Olentangy High School boys volleyball coach Karen Kochheiser made no secret of the fact that this year's run to the Division I state tournament was fueled by 10 seniors, eight of whom were primary contributors throughout the season.
The only junior who played full time on varsity was setter Zane Nelson.
But Kochheiser also believes that while graduations will affect the program, they won't decimate the Braves, who went 62-12 over the last three seasons and fell one win short of East Region championships each of the past two years before finally breaking through.
Olentangy went 23-5 overall, losing to eventual state champion Cincinnati Moeller 23-25, 31-29, 25-22, 25-21 in a state quarterfinal June 2 at Capital University. The Braves were ranked fourth in the final state poll.
"For the boys to accomplish what they did was amazing," Kochheiser said. "The seniors, four years ago, said 'we're going to do whatever it takes to get to state.' It was a goal they set for themselves and this program."
Kochheiser went on to point out that among other successes in the program, the junior varsity A team lost only two matches this year and the junior varsity B team won its league championship.
"Our seventh- and eighth-grade teams had great seasons and we had 22 boys out for the middle school program," she said. "They traveled a lot and many of them want to play club volleyball. We had four freshman letterwinners who all play club, so we're getting kids involved. We may lose a lot of seniors this year, but the future looks bright and these seniors paved the way."
Leading the way was senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Aaric Gossett, a Quincy University recruit and ThisWeek's Boys Volleyball Athlete of the Year who recorded a team-high 274 kills as well as 82 aces, 129 digs and 51 blocks.
Senior libero Bentley Azbell added 281 digs and 74 aces, and like Gossett was named first-team all-region and second-team all-state. The two shared OCC-Buckeye Division Player of the Year honors, and Kochheiser was named state Coach of the Year.
Senior middle hitter Jack Spohn (147 kills, 44 aces, 78 blocks) and senior setter Trent Trees (386 assists, 54 aces) were second-team all-league and honorable mention all-region.
Senior outside hitter Mitchell Postak (88 kills) was special mention all-league and senior right-side hitter Kurt Freeman (64 kills) was honorable mention all-league.
Senior middle hitter Jamir Benton added 190 kills and junior outside hitter Hayden Kekeres recorded 91 kills, 32 aces and 19 blocks.
Olentangy finished 10-0 in the OCC-Buckeye, ahead of Liberty (8-2), Westerville North (6-4), Westerville Central (4-6), Orange (2-8) and Westerville South (0-10).
Seeded second in the 20-team regional tournament, the Braves defeated 16th-seeded Hilliard Bradley 25-19, 25-20, 25-11 in a second-round home match May 19 and eighth-seeded Central 20-25, 25-21, 25-13, 25-13 in a home semifinal May 22 before pulling away from seventh-seeded Liberty 22-25, 25-17, 25-14, 25-8 in a regional final May 25 at Central.
The Braves' only losses were to some of the state's top programs, including Division II champion St. Charles (23-25, 26-24, 15-25, 25-23, 15-13 on March 23), Division II runner-up Kettering Alter (25-23, 20-25, 25-16, 27-25 on May 5), Division I runner-up Hilliard Darby (25-17, 19-25, 25-21, 25-22 on May 9) and Division I regional runner-up Cincinnati Elder (23-25, 25-15, 19-25, 15-17, 15-6 on April 21).
Pole-vault title highlights season
The girls track and field team loses both of its Division I state qualifiers to graduation in Siobhan Szerencsits, who won the pole vault championship, and high jumper Holly Nation.
Szerencsits, a Central Michigan recruit, cleared 13 feet, 3 inches to win the title June 2 at Ohio State, giving Olentangy all of its 10 points and a tie for 23rd behind champion Gahanna (51) as 64 teams scored. Nation, who also will compete in the Mid-American Conference at Toledo, finished 13th in the high jump (5-2), three inches shy of her own program record.
Szerencsits set a program and regional record of 13-5 in the regional that concluded May 25 at Pickerington North, leading the Braves to 16 points and 15th place behind champion Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
Nation and Szerencsits both won OCC-Buckeye championships in their respective events May 10 and 12 at Orange, clearing 5-4 and 13-0, respectively, to lead Olentangy to fourth place (61) behind Liberty (146), Central (135) and Orange (126) and ahead of North (35) and South (20).
Szerencsits also won the pole vault (12-5) in the 16-team district 2 meet that concluded May 19 at Darby as the Braves finished fourth (67.5) behind champion Gahanna (164).
Three runners who helped two relays advance to regional are eligible to return in juniors Lex Brookshire and Alice Pozzi and freshman Abby Brennan. All three were on the 10th-place 1,600 relay (4 minutes, 4.33 seconds) with Nation, and Brookshire and Pozzi were on the 15th-place 3,200 relay (10:17.48) with seniors Melina Endsley and Katie Slyh.
Brennan set the freshman program record in the 400 of 58.66 at district, in which she finished fourth. She was 13th (1:00.79) at regional.
"We of course saw a lot of success in high jump and pole vault, but we also ended up with a great deal of depth in terms of 400 runners," coach Jen Sosa said. "We were excited to be able to send (the 1,600 relay) to regionals this year. The throwers showed consistent improvements throughout the season, especially in shot put. Our distance team was strong this season, particularly the (3,200 relay) but also in the (3,200) we saw great improvements from Katie Slyh and Megan Schlabig, which was awesome to watch. ... Our hurdlers saw a lot of gains, too."
Endsley will compete in cross country and track at Colorado School of Mines, and Slyh is a Wittenberg recruit.
Other expected returnees include juniors Muskan Arora (hurdles, jumps, sprints), Katie Genuisz (sprints) and Lauren Tarpey (hurdles, jumps, sprints) and sophomores Sierra Cardi (sprints), Anne Freeman (throws) and Megan Schlabig (distance).
Arora broke the program's 35-year-old record in the 100 with a 12.66 at district.
Sprinter, vaulters led boys track team
The boys track team graduated five of its eight regional qualifiers spanning five events, although both qualifiers in the pole vault are expected to return in junior Zach Shiblaq and sophomore Cade Carter.
The 400 relay of seniors Ali Iverson, Jaden Konadu and Joel Michael and junior DeAnte Ables capped the Braves' season with a sixth-place finish (43.37) at regional, two spots shy of an automatic berth to state. Shiblaq also placed sixth in the pole vault (13-8), helping Olentangy to six points and a five-way tie for 26th behind champion Pickerington Central (97) as 41 teams scored.
Shiblaq and Carter were second (13-4) and third (12-8), respectively, in the 16-team district 2 meet to lead the Braves to 47.5 points and sixth place behind champion Gahanna (109).
"Going into the last handoff for the (400 at regional), we felt we were right there in third or fourth (place). Our handoff was a little off and we finished sixth (but) in central Ohio that is nothing to be ashamed of," coach Ken Whalen said. "Overall, it was a solid, decent season. I am pleased with all the boys' performances and efforts.
"The six sprinters we used for the relays (and) the pole vaulters were big strengths for the team. Both Zach and Cade had great improvement from last season. The distance group was very solid and dependable."
Olentangy tied North for fifth (43) in the OCC-Buckeye meet behind Orange (195.5), Central (99), Liberty (71.5) and South (71). Senior Cullen Sainey was second in the 3,200 (10:29.15) and went on to place fourth at district (10:03.14) and 12th at regional (9:53.49).
Michael is a Lake Erie College recruit. Sainey will compete in cross country and track at Wittenberg.
Others eligible to return include a handful of distance runners in juniors Caden Ehrhardt, sophomore Chandler Moyer and freshman Corey Rinehart.