The Olentangy Orange High School boys and girls swimming and diving teams have a newfound sense of unity in their third season under coach J.R. Fourqurean.
The Pioneers have been working together as a unit, and that has equated into good performances early in the season.
"It's year three of my being here and it's the best culture we have had," Fourqurean said. "They are working together and they are really working toward pumping each other up. That has made practices, weight-room sessions, bus trips and everything else more enjoyable. They are having fun and that translates into good performances."
The Pioneers return two boys with state experience in senior Mason Reid and junior Luke Cheetham. Reid finished 21st in the 100-yard freestyle (48.12 seconds) last season in his first trip to the Division I state meet.
Cheetham finished ninth (427.6) in diving after placing 12th (412.8) as a freshman.
"I learned that I needed to perform under pressure and still be at the top of my game," Cheetham said. "My degrees of difficulty will go up this year and I've already been working on that."
The Pioneers have 59 competitors after having 45 last season. They have 32 girls and 27 boys, but "we have a lot of young kids," Fourqurean said.
"We have five divers and they are all scoring points in my head, led by Luke and Lauren (Cheetham). I hope the twins make it back to state, and they should barring injury."
Lauren Cheetham finished third (481.8) at state as a freshman, but she was unable to compete at district last season because of a broken right wrist.
"I'm healthy and just trying to maintain that and get back to where I want to be," she said. "We're still working (as divers) to try some of our new things and work to get better at those."
The Pioneers competed against St. Charles and host Columbus School for Girls on Dec. 9, with the boys losing to St. Charles 340-139 and the girls tying CSG at 184.
Luke Cheetham won boys diving (297.25) and senior Pat Mahoney won the 100 butterfly (56.93).
Lauren Cheetham won girls diving (292.25) and senior Natalie Johnson won the 200 individual medley (2:04.68) and 100 free (57.03). Other winners were junior Sydney Robare (500 free, 5:41.7), sophomore Kali Butler (100 backstroke, 1:05.05), sophomore Erika Knodel (100 fly, 1:03.18) and freshman Emma Logan (100 breaststroke, 1:13.7).
Other key performers for the boys are seniors Nicholas Chugh, Cullen Dickson, Everett Halverson and Ronak Tripathy and freshman Graham Weidenhamer. Other top competitors for the girls are juniors Alice Crowe and Allie Guagenti and freshman Brooke Farren.
The Pioneers compete in the Ned Reeb Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 16, at Ohio State.
"Ned Reeb is the measuring stick for us," Fourqurean said. "Using the results we get from that meet, it's kind of how we base the rest of the season. We take that meet very seriously, that and then we go to Canton (for the Northeast Classic on Jan. 13). Those are the two big focus meets we have before the postseason."
Gymnastics team has sizable roster
The 21-athlete gymnastics team includes three seniors who have been in the program for four seasons in Brenna Clifford, Molly Cooke and Emma Shrivers.
They'll lead the way along with classmate Alissa Greene, who is in her third season with the Pioneers. Senior Kenzie Blankenship is in her first season.
"We have around 20 kids, which is one of our larger teams we have had," 10th-year coach Jen Hedrick said. "We have three four-year seniors and Alissa has been here three years, and they have done a great job of leading us. It's exciting to have so many girls, especially because they have been working well together and have been so supportive."
One of Orange's top performers, junior Nicole Carifa, has been sidelined with a back injury and is waiting for clearance to compete.
"Nicole has been battling back problems since last season," Hedrick said. "We have watered down some of her routines to help keep her healthy."
Sophomore Olivia Dieckmann returns after battling a foot injury last season.
"Olivia is a hard-worker and is one of the few athletes that does (gymnastics) out of season," Hedrick said. "That keeps her in better shape and she continues to grow."
The Pioneers also have added a pair of club gymnasts in junior Celia Ritchie and freshman Emma Wood.
"Celia came from high-level club and wanted to compete at the low-key high school atmosphere," Hedrick said. "Emma Wood has a gymnastics background and we're excited to see what she can do over the next four years."
Dec. 9 -- *Big Walnut and Delaware at Central Ohio Gymnastics and Cheerleading
Jan. 6 -- Buckeye Valley and Thornville Sheridan at Central Ohio Gymnastics and Cheerleading
Jan. 12 -- *Olentangy Liberty and *Westerville Central at Central Ohio Gymnastics and Cheerleading
Jan. 15 -- at *Olentangy with Big Walnut and Olentangy Liberty
Jan. 18 -- at Thomas Worthington with Olentangy and Worthington Kilbourne
Jan. 24 -- at Worthington Kilbourne with Grove City and Thornville Sheridan
Feb. 7 -- at Marysville with Big Walnut and Olentangy
Feb. 10 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at TBA
Feb. 13 -- Big Walnut, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Olentangy at Hilliard Darby
Feb. 15 -- Beauty and the Beast Invitational at home
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 1 -- at Upper Arlington
Dec. 2 -- Westerville South at Westerville Community Center
Dec. 9 -- at Columbus School for Girls with St. Charles
Dec. 15 -- Worthington Relays at Thomas Worthington
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. 9 -- at New Albany
Jan. 13 -- Hilliard/Olentangy Challenge at Hilliard YMCA and Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
Jan. 19 -- Dublin Scioto at Dublin Recreation Center
Jan. 27 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Thomas Worthington
Below are the coming schedules for the Orange boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics and hockey teams:
*Dec. 15 -- At Westerville Central
Dec. 19 -- At Big Walnut
*Dec. 15 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
Dec. 19 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
*Dec. 14 -- Westerville Central at Capri Lanes
*Dec. 15 -- London at Madison Lanes
*Dec. 15 -- Springboro at Chiller North
*Dec. 16 -- Dublin Coffman at Chiller Dublin
*Dec. 17 -- Dublin Jerome at Chiller North
Dec. 15-16 -- Olentangy Liberty Classic