As far as Olentangy High School baseball coach Ryan Lucas is concerned, all is well with the program in his fifth season at the helm.
Lucas has good reason to be positive, as the Braves are seeking their third consecutive league championship and return several key players from their first Division I district title team since 2012.
"This is the deepest we've been in my five years, and (this is) by far the best pitching staff we've had (in that time)," said Lucas, whose team was 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division before playing Westerville South on April 4. "We have (six) seniors back, we only lost four players (to graduation) and (we have) a lot of pitching back. Pitching and team defense are usually our staple every year. If somebody asks me what this program is all about, that's it."
Olentangy returns 14 players who either played varsity last year or joined the roster for the postseason, including pitcher/third baseman Berto Carselle, leading home-run hitter Cameron Kaiser, Division I recruit Caden Kaiser, shortstop/pitcher Josh Moeller and outfielder/pitcher Cole Robinson.
The Braves went 22-9 overall, losing to eventual state champion Pickerington North 7-2 in 13 innings in a regional semifinal.
Cameron Kaiser, a senior first baseman, hit .247 with a team-high two home runs and 21 RBI last year. Carselle, a senior, batted .306 with 13 RBI and was 5-2 with a 1.65 ERA, 25 strikeouts and nine walks in 59 1/3 innings.
Carselle, who was Olentangy's No. 2 starter as a junior, committed last week to play for the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
According to Lucas, Caden Kaiser has received interest from Cincinnati, Ohio State and Xavier and already has been offered by the Musketeers, for whom 2016 graduate Nate Monastra -- a first-team all-state honoree as a senior as well as OCC-Capital Player of the Year -- now plays.
"He's our best player," Lucas said of Caden Kaiser, a sophomore who batted .342 with eight RBI last year. "Caden is a legit D-I guy."
Olentangy opened with a 5-3 win at Worthington Kilbourne on March 29 and followed up with wins over North Union (6-1 in its home opener March 30), Upper Arlington (8-6 on April 1) and Westerville South (5-2 in six innings April 3 in its OCC-Buckeye opener).
The Braves went 13-1 last year in the OCC-Capital to repeat as league champions ahead of Orange (11-3).
Rounding out the roster are seniors Sam Allinger (1B/3B), Riley Haag (OF/P), Jake McIntyre (RF/P) and Sam Nourse (2B/C), juniors Evan Brock (P/1B/OF), Braydon Chitty (OF), Nick Foy (P/1B/OF), Lucas Hassinger (C), Tyler Karbler (3B/DH), Ethan Kellner (P), Moeller, Robinson and Nate Wilhelm (P) and sophomores Connor Haag (P/utility) and Logan Ketron (C/OF/P).
"These guys know what (winning) is like and what it will take to do what we did last year," Lucas said.
Volleyball team tries
to build on last year
The boys volleyball team's cupboard is hardly bare as it attempts to improve on last year, when it went 18-8 overall and advanced to a Division I East Region final.
Juniors Bentley Azbell (lib-ero), Kurt Freeman (setter/right-side hitter) and Trent Trees (setter) return for a team that second-year coach Karen Koch-heiser said began the season ahead of last year's pace, largely because most players participate in club volleyball.
"We're definitely ahead of where we were last year," Koch-heiser said. "(Our) ball control is good. That's something I always harp on, because everything else will fall into place if you can take care of the ball."
Olentangy was 3-0 before playing South on April 4. The Braves opened with a 25-23, 25-18, 25-12 win over visiting St. Charles on March 28, swept Kilbourne 25-15, 25-14, 25-13 on March 30 and beat Pickerington Central 31-29, 25-15, 25-17 on April 3.
Olentangy has only one senior in outside hitter/right-side hitter Bradley Cluff.
Trees moved to setter from defensive specialist and libero.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Noah Bahnick (middle hitter/outside hitter), Jamir Benton (outside hitter), Aaric Gossett (middle blocker/outside hitter), Joey Huyhn (defensive specialist/libero), Andy Montell (outside hitter), Mitchell Postak (middle hitter) and Jack Spohn (middle hitter) and sophomores Hayden Kekeres (outside hitter), Zane Nelson (setter) and Jack Rettinger (right-side hitter).
Bahnick, Kekeres, Montell and Nelson will swing between varsity and junior varsity.
Benton was a hurdler and sprinter for the boys track and field team last year.
The Braves, who went 6-4 in the OCC-Capital last year to tie Mount Vernon for second behind Pickerington North (10-0), lost to Hilliard Darby 25-18, 25-10, 25-21 in a regional final.
"We have a banner on the wall for the first time in (program) history," Kochheiser said. "We were one win from the state tournament. I've reminded the team that those guys didn't get there without working hard."
