It seems like a lifetime ago that Olentangy High School boys volleyball players beamed and proudly held up two fingers for a team picture after finishing as a Division I East Region runner-up.
That was two years ago, and quite a bit -- not the least of which are expectations and experience -- has changed.
The Braves will participate in their first state tournament this weekend at Capital University, coming off a 22-25, 25-17, 25-15, 25-8 win over Liberty in a regional final May 25 at Westerville Central. It was the second-seeded Braves' first win in three consecutive finals appearances, including a loss to Hilliard Darby last year.
Olentangy, which is 23-4, will play Cincinnati Moeller in a state quarterfinal at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, June 2.
"That first year (2016), we were just so happy to be here because it was the first time," coach Karen Kochheiser said. "Last year, they didn't want shirts or anything. They didn't want anything until we won it. This was the goal."
Against seventh-seeded Liberty, Jamir Benton had 11 kills, Mitchell Postak had 10, Kurt Freeman had nine and Aaric Gossett had eight despite a slow start. Olentangy committed 16 unforced errors in the first game -- only the 17th it has lost in 27 matches -- but ensured that the next three games looked more like the two regular-season matches the Braves swept from the Patriots in OCC-Buckeye Division play.
"If we could keep the ball in play, we were confident that we could force them into some mistakes if we just kept doing our thing," Gossett said. "It might have been nerves early but we just started slow. It was a wake-up call. It was win or go home.
"We just kept balls in the corners. We were able to get some balls past their people and earn some points. But this is amazing, and we're not done yet."
Olentangy advanced to the final with a 20-25, 25-21, 25-14, 25-13 home win over eighth-seeded Central in a regional semifinal May 22.
The Olentangy-Moeller winner will play Beavercreek or Massillon Jackson in a state semifinal at noon Sunday, June 3, at Capital. That winner will play Clayton Northmont, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Cleveland St. Ignatius or Darby in the final at 4 p.m.
Olentangy lost to Darby, which was the top seed in the East Region, 25-17, 19-25, 25-21, 25-22 on May 9 and defeated the Panthers 25-17, 25-13 in the OCC Challenge six days later at Darby. The Braves also beat Beavercreek 25-22, 25-22, 25-16 on April 27.
Despite the team's season-long success, Benton said the Braves have tried to avoid thinking about state as much as possible.
"We really couldn't have that mentality, but we began the season with a loss (to Division II East Region champion St. Charles) and we probably thought we were going to walk in and just destroy them," Benton said. "We won't see them again, but we never really let ourselves think about state until now."
Nation, Szerencsits head to state meet
Seniors Holly Nation and Siobhan Szerencsits will represent the girls track and field team in the Division I state meet Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2, at Ohio State.
Szerencits narrowly missed setting a state record in the pole vault during the regional meet May 25 at Pickerington North. She won with a regional-record effort of 13 feet, 5 inches and tried to clear 13-7 three times, which would have broken the state record of 13-6 1/4 currently held by Orange's Anna Watson, but fell short.
Nonetheless, Szerencsits is seeded first at state. The next-best vaulter, Geneva's Deidra Marrison, cleared 12-6 at the Austintown-Fitch regional.
Nation was third in the high jump (5-4).
The top four finishers in each event qualified for state.
Szerencsits will compete at state for the third time. The Central Michigan recruit was fourth last year and tied for eighth as a sophomore.
Nation, a Toledo recruit, will make her first appearance at state.
Olentangy scored 16 points and finished 15th behind champion Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
Also competing were the 1,600 relay (10th, 4:04.3), Abby Brennan in the 400 (13th, 1:00.79) and the 3,200 relay (15th, 10:17.48).
No boys qualified for state. The Braves scored six points to tie for 26th behind champion Pickerington Central (97) as 41 teams scored.
Competing were the 400 relay (sixth, 43.37), Zach Shiblaq in the pole vault (sixth, 13-8), Cade Carter in the pole vault (tied for 10th, 13-1), the 800 relay (10th, 1:31.18), Cullen Sainey in the 3,200 (12th. 9:53.49) and Ali Iverson, who competed in the long jump but fouled on each of his three attempts.
Brdicka places fourth at state in tennis
Although Stu Brdicka of the boys tennis team finished his prep career with two losses, the senior was ecstatic to have made it to the second day of the Division I state tournament May 26 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
Brdicka went 2-2 at state and placed fourth, losing to Canfield's Tim Cianciola 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the third-place match.
Competing in his third state tournament, Brdicka defeated Liberty Township Lakota East's Chris Holden 6-3, 6-2 and Perrysburg's Ben Weider 6-0, 6-3 on May 25 to assure himself a top-four finish. Brdicka, an Ashland recruit, lost to Mason's Niraj Komatineni 6-3, 6-2 in a semifinal May 26.
"I think with this heat, just staying hydrated, you only have two matches (per day) so I think getting mentally through that is kind of tough, but (I'm) happy to be (placing)," Brdicka said. "This was my goal at the beginning of the season."
Brdicka's state placement as well as sectional and district championships highlighted a season in which Olentangy went 8-4 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish second behind Orange (5-0) and ahead of Liberty (3-2) and Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South (all 1-4).
