Olentangy Liberty High School boys lacrosse coach Eric O'Brien believes his team's success depends on how quickly his underclassmen can fill the roles of last year's 11 seniors.

Olentangy Liberty High School boys lacrosse coach Eric O'Brien believes his team's success depends on how quickly his underclassmen can fill the roles of last year's 11 seniors.

"We have a good core group of guys," said O'Brien, whose third season begins Saturday, March 24, at Medina. "The key factor is going to be if the younger guys can sew up some seams offensively to fill the void we lost from last year."

The Patriots averaged 15.1 goals per game last season and finished 13-5 overall. In the Division I Central Region tournament, they defeated Thomas Worthington 16-11 in the first round and lost to eventual state runner-up Worthington Kilbourne 8-5 in a semifinal.

Liberty captured the OCC-Ohio Division championship, going 5-0 to finish ahead of Olentangy (5-1), New Albany (4-2), Hilliard Darby (2-3), Hilliard Bradley (2-4), Orange (1-5) and Gahanna (1-5). A game between Darby and Liberty was canceled because of bad weather.

It was the Patriots' first league championship since they shared the 2005 title with Olentangy.

"We meshed together well as a team," O'Brien said. "We had some hard-nosed workers and they understood what it took to win."

Eight of the 11 players who graduated last spring were from the attack or midfield, including Jimmy Ruska, the OCC-Ohio Player of the Year.

Playing attack this season will be seniors Brody Blaine, Zach Lando and Corey Menninger, sophomore Patrick Bruck and freshman Drew Gouhin. Seniors Austin Bull, Tyler Hartwell and Austin King and juniors Jake Rakich and Shane Rakich lead the midfield.

Bull has signed to play at the Virginia Military Institute.

"We want to average at least 10 goals a game this year," O'Brien said. "Our mentality is still to push in transition. We want to have a strong core defense, make stops and then push the ball up the field."

Junior Tyler Stark returns at goalkeeper. Seniors Austin Fenstermaker and Phil Osolinski and sophomore Daryian Davies lead the close defense.

Stark, Bull and Osolinski were second-team all-league last season.

"We retain the level of experience we had last year defensively," O'Brien said. "We have a bunch of guys who are going to contribute."

Orange to rely on defense under first-year coach

As coach at New Albany the last three years, new Orange coach Sean McGinnis was 3-0 against the Pioneers, including an 11-6 win last season.

"I've seen their program from the beginning and watched it grow over the last couple of years," said McGinnis, whose team opens Friday, March 23, at Westerville North. "They've always had good athletes, but they seemed to be missing some steps along the way. The kids are very excited about having a new way of looking at the sport and building a new attitude."

The Pioneers, who finished 7-10 overall last year after losing to Dublin Scioto 10-7 in a play-in game of the Division II Central Region tournament, have moved up to Division I this season.

McGinnis said one of his first tasks was revamping Orange's defense, which will be led by senior goalkeeper Cody Carroll. Also playing defense are senior Nick Murley, juniors Mike Forbes and Cole Gabalis and sophomores Jake Lewis, Tony Menzo, Michael Secrest and Drake Straty.

Murley was second-team all-league last season.

Sophomore Robert McHale is Carroll's backup in goal.

"Our strength is our defense, which ironically was the weakest part of the team last year," McGinnis said. "We are very physical and very athletic."

McGinnis said he has been trying to get the Pioneers to play as one unit on offense.

Playing attack are seniors Mitchell Deakins, Sean Demme, Dar Faroughi and Blake Holbrook and sophomores Chase Green and Zach Yasses.

Seniors Dan Bull, Alex Haugh (faceoff specialist), Sam Kennedy and Alex Menzo, junior Jarrod Gilliam and sophomores Eddy Arnold, Brandon Ritter and Anthony Smith play in the midfield. Bull, who was honorable mention all-league, and Holbrook both scored more than 25 goals last season.

"Right now the older players are starting to mesh with the younger ones," McGinnis said. "They're working hard on becoming an offensive unit and playing within the system.

"We need to play for each other and understand the potential we have as a team. If they take things seriously, we're really going to turn some people's heads."

Olentangy seeks to build from last season's success

Olentangy wants to continue what it started a year ago.

The Braves finished 11-8 overall after losing to New Albany 12-5 in the first round of the Division II Central Region tournament. That was their most wins since going 16-3 in 2008.

"We have a lot of momentum going into this year," second-year coach Mike Kinney said. "The kids are excited about having a winning record last year. There's a new energy and new expectations."

The defense, which lost All-American Kyle Moses to graduation, will be tested early. Olentangy, which has moved to Division I this season, opens Wednesday, March 28, at Dublin Jerome, which won last year's Division II state championship, then plays Division I state semifinalist Medina on March 30.

Senior Nick Kane returns in goal with sophomore Cole Palmby as the backup. Leading the close defense are senior Chris Cousins (Bellarmine University recruit), senior Austin Held (Alderson-Broaddus recruit) and junior Tate Stover, who has verbally committed to Ohio State. Seniors Evan Gifford, Kyle Margolies and Andrew Weaver, juniors David Ketter and Tyler Olenick and sophomore Jonah Gutentag also will see time on defense.

"We spent a tremendous amount of time figuring out which piece of the puzzle goes where," Kinney said.

Playing attack are senior Fritz Kigar and juniors Eric Milliron, Mitchell Newell and Lukas Smith.

Seniors Jeff Hunt, Jacob Kaelin, Brad Steen and Josh Stein (Otterbein recruit) and juniors Austin Lilly and Jeff Simmons return to the midfield. Juniors Blaine Koch and Travis Massey and sophomores Josh Baumbach, Zach Johnson and Zach Potter also should contribute to the midfield.

"We have the talent and the kids are definitely motivated," Kinney said. "We're finally getting to the point where we don't have to rebuild every year. We just have to reload the offense or defense every year."