At Gahanna
*Oct. 9 -- At Olentangy Liberty
Oct. 4 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
*Oct. 9 -- Home vs. Liberty
*Oct. 4 -- At Westerville Central. The Braves defeated the Warhawks 25-15, 25-10, 25-11 on Sept. 13.
*Oct. 9 -- At Olentangy Orange. The Braves lost to the Pioneers 25-21, 25-13, 27-25 on Sept. 20.