Freshman Sam Routzahn likely will take Brdicka's place at first singles. Routzahn saw time there during the regular season while Brdicka battled mono and also made district as a doubles team with senior Alex Konstan after finishing third at sectional.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Jayanth Donthireddy, Neel Shetty and Tucker Strawser and sophomore Ayush Sunkad.
Softball team loses regional final
Sophie Low of the softball team largely held Teays Valley in check during the middle innings of a Division I regional final May 26 at Ohio State, retiring seven consecutive hitters from the third through the fifth innings, but the Vikings' six-run sixth -- featuring two home runs, six hits and an error -- led to a 9-5 win that ended Olentangy's season.
"We were getting by for a few innings but they hit a couple balls on us. That's all there is to it," coach Alan Tharp said. "They were starting to sit on the outside pitch because they knew that's where we'd been in getting ahead (in the count). Then we started throwing inside and they hit those."
Payton Cox homered in the first for the Braves, who finished 19-12 and were seeking their first state tournament berth.
Brooke Wells and Morgan Cox had RBI hits to highlight a three-run fourth that made it 4-1, and after Teays Valley got two runs back in the third, Emily Gernert's triple to the right-field corner scored Kirsten Kracht in the top of the sixth for a 5-3 lead.
Hailey Struckman's solo home run in the bottom of the inning made it 5-4, and two batters later Cassie Feyh homered to straightaway center to give the Vikings the lead for good.
Olentangy advanced to the final with a 5-4 win over Gahanna in a semifinal May 23 at Ohio State. Brooke Wells singled in Kirsten Kracht with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
Baseball team falls late to Eagles
Although the baseball team exceeded its season average of 6.7 hits per game during a Division I regional semifinal May 24 against New Albany, the Braves fell well short of their 4.0-run average in a 2-1 loss at Dublin Coffman.
Olentangy outhit New Albany 9-6 but scored its only run in the second inning, when junior outfield Caden Kaiser singled in junior third baseman Connor Haag.
New Albany's Spencer Tammaro hit a two-run single with two outs in the seventh, and the Braves went down in order in the bottom of the inning.
"(Tammaro) swung at a pitch that was out of the zone. He made a great swing," coach Ryan Lucas said. "They hadn't done that all game. Give them credit that they got a hit when they needed a hit. That was the big one, but we had so many opportunities throughout the game to keep adding runs and we didn't do it. We didn't get a big hit or we missed a squeeze. Those are things we always do really well."
Olentangy, which was playing in its second regional in three years, finished 21-10 overall.
Kaiser and senior shortstop Josh Moeller both had a team-best .400 batting average. Kaiser was named first-team all-league and all-district and honorable mention all-state, and Moeller (17 RBI) was first-team all-league and second-team all-district.
Junior pitcher Logan Ketron (5-1, 1.72 ERA, 45 strikeouts, 17 walks, 40 2/3 innings; .290, 23 RBI) also was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district.
Senior pitcher Nick Foy (6-3, 2.44 ERA, 57 strikeouts, 16 walks, 50 innings) was honorable mention all-league.
Senior catcher Lucas Hassinger and junior second baseman Connor McCulty were second-team all-league. Haag (.319, 19 RBI, team-high 3 home runs) was honorable mention all-league.
The Braves went 11-4 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish second behind Liberty (14-1) and ahead of Orange (7-8), Central (6-9), North (4-11) and South (3-12).
Seeded ninth in the 48-team district tournament, Olentangy defeated 26th-seeded Coffman 8-4 in a second-round home game May 9, 19th-seeded Pickerington North 4-2 in a semifinal May 14 at Darby and second-seeded Darby 5-4 in a district final May 16 at Coffman.
Boys lacrosse team loses regional semi
The boys lacrosse team had its best record since 2014 and won the OCC-Buckeye championship at 7-0, but lost 13-10 at second-seeded Liberty in a Division I, Region 1 semifinal May 22.
Senior attacker/midfielder Kyle Milliron and senior midfielder Blake Profio each scored three goals for the third-seeded Braves, who finished 16-4 overall. Olentangy, which was 15-6 last year and lost to the Patriots in the Region 1 final, had its most wins since going 16-5 in 2014.
The Braves led 5-3 in the second quarter and trailed 9-8 after three.
"We were getting ground balls and possessing the ball (early) but when you let a team like that have possession with their guys who can pass and catch so well, eventually that wears you down," first-year coach Dominique Alexander said. "I'm proud of how they stepped up and took ownership of this season. They left this program better than they found it."
Milliron became the eighth player in state history to record at least 100 goals and 100 assists in his career. He had 139 goals and 113 assists as of the end of the regular season and was named first-team all-league.
Senior attacker Riley Bruening and senior defender Antonio Tirado also were first-team all-league. Senior goalkeeper Charlie Harkin and Profio were second-team all-league and senior midfielder Josh Petrone was honorable mention.
The Braves won the league championship ahead of New Albany (6-1), Liberty (5-2), Orange (4-3), Central (3-4), North (2-5), South (1-6) and Big Walnut (0-7).
Olentangy began the 16-team regional tournament with an 18-7 home win over 10th-seeded Strongsville on May 15 and won at fifth-seeded Whitehouse Anthony Wayne 14-8 on May 18.
Other expected returnees include juniors Sam McInturf (goalie) and Hassan Radda (midfielder) and sophomore midfielders Jack Nebraska and Khairi Sears.