The Olentangy Liberty High School girls cross country team established itself as one of the strongest in the state the past three seasons.
After taking sixth in the Division I state meet in 2014 and earning a runner-up finish in 2015, the Patriots placed ninth a year ago.
The two runners who led the way the past two years, senior Emma Bower and junior Gracie Sprankle, have returned after Liberty earned OCC-Buckeye-Division and district titles and was third at regional last season.
On Sept. 9, the Patriots scored 80 points to win the 27-team McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial as Sprankle finished first in 17 minutes, 36.3 seconds.
"We've got a really strong team," fourth-year coach Darrell Dewese said. "With the experience we have, we're hoping to better our place at state last year."
On Aug. 19 in the 24-team OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway, Sprankle ran 18:26.9 to capture the title as the Patriots placed eighth (244) behind champion Centerville (52). Bower was 11th (18:56.7).
Sprankle also was first (18:11.77) as the Patriots won the title (54) in the 12-team Pickerington Classic on Aug. 26 at Pickerington North.
Then on Sept. 2 in the Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson, Liberty was fourth (112) of nine teams behind champion Centerville (35).
Senior Sarah Colvin is another key returnee after being among the team's top seven during each of her first three seasons.
Sophomore Linnea Kunesh and seniors Addison French and Anna Bower also are off to solid starts.
Other key runners include seniors Rachel Ausec and Abigail Weis, juniors Madeline Ailes and Lily Biros, sophomores Lauren Buddie and Emma Shear and freshmen Audrey Piero and Lauren Woodruff.
Junior Emily Matta was the team's No. 3 runner last season but moved out of state.
Depth a strength
for boys runners
On Aug. 26 in the Baron Blast at Buckeye Valley, the boys cross country team opened by showing what could be its biggest strength this season.
The Patriots finished second (55) of 11 teams behind the host Barons (51) as their top 16 competitors were separated by 40 seconds.
Senior Nolan Vondracek led with a ninth-place finish (17:40.65).
"It's the deepest team we've ever had, and we've had some good teams," 11th-year coach Jared Mills said.
In the 32-team McGowan Invitational, the Patriots scored 93 points to finish first.
Liberty was a league and district runner-up and went on to place 12th at state last season.
Six of the Patriots' postseason competitors have returned, including senior Logan Boone, who was 65th (16:16.6) at state.
The others who competed at state are seniors Nicholas Anderson and Bradley Raymond, juniors Adam Clark and Joseph Johnson III and sophomore Nick Irelan.
Other top runners include seniors Zach King, William Koberna and Nathan Warrick, junior Drew Boggs, sophomores Jacob Feldmaier, Jack Humenay, Judd Ogle and Blake Overly and freshman Tanner Sutton.
On Sept. 2, the Patriots scored 34 points to win the 10-team Westerville Classic at Westerville North. Johnson was third (16:44.66), followed Boone (fourth, 16:46.09), Raymond (eighth, 17:09.97), Anderson (ninth, 17:13.24) and Clark (10th, 17:13.83).
New tennis players
settle into roles
Although it returned four of its top seven players from last season, the girls tennis team has had freshmen playing both first and second singles for much of the season.
Maddie Atway and Dani Schoenley, however, aren't typical freshmen.
With the duo stepping in, the Patriots are 8-2 overall and went 5-0 in league play to win their second consecutive OCC-Buckeye championship. They defeated Westerville Central 5-0 on Sept. 6 and Olentangy 4-1 on Sept. 7 to wrap up the league title.
"It's been going pretty well," Atway said. "I like (high school tennis). It's fun. It's really exciting being able to play a lot of different people. I only knew Dani before this year, but we've gotten to know all the other people on the team really quickly and they're all really nice."
Atway was happy she earned the team's first-singles spot.
"I kind of expected it, but it's a big responsibility," she said.
Liberty has won seven matches in a row.
Included in the winning streak was a 5-0 victory Aug. 15 over Davidson in the second round of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament.
The Patriots play Pickerington Central in the third round, with the winner to face Upper Arlington, Watterson, Grove City or Orange in a district semifinal.
Seniors Sanjana Kakollu, Cellini Ko and Lexi Steer and juniors Lexie Brengartner, Ellie MacDowell and Anna Gardner have been other key players.
"We've been playing tough matches because our goal is to be at our best in late September," coach Will Thieman said. "There's no incentive not to play tough matches. (Atway and Schoenley) are kind of like 1A and 1B in my eyes. They've both been pretty good.
"I think the team is really close. They all hang out. It's nice to have a close team because they all want everyone else to do well."
Aug. 19 -- Girls: OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway
Aug. 26 -- Boys: Baron Blast at Buckeye Valley; Girls: Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North
Sept. 2 -- Boys: Westerville Classic at Westerville North; Girls: Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 9 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 16 -- Galion Festival at Amann Reservoir
Sept. 23 -- Boys: Bob Reall Invitational at Lancaster; Girls: Strongsville Invitational
Sept. 30 -- Boys: Kettering Fairmont Invitational; Girls: Erin Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club
Oct. 7 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 14 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Hilliard Davidson
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty field hockey boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 14 – At Columbus Academy
Sept. 16 – At Kettering Fairmont
Sept. 20 – Home vs. Watterson
Sept. 16 – Howlett Invitational at Worthington Hills
Sept. 18 – Delaware County Bank Cup at Bent Tree
Sept. 14 – Dublin Coffman and Upper Arlington at Scioto Reserve
*Sept. 19 – Home vs. Westerville South
*Sept. 19 – At South
Sept. 15 – At Rocky River Magnificat
Sept. 16 – At Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown
Sept. 19 – At Pickerington Central
Sept. 20 – At Coffman
*Sept. 14 – Home vs. Westerville Central
Sept. 16 – Worthington Kilbourne Invitational
*Sept. 19 – At Olentangy