Despite losing seven players to graduation and with just two seniors in the program, Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball coach Sam Krafty believed his team would contend for the championship during its first season in the OCC-Buckeye Division.
The addition of Teegan Pifher, a 6-foot-1 wing player who has proven to be the Patriots' most consistent all-around force despite being a freshman, has helped back up Krafty's preseason optimism.
Her contributions have been especially important since the Patriots lost senior Breanna Yashko on Jan. 21 to a season-ending knee injury.
"(Pifher) gets better every day," Krafty said. "She's very, very coachable. You ask her to do something and she really tries. Sometimes she looks a little hesitant, but I knew she'd be very good. If she'd have been on our team last year, she would have played if that tells you anything."
Pifher was averaging 12.7 points and seven rebounds heading into Liberty's game Feb. 7 against Westerville North, which was tied with the Patriots for first in the league at 6-2.
The Patriots were 13-7 overall and had lost three of four heading into the game, including falling 44-29 on Feb. 3 at Westerville South as Pifher scored 14 points.
Yashko was averaging 12.2 points and was among the area leaders in free-throw shooting at 86 percent when she was lost for the season.
"I'm somewhat surprised (by how much I've contributed), but it's been a lot of fun," Pifher said. "It's just been happening naturally. I knew I'd play more on the inside than on the perimeter and I'm fine with that. I don't mind being in the post. I've had (some) rough games, but my team always has my back."
Liberty closes the regular season Friday, Feb. 10, at Westerville Central.
The Patriots received the 10th seed for the Division I district tournament and will open the postseason against 29th-seeded Dublin Scioto on Feb. 18 at home. They were seventh in last week's Division I area coaches poll.
Senior guard Katie Harrop and junior guard Emma Humenay also have stepped up since Yashko was injured.
Harrop was averaging 8.4 points through 20 games and had a pair of 14-point performances in the first four games Yashko did not play.
Humenay was among the area leaders in 3-point shooting at 50 percent (39-for-78) through 19 games.
Wrestlers tuning up
With a little more than two weeks remaining before the postseason begins with a Division I sectional tournament Feb. 25 at Newark, the wrestling team has two OCC-Buckeye duals remaining.
The Patriots are 3-0 in the league heading into their match Thursday, Feb. 9, at home against Westerville Central. They close the league schedule Feb. 16 at Westerville North.
"The lineup is coming together, and the majority of guys are healthy or really close," coach Mark Marinelli said.
The Patriots lost to Massillon Perry 36-18 on Feb. 3 but beat Mechanicsburg 60-17 and Circleville 53-18 on Feb. 4 in home matches.
According to InterMat's top 50 national rankings released Feb. 1, Liberty was 11th overall, including third among Ohio teams behind Lakewood St. Edward (third) and St. Paris Graham (fifth). Mechanicsburg was ranked 45th.
St. Edward is in Division I, while Graham competes in Division II.
Individually, according to InterMat, senior Kyle Lawson was 16th at 160 pounds, junior Trevor Lawson was 19th at 170 and sophomore Connor Brady was 12th at 152.
"Being ranked 11th (in the nation) means that some guy has watched us wrestle a few times and thinks we have enough talent to be ranked pretty high," Marinelli said. "We've competed in some great events and have done well at all of them, so we're deserving of that ranking. I don't take much pride in anything other than effort and focus. If we give great effort and are focused, then you can make your breaks and get decent results. If not, that ranking will look good but mean little."
continues hot play
A strong January helped the hockey team tie St. Charles for the CHC-Red title.
The Patriots avenged a 5-0 loss to the Cardinals on Dec. 2 with a 2-0 victory Feb. 4 and closed the regular season at 25-6-1 overall and 14-2 in the league. St. Charles is 24-7-1 overall and finished 14-2 in the CHC-Red.
Based on goals allowed, St. Charles won the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the Blue Jackets Cup, which begins Thursday, Feb. 9.
Second-seeded Liberty opens against seventh-seeded Gahanna at OhioHealth Ice Haus, and the winner plays third-seeded Upper Arlington or sixth-seeded Orange on Friday, Feb. 10. The championship game is Sunday, Feb. 12.
The top four finishers in the CHC-Red, the top three from the CHC-White and the first-place finisher in the CHC-Blue compete in the Varsity Division of the tournament.
Liberty, which has won 15 of its last 16, scored six third-period goals and beat DeSales 9-1 on Feb. 3 at Chiller North.
Senior forward Nick Rosato had four assists against the Stallions, and the game also marked the first this season for senior defenseman J.T. Schoettmer, who had one goal and two assists. He had been out since the preseason with a broken collarbone.
Then against St. Charles, senior forwards Tyler Buckerfield and Jimmy Bursinger each scored one goal and senior goaltender David Dew picked up the victory.
The Patriots also defeated Cincinnati Moeller 5-2 on Feb. 5.
reveal college picks
Liberty held a ceremony Feb. 1 for five athletes who will be playing college sports.
In football, Drew Rosi will play for Toledo, Trey Stablein will play for Valparaiso and Andrew Crooks will play for Tiffin.
Brendon White, who also was a member of the 2017 recruiting class, enrolled at Ohio State in January.
Also honored Feb. 1 were Sarina Dirrig, who will play women's soccer for Ohio University, and Chase Snyder, who will play men's lacrosse for Rollins.