Softball team aims
to bounce back
The softball team returns seven letterwinners from what coach Alan Tharp called "an average season," as Olentangy went 14-13 overall and 7-7 in the OCC-Capital and did not record a postseason win.
Among the leading returnees are seniors Kristen Bartel (C/3B), Sydney Hall (OF), Emma Spinner (OF) and Sydney Wagner (SS) and junior pitcher Sophie Low.
Olentangy was 3-1 before playing Hilliard Darby on April 4.
The Braves opened with a 6-3 win over Springville (Pennsylvania) Elk Lake on March 25 at Disney Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee, Florida, and lost to Pittsburgh North Hills 3-2 the same day.
Low, who was 5-0 in the circle last year and batted .341 with 18 RBI, struck out nine in five innings against Elk Lake.
Freshman Sylvia Kelly (INF/OF) hit a solo home run against North Hills.
"Sophie has been working very hard this season," said Tharp, who is in his fifth season. "We have some really good talent this season and we expect good things from our underclassmen. This is probably one of the deepest rosters we've had since 2012-13. We have a 15-player roster this season and any of them can produce on the field and at the plate."
Hall batted .356 last year, ahead of Wagner (.329, 15 RBI) and Spinner (.317).
Olentangy, which begins OCC-Buckeye play Wednesday, April 12, at home against South, finished fourth in the OCC-Capital last year behind champion Delaware (14-0).
None of the three teams that finished ahead of Olentangy in the league -- Delaware, Mount Vernon (10-4) and New Albany (10-4) -- are in the OCC-Buckeye. Delaware was realigned into the OCC-Cardinal, New Albany remained in the OCC-Capital and Mount Vernon left the OCC.
The Braves defeated Dublin Scioto 8-7 in their home opener March 29 as junior outfielder Morgan Cox had a walk-off double. They added another win April 3, 6-3 at Big Walnut.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Olivia Bigham (OF/C), Erika Brehm (INF/OF), Emily Gernert (P/OF) and Olivia Gregory (OF), sophomores Sam Wilson (C/1B) and Brooke Wells (C/3B) and freshmen Payton Cox (P/1B) and Kristen Kracht (INF/OF).
"We expect the freshmen to elevate the program," Tharp said.
March 29 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
March 30 -- vs. North Union
April 1 -- at Upper Arlington
*April 3 -- at Westerville South
*April 4 -- vs. Westerville South
*April 5 -- at Westerville North
*April 7 -- vs. Westerville South
April 8 -- at Hilliard Darby (DH)
*April 10 -- vs. Westerville Central
*April 12 -- at Westerville Central
April 14 -- vs. Pickerington Central
April 15 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
*April 17 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 19 -- at Olentangy Orange
*April 21 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*April 24 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
*April 26 -- vs. Westerville South
*April 28 -- at Westerville North
April 29 -- at Pickerington North (DH)
*May 1 -- vs. Westerville Central
*May 3 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*May 5 -- at Olentangy Liberty
March 25 -- Pittsburgh North Hills and Springville (Pa.) Elk Lake at Disney Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee, Fla.
March 29 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
April 3 -- at Big Walnut
April 4 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
April 5 -- vs. Upper Arlington
April 6 -- at Marysville
April 10 -- vs. Central Crossing
April 11-- vs. Pickerington Central
*April 12 -- vs. Westerville South
*April 13 -- at Westerville North
*April 17 -- vs. Westerville Central
April 18 -- vs. Watterson
*April 19 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*April 20 -- at Olentangy Liberty
April 22 -- vs. Dublin Coffman and Sparta Highland
*April 24 -- at Westerville South
*April 26 -- vs. Westerville North
*April 27 -- at Westerville Central
April 28 -- at Hartley
*May 1 -- at Olentangy Orange
*May 3 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
May 6 -- at Groveport with Ready
March 28 -- vs. St. Charles
March 30 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
April 3 -- vs. Pickerington Central
*April 4 -- vs. Westerville South
*April 6 -- at Westerville North
April 8 -- Massillon Jackson Tournament
April 10 -- vs. DeSales
*April 11 -- vs. Westerville Central
*April 18 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*April 20 -- at Westerville South
*April 25 -- vs. Westerville North
*April 27 -- at Westerville Central
*May 4 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
May 9 -- at Gahanna
May 10 -- at Pickerington North
May 13 -- at Pickerington Central with Mount Vernon and Westerville North
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis and track & field teams:
*April 6 -- Home vs. Westerville South
April 8 -- At Mason
*April 11 -- At Westerville Central
*April 6 -- At South
April 8 -- At Dublin Jerome
*April 11 -- Home vs. Central
*April 6 -- Home vs. South
April 10 -- At Dublin Coffman
*April 11 -- At Westerville North
April 12 -- At St. Charles
TRACK & FIELD
April 7 -- Panther Invitational at Hilliard Darby
April 12 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange