A year ago, the Hartley High School softball team made it past the second round of the Division II district tournament for the third time in four seasons despite having just two senior starters.

A year ago, the Hartley High School softball team made it past the second round of the Division II district tournament for the third time in four seasons despite having just two senior starters.

The benefits of having several freshmen and sophomores in the lineup should pay off this spring, if the Hawks can survive a difficult regular-season schedule.

On March 24, Hartley opened with losses to Division I teams Pickerington Central (8-2) and Central Crossing (8-0). It then played defending Division II district champion Lakewood on March 27 and the fourth seed for last year's Division II district tournament, Licking Valley, on March 28.

The Hawks play Thursday, March 29, at Jonathan Alder, Saturday, March 31, at home against Dublin Coffman and Olentangy and Tuesday, April 3, at Canal Winchester.

The game against Jonathan Alder is a rematch of a second-round district tournament contest that Hartley won 13-12 a year ago.

Later this spring, Hartley plays in events at Tipp City Tippecanoe (April 13 and 14) and LaGrange Keystone (April 27 and 28).

Hartley has gone 49-53 in four seasons under coach Meghan Zuercher, whose last name was Rowlands before she got married during the offseason.

The Hawks were 12-10 a year ago.

"Excitement is everywhere in our practices," Zuercher said. "We've got an extremely close-knit group. Our schedule is extremely tough this year, probably the toughest one we've had (in my tenure)."

The only senior is Emily Monds (1B/RF).

Juniors Anna Kirk (SS), Allie Smith (CF) and Tiffany Wolf (P) have been key players since they were freshmen. Kirk has verbally committed to play for Miami University.

Also on the team are junior Emily Davis (C/1B/OF) and sophomores Alexis Britford (OF), Kristen Culbertson (3B), Reyna Grundy (P), Sidney Melton (2B), Mariah Rock (2B), Cassie Plageman (1B/OF/designated player) and Nicole Weldon (OF). Rock is a transfer from Canal Winchester.

Freshman Miranda Golden will begin the season as a courtesy runner.

Melton is expected to be sidelined until May with an injury.

After going 10-16 in 2010, Hartley began last season on a 10-game winning streak and earned the fifth seed for the district tournament.

The Hawks rallied from a five-run deficit with two outs in the seventh inning in the tournament win over Jonathan Alder. Hartley then fell to sixth-seeded Olentangy 8-7 in a district semifinal.

Hartley, which lost Emma Caputo and Hannah Chalfant to graduation, tied Ready for third (3-3) in the CCL behind DeSales (6-0) and ahead of Watterson (1-5).

Baseball team will sport younger look

The baseball team will have a new look this season after losing nine players from a year ago to graduation.

The top returnee is junior Luke Heinmiller, who started at catcher last season but is likely to be at shortstop and pitcher this spring.

Each of the Hawks' three seniors, Austin Albert (P/2B/OF), Austin Parks (OF) and Cameron Taylor (P/OF), had part-time roles last season.

Hartley opened March 26 with a 16-5 loss to Columbus Academy in five innings and begins CCL play Monday, April 2, at home against Ready.

"I'm starting three or four sophomores, so we're going to be young," said Morgan Assmann, who is in his 14th season as coach. "The game's a little different speed at the varsity, and what I'm looking for is enthusiasm. We'll have a little bit of competition for the lineup this year."

Also on the team are juniors Cesar Chaires (C), Austin Gault (1B/P), Caleb Lewell (C), Steven Marchionda (INF/P), Davis McCartney (1B), Alex Rupert (OF) and Adam Zevchik (P) and sophomores Andrew Gilliland (P/SS), Austin Kirkbride (OF), Sam Montgomery (P/OF) and Nick Ozarzak (3B).

Zevchik is expected to have season-ending back surgery in mid-April.

Last season, Hartley was the third seed for the Division II district tournament but lost to Big Walnut 5-1 in a district semifinal to finish 14-10.

The Hawks opened the postseason with a 6-1 win over Sparta Highland in the second round.

Hartley placed third (4-4) in the CCL behind DeSales (7-1) and Watterson (5-3) and ahead of Ready and St. Charles (2-6).

Austin Underwood and Caleb Parker, who each pitched during the tournament against Big Walnut, led a senior class that also included starters Connor Callahan, Jack Imwalle, Alex Heinmiller, Kendall Johnson, Alex Lowe and Nick Owens.

Boys tennis looking for bounce-back year

The boys tennis team opens Thursday, March 29, at home against Columbus West and begins CCL play Tuesday, April 3, against visiting Ready.

Junior Stephen Toone has moved up from second singles to become the team's first-singles player.

Junior Jacob Barger is playing second singles, with senior David Shanks or junior Conner Malone expected to be at third singles.

Either Shanks or Malone will be at first doubles with senior Evan Candler.

Competing for time at second doubles are sophomores Dante DiNucci, Miles Heighter and Andrew Nouanesengsy.

"We had a very green team last year," said Mike Graham, who is in his 14th season as coach. "Two years ago we had a doubles team (2010 graduates Josh Pecinovsky and John Mueller) get to district, but ever since then we've been rebuilding."

Last season, Hartley went 1-10 overall and 0-4 in the CCL to finish behind St. Charles (4-0), Watterson (3-1), DeSales (2-2) and Ready (1-3). The Hawks had no players advance from the Division II sectional at CSG.