The last two weeks of the track and field season represented a breakthrough for several members of the Olentangy Liberty High School girls team.
During the Division I regional meet that concluded May 25 at Pickerington North, the 800-meter relay of senior Sydney Englehart, juniors Carrie Lawal and Brea White and freshman Nicole Tonetti placed fourth (1 minute, 41.52 seconds) as the Patriots qualified for state for the first time in a sprint relay.
The relay was ninth during the state preliminaries June 1 at Ohio State but went on to place fifth (1:41.96) the next day.
Also at regional, senior Emma Bower ran a personal-best 10:47.17 in the 3,200 to finish third while junior teammate Gracie Sprankle won the event in 10:43.6 as both earned return trips to state.
Sprankle, who was 12th in the 1,600 at state as a sophomore, finished fifth (10:39.07) while Bower ended up with a second consecutive ninth-place finish, but her time of 10:52.28 was more than 10 seconds faster than a season ago.
"I'm just so proud of (the 800 relay)," coach James Dingus said. "We've never had a sprint relay make it to state. It's nice to see a relay team make it because it shows your depth. Obviously, Emma and Gracie are an amazing one-two combo. Gracie's matured so much and it's just exciting to see that next step as a competitor."
Liberty tied for 29th (8 points) behind champion Gahanna (51) as 64 teams scored.
Last season, Englehart, Lawal and White joined 2017 graduate Abby Summers on the 800 relay that settled for fifth at regional.
"It's my first time (at state), so I'm really excited because I've been trying to get here since freshman year," Englehart said. "We've been really close. I'm really excited for Nicole, who's a freshman, and the others are a junior and a junior. It's really fun to be here with these girls."
Sprankle and Bower both had to overcome injuries earlier in the season.
Sprankle, who led central Ohio with a fifth-place finish in the state cross country meet last fall, is hoping to build from running her personal-best time June 2.
"The race didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but it was an extremely competitive race loaded with talent," she said. "This season was really tough for me, battling tendinitis in my foot that lasted over two months at the beginning of the season. ... I'm just happy I was able to come back and make it to states and run a (personal record)."
Bower said the highlight of her season was running her personal-best time at regional.
"I had some injuries earlier in the season, which probably set me back a little, but I'm grateful to have made it to states this year and compete with not only my awesome teammates but also the other runners who are so kind and supportive," she said.
Bower and Englehart led a senior class that also included Jenna Culver (high jump), Kelsey Mockler (hurdles) and Lauren Walsh (sprints).
In the OCC-Buckeye Division meet, which concluded May 12, the Patriots scored 146 points to win ahead of Westerville Central (135), host Orange (126), Olentangy (61), Westerville North (35) and Westerville South (20).
They then were runners-up (103) behind Pickerington North (109) in the 14-team district 3 meet that concluded May 19 at Hilliard Darby and placed 11th (27) at regional behind champion Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
Others eligible to return include juniors Jessica Barna (sprints), Mollie Kunar (shot put), Sienna Sakich (sprints) and Reagan Smollen (hurdles) and freshmen Divya Patel (middle distance), Audrey Piero (middle distance) and Sydney Reed (sprints).
Bendick brothers close season at state
Senior Andrew Bendick and his junior brother, Luke Bendick, represented the boys track team in the Division I state meet.
Andrew Bendick ran 22.29 in the 200 to finish 10th in the preliminaries June 1, one spot from advancing to the final the next day.
On June 2, Luke Bendick placed seventh in the pole vault (14 feet, 6 inches) to score two points as Liberty tied for 54th behind champion Pickerington Central (58) as 69 teams scored.
"I don't know what was going on because I wasn't getting into my rhythm," Luke said. "It's a good experience knowing how to handle these types of situations. It wasn't the ending I wanted, but it was a good season overall so I'm happy. I'm really glad (Andrew and I) got to (be at state) together."
Andrew Bendick finished fifth in the 200 (22.11) at regional and earned one of two at-large berths to state. He came within 0.17 of advancing to the final.
"I love being here," Andrew said. "It's a great experience regardless of whether I got through (to the final) or not."
Andrew Bendick led a senior class that also included Jared Whitfield, who was seventh at regional in the high jump (6-2), Jacob Hunter, who was fifth at regional in the pole vault (14-0), and Ryan Miller, who was 12th at regional in the 110 hurdles (15.62).
Senior Will Koberna ran on the 10th-place 3,200 relay (8:01.87) at regional with juniors Adam Clark, Drew Folwarczny and Joseph Johnson.
Andrew Bendick also ran on the seventh-place 400 relay (43.44) at regional with juniors Gavin Smith and Ubby Suligavi and sophomore Aidan McClure.
Liberty finished third (71.5) behind Orange (195.5) and Westerville Central (99) and ahead of Westerville South (71), Olentangy (43) and Westerville North (43) in the OCC-Buckeye meet.
The Patriots then were fifth (65.5) in the 14-team district 3 meet behind champion Orange (133) and ninth (24) behind champion Pickerington Central (97) at regional as 41 teams scored.
"(Luke Bendick) has improved by two or more feet every year he's done track, so we're really excited with his progress and we think he's going to keep getting better," coach Nate Cikach said. "It made it more special that (Andrew) got to compete with Luke at the state meet."
Others eligible to return include juniors Alex Azusenis (discus, shot put), Tasker Brown (middle distance), Alex Monnin (long jump), Mitchell Reitz (hurdles) and Jake Sincek (hurdles) and sophomores Jake Humenay (distance), Max Miller (high jump) and Matthew Onate (sprints).
"This is probably the deepest we've ever been, and a lot of guys took a big jump from last year to this year," Cikach said.
Boys lacrosse team again has strong year
For the fourth consecutive season, the boys lacrosse team made it to at least a regional final.
A senior class led by Ohio State recruits Skylar Wahlund (goalkeeper) and Johnny Wiseman (midfielder) helped pave the way for a 14-7 finish.
"Overall, we had a solid season," coach Jason Godwin said. "We had a great schedule. We lost four games by a single goal."
Wiseman was OCC-Buckeye Player of the Year after finishing with a program-record 87 points (60 goals, 27 assists). He also holds the Patriots' career mark for points with 253 (170 goals, 87 assists).
Wahlund made a program-record 219 saves.
Also making first-team all-league were senior defender Gabe Meyer, freshman midfielder Aidan Kenley and junior long-stick midfielder Andrew Guagenti.
Kenley is an Ohio State commit who had 36 goals and 13 assists. Senior attacker Spencer Towne had 23 goals and 10 assists, and senior attacker John Paolo had 24 goals and six assists.
The Patriots went 5-2 in the OCC-Buckeye to place third behind Olentangy (7-0) and New Albany (6-1) and ahead of Orange (4-3), Westerville Central (3-4), Westerville North (2-5), Westerville South (1-6) and Big Walnut (0-7).
Then as the second seed for the Division I, Region 1 tournament, Liberty beat 13th-seeded Dublin Scioto 14-4 on May 15, eighth-seeded Orange 11-6 on May 18 and third-seeded Olentangy 13-10 before falling to top-seeded Dublin Coffman 9-5 on May 25 in a regional final at Otterbein.
Guagenti, who also has committed to Ohio State, finished with 110 ground balls.
Also expected to return on defense are juniors James Howenstine, Nick Paolo, Peter Spallino and Carson Tate.
Others eligible to return include juniors Kyle Dolan (attacker), Ethan Donelson (midfielder) and Mcguire Flanigan (attacker/midfielder), sophomores Jacob Kessler (midfielder) and Sam McCormack (midfielder) and freshman Alex Theuerkauf (attacker/midfielder).