One decision Olentangy Liberty High School girls volleyball coach Jen Chapman didn't take lightly was how many players to keep on her varsity roster after losing only three key contributors to graduation.
Making room for 15 wasn't conventional, but it is paying off.
The Patriots were 6-0 overall before facing New Albany on Sept. 11. They also are 3-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division, including beating the team they shared the league title with last season, Orange, 12-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-20 on Sept. 4.
"Going into the preseason we had 15 kids that could contribute at any time, and it's a big decision to keep 15 kids on the roster because they all have to buy in and know that it's about the team and not themselves," Chapman said. "I feel like this team has done that. When kids get the opportunity to come off the bench and contribute, they do a good job at it."
The biggest spot to fill heading into the season was at setter after the loss of Maddie Fogg, who is now competing for the University of Toledo. Fogg helped the Patriots win a Division I district title in 2015 and finish as district runners-up the past two seasons.
Through six matches, sophomore setter Logan Flaugh had 72 assists and was second on the team in digs with 22.
"It's been really good," Flaugh said. "We're getting better and feeling more comfortable with our play. It was really exciting (beating Orange) since they have so many good players. We play club with them and kind of know how they play. It's fun to beat our rivals.
"I really enjoy (being the varsity setter). The team has been great helping me settle in and play with them."
The Patriots also feature a five-member senior class that includes Grace Clark, an outside hitter who has committed to Jacksonville; Abby Erickson, a middle hitter who will play for Toledo; and Taylor Karlo, a middle hitter who will compete for the University of St. Francis.
Senior Maile Steckelberg, who also has aspirations of playing collegiately, led in digs with 57 through six matches after transitioning from defensive specialist to libero.
Claranne Fechter and Raegan Rosi are outside hitters who lead the junior class.
"I'm really happy with what Maile's been doing," Chapman said. "She was more of a (defensive specialist) last year and is now a six-rotation libero, and I've been pleased with her consistency out on the court. Claranne has been typically a back-row kid and she's excelled in the front row. With Logan stepping in at setter to take Maddie's role, she runs a good offense and brings a calm presence to the court. The kids respect her."
Liberty has a rematch Sept. 27 against Orange, which it split with last season when both teams finished 9-1 in the league.
Clark didn't play early on during the first-round match as she continued to recover from an injury, but she provided a spark off the bench.
"That (win) was pretty special, especially since they kicked our butt pretty good in set one," Chapman said. "I changed matchups a little bit with who was up against their hitters and we got more aggressive on our side and started giving them some trouble."
Boys soccer team set for next challenges
With a 2-0 victory over St. Charles on Sept. 6, the boys soccer team defeated an opponent that was ranked eighth in the Division I state poll at the time.
The Patriots will face another state-ranked opponent Saturday, Sept. 15, when they play host to Cincinnati Moeller. They also have matchups against out-of-area powers Mason (Oct. 6) and Cleveland St. Ignatius (Oct. 13) later this fall.
Liberty is second and Moeller is third in this week's state poll behind St. Ignatius, while Mason received votes in earlier state polls.
"We're well aware that we're going to get everybody's best shot, so it's one of those things: What's the next step?" coach Marc D'Auteuil said. "Our schedule gets pretty tough pretty quickly."
Liberty is 6-0 heading into its OCC-Buckeye opener Thursday, Sept. 13, at home against Orange, which lost to the Patriots 4-0 last season but was 4-2-1 before playing Big Walnut on Sept. 11.
The Patriots have given up just one goal all season with senior Nathan Meeker and sophomore Blake Collins at center back, freshman Parker Cameron at outside back and juniors Tyler Harris, Nate Logozzo and Luke Sensky also filling key roles on defense in front of junior goalkeeper Theren Handlon.
"Our whole (defense) has played well, and our defensive center midfield has played well," D'Auteuil said. "By no means are we a finished product. Last year we got a little bit content with where we were at and this year we've continued to improve. But there's still a lot of room for growth."
Against St. Charles, Liberty got both of its goals in the second half. Collins scored on a corner kick and senior forward Nathan Rothert scored on a direct kick.
Collins and Rothert both have scored three goals, as has junior Ludwig Conrad, who had all of Liberty's goals in a 3-0 victory over Thomas Worthington on Aug. 30.
"St. Charles has got to be one of the best five teams in the state," D'Auteuil said. "We put away our chances, and that's what wins games like that against good teams. For the most part our kids stood up to the challenge. That's probably as good of a defensive performance as we've had since I've been here."
Tennis team gets back on track
The girls tennis team didn't let a 3-2 loss Aug. 23 against Orange linger, following with back-to-back 5-0 victories over Westerville South (Aug. 28) and Westerville North (Aug. 30) and winning 4-1 over Westerville Central on Sept. 4.
The Patriots are 7-2 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Buckeye, with a makeup match from Sept. 6 against Olentangy remaining at a date to be announced.
On Sept. 10, Liberty beat Mount Vernon 4-1 in the second round of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I team tournament after the Yellow Jackets beat Marysville 3-2 in the first round and Liberty had a bye.
The Patriots next face New Albany or Pickerington North.
In the win over Westerville Central, Maddie Atway (first singles) and Dani Schoenly (second singles) and the teams of Lexie Brengartner and Ellie MacDowell (first doubles) and of Anna Gardner and Cathy Zhu (second doubles) were victorious.
Ananya Dhati, who has split time between third singles and doubles, also has been a key contributor.
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 15 -- Galion Festival at Amann's Reservoir Park
Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Columbus Academy
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Kettering Fairmont
*Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
Sept. 15 -- Trojan Invitational at Findlay Country Club
Sept. 17 -- Delaware County Bank Cup at Royal American
Sept. 13 -- Columbus School for Girls at Scioto Reserve
Sept. 15 -- Toledo St. Ursula Invitational at Highland Meadows
Sept. 18 -- Dublin Coffman at Marysville Golf Club
Sept. 19 -- Buckeye Valley, Lancaster and Olentangy at Scioto Reserve
*Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Cincinnati Moeller
Sept. 18 -- At Dublin Jerome
*Sept. 13 -- At Orange
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Liberty Township Lakota East
Sept. 18 -- At Granville
*Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Westerville North
Sept. 15 -- Worthington Kilbourne Invitational
Sept. 18 -- At Big Walnut