Olentangy High School girls swimmers celebrated along with Ben Kuriger of the boys team last season as he earned top-eight finishes in two events in the Division I state meet.
Despite having four qualifiers in as many events, the girls team was not represented in any championship races, but the Braves and coach Nick Ljubi hope another year of experience and an important addition change that.
The girls return three state qualifiers in senior Olivia Gollmar and juniors Bridget Parker and Grace Horstman, all of whom swam on the 200-yard freestyle and 400 free relays that each finished 23rd, but they hope the addition of sophomore breaststroker Grace Butcher will both increase the team's depth and put the 200 medley relay in contention for a state berth.
"We haven't had a real strong breaststroker up to this point, but Grace is very strong. We could do well with her," said Gollmar, a two-time state qualifier. "I really like this team. Personally, I prefer relays more than individual events ... I don't like it when the whole race is up to me. I think it's more exciting to win as a relay because you aren't just swimming for yourself. You are swimming for your team."
Parker was 15th in the 200 free and 16th in the 500 free in her second state meet.
Olentangy opened Dec. 1 against Dublin Jerome at Dublin Community Recreation Center. The girls won 110-67 and the boys lost 142-41.
"We're a big team (26 swimmers) and I don't know why, but this is the largest girls team I've coached," said Ljubi, who is in his second season. "I'm not sure exactly what our strength is but with Bridget on the team, any stroke is a possibility. (Butcher) is going to score us some points and improve our medley relay. If we contend for state, she will be a big reason why."
Kuriger, an Ohio State recruit, is trying to become a four-time state qualifier. He was third in the 100 butterfly and eighth in the 200 free last year.
Kuriger and Matt Settipani are the boys team's only seniors, although third-year coach Dan Harris expects big seasons from junior Matt King and sophomores Garrett Graybill, Preston Kuriger, Jack Nebraska and Ben Paull.
"Preston is a good freestyler but (also) a good all-around swimmer. He has a lot of strokes he can do," Harris said. "He's not as developed or diversified as Ben yet, but he'll get there. He reminds me a lot of Ben at that age. They are very similar. ...
"I love the character of our boys (and) our fight. But really, we're a sprint-freestyle team, and that's good. Sixty to 70 percent of your meets are freestyle (events) anyway. We can mix different guys in."
Rounding out the girls roster are seniors Kellsey Distler, Lauren Householder and Emily Suchan, juniors Grace Brown, Rithika Charles, Meara Marker, Gabrielle Nicol, Liz Passias and JoAnn Van Gorder, sophomores Brianna Cruz, Ananya Das, Lauren Delligatti, Emily Espy and Ciara Szerencsits and freshmen Becca Erikson, Lauren Kerscher, Aubrey Pritchard, Kayla Reynolds, Julia Ritzler, Katie Roddy, Rachel Shakley and Olivia Young.
The rest of the boys team consists of juniors Max Garner and Massimo Nieman, sophomores Zach Lambert and Pietro Pozzi and freshmen Carson Reed, Graham Reed, Christopher Sabharwal and Jonathan Zhang.
Graham Reed and Szerencsits are the Braves' only divers.
Gore, Sherman return to lead wrestlers
Not only does the wrestling team have a large contingent of younger wrestlers in addition to two returning Division I state qualifiers, but coach Dennis Lyberger finds himself with another quandary.
Many of his wrestlers weigh in at between 138 and 160 pounds, meaning he and they will need to create some separation.
"We have a lot of experience. We have to get guys not bunched up so we don't have some district qualifiers sitting the bench," said Lyberger, whose sixth season with the Braves began Dec. 2 with their annual Olentangy Invitational. "That's our main concern right now, getting our best guys in the lineup."
Senior Xander Gore, a 145-pounder, is seeking his fourth state berth. Junior Jacob Sherman (113) advanced to state for the first time last year, when both he and Gore went 0-2.
Sherman, who might compete at 120 during dual matches, finished 43-11 last year. Gore went 38-16.
Five other district qualifiers are back in seniors Colton Doup (182), Avery Flanagan (152) and Brice Kade (160) and juniors Brady Pethtel (132) and Nick Varanelli (126).
According to Lyberger, other varsity contributors will include seniors Malcolm Mitchell (138) and James White (138), sophomores Nick Boyarko (160/170), Israel Fosten (145), Corey Hill (170) and Johnny Spinner (195) and freshmen Andrew Cline (heavyweight), C.J. Delgratta (heavyweight), Caden Doup (145), Ben Hall (120), Ethan Hand (220) and Moses Jackson (106).
White is a transfer from Delaware.
The Braves finished third (140) in the 11-team Olentangy Invitational behind champion Lancaster (183.5). Kade and Pethtel won their weight classes and Flanagan, Hand and Sherman were runners-up.
Olentangy went 3-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division last year to finish third behind champion Liberty (5-0). The Braves' first league dual is Jan. 10 at Westerville South.
By then, Lyberger thinks he and his team will have a better understanding of themselves and the realistic possibilities for this season.
"Until we get out to tournaments like North Canton (the North Canton Holiday Invitational on Friday, Dec. 15, and Saturday, Dec. 16, at North Canton Hoover) and Medina (the Medina Invitational Tournament on Dec. 27 and 28) and see if we are competitive there, we can't judge everything quite yet," Lyberger said. "With (Gore and Sherman), it's not a question of being competitive. They have to win."
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 1 -- Dublin Jerome at Dublin Community Recreation Center
Dec. 9 -- Fremont Invitational at Bowling Green State University
Dec. 16 -- Ned Reeb Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 21 -- Delaware County Classic at Ohio Wesleyan
Jan. 5 -- Olentangy Orange at Mount Carmel Fitness and Health
Jan. 6 -- Olentangy Invitational at Ohio Wesleyan
Jan. 13 -- Hilliard/Olentangy Challenge at Hilliard YMCA and Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
Jan. 20 -- at Upper Arlington
Jan. 23 -- at New Albany
Jan. 27 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Thomas Worthington
Dec. 2 -- Olentangy Invitational
Dec. 9 -- Jeremy Ammons Kilted Klassic at Sparta Highland
Dec. 15-16 -- North Canton Holiday Invitational at North Canton Hoover
Dec. 27-28 -- Medina Invitational Tournament
Jan. 6 -- Beavercreek Classic
*Jan. 10 -- at Westerville South
Jan. 12-13 -- Top Gun Tournament at Alliance
*Jan. 18 -- vs. Westerville Central
*Jan. 25 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
Feb. 3 -- Rieman Invitational at Delaware
*Feb. 7 -- at Westerville North
*Feb. 15 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and hockey teams:
*Dec. 15 -- Home vs. Westerville North
Dec. 16 -- Home vs. Groveport
*Dec. 15 -- At Westerville North
*Dec. 14 -- Olentangy Liberty at Sawmill Lanes
*Dec. 16 -- Springboro at South Metro Ice Haus