J.R. Fourqurean has high expectations for his Olentangy Orange High School swimming and diving teams.
Despite losing seven key athletes to graduation, the fourth-year coach expects continued success from the boys team. He also believes that the girls squad has the talent to send a swimmer to state for the first time since 2015.
The Pioneers return two state qualifiers in senior divers Lauren Cheetham and Luke Cheetham, who are siblings.
Lauren, a Michigan signee, placed third in the Division I state meet last year with 462.45 points, behind Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame's Teagan Moravek (479.85) and Gahanna's Maycey Vieta (466.3). However, she underwent rotator cuff surgery in the offseason.
"We hope to have Lauren back by district competition (Feb. 15 at Ohio State), but we're not holding our breath," Fourqurean said.
Lauren missed the postseason in her sophomore season because of a broken right wrist after placing third at state as a freshman.
Luke, a Cincinnati signee, placed eighth (453.1) at state last season behind champion Lyle Yost (602.4) of Shaker Heights. He finished ninth at state as a sophomore and 12th at state as a freshman.
"Our girls team is definitely the stronger of the two, partly because they had less graduate," Fourqurean said. "We haven't had a girl swimmer make it to state since (2017 graduate) Alyssa Haidet in 2015, so hopefully we can get back there.
"Our girls relays were middle of the road last season, and we're looking for them to be better this year. We're looking for at least to be on the district podium as well as being in contention for state berths."
Alice Crowe is one of 10 seniors for the girls team.
"There is a lot more leadership as a senior, like in encouraging the younger swimmers more," said Crowe, who competes in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley. "Last year, I felt like I was one of the underclassmen, but this time it's like we are in charge. It's nice to have them look up to you and it's great to be able to encourage them."
Fourqurean also expects contributions from senior Sydney Robare (200 freestyle, 500 free), juniors Kali Butler (100 backstroke, 200 IM), Erika Knodel (100 butterfly), sophomores Brooke Farren (100 fly, 100 back), Emma Logan (500 free, 100 breast) and Joanna Ross (100 back, 100 free) and freshmen Kayla Fisher (100 fly, 100 back, 100 free) and Alex Knodel (200 IM, 500 free).
"I think we have been focusing on upping and enhancing how we train as a team," Robare said. "I think our goal is to get in the pool and do something extraordinary every day. It's our time to shine right now."
In the Ned Reeb Memorial Invitational held Dec. 7 and 8 at Ohio State, Alex Knodel placed sixth in the 500 free (5:20.04) and 15th in the 200 IM (2:17.63) and Fisher was ninth in the 100 back (1:01.31) and 19th in the 100 fly (1:00.84).
Also for the girls team, Logan finished 17th in the 100 breast (1:11.23) and 18th in the 200 IM (2:18.49), Farren was 16th in the 100 back (1:00.51), Robare placed 17th in the 500 free (5:38.35) and Crowe was 20th in the 200 IM (2:20.26).
Not all of the swimmers competed in the same flight.
Sophomore Graham Weidenhamer led the boys team at the Ned Reeb meet, placing 13th in the 100 breast (1:02.43).
Fourqurean said senior Merek Helmer (100 back, 200 free), sophomores Tavo De La Rosa (200 free, 500 free) and Tanner Lambert (100 fly) and freshman Noah Crowe (100 fly, 200 IM) are other key swimmers for the boys squad.
"We lost seven boys (to graduation) from last season and almost all of them went to state for us," Fourqurean said. "We're looking for our 'A' relays to do well and for them to get back to district."
Girls basketball team loses first three contests
The girls basketball team was winless through three games entering a matchup with Hilliard Darby on Dec. 11.
Two of the three games for the Pioneers were OCC-Buckeye Division contests. They lost their season opener to Thomas Worthington 59-36 on Dec. 1 before falling to league foes Westerville North 39-36 on Dec. 4 and Liberty 57-25 on Dec. 7.
Through three games, Riley Duffy was averaging a team-high 7.3 points, followed by Lauren Perone (6.0), Anna Grabau (5.7) and Maddie Erickson (5.3).
Boys basketball team splits first four games
The boys basketball team was 2-2 overall before playing Darby on Dec. 11.
The Pioneers lost their OCC-Buckeye opener, falling to Liberty 81-66 on Dec. 7. Bryson Lane led the team with 22 points, including four 3-pointers. Darius Butler added 12 points and Luke Ballinger scored 10.
Through four games, Ballinger was averaging a team-high 15.5 points, followed by Lane (14.8) and Andre Irvin (12.5).
Field hockey team to have new coach
Anna Karousis will not return as coach of the field hockey team.
The Pioneers finished 11-4-3 overall and 5-2-1 in the Central Ohio Field Hockey League-West Division this fall. They tied for third in the league and reached a district semifinal before losing to Watterson 4-2.
In four seasons under Karousis, Orange was 34-27-6 overall and 15-14-2 in the league.
"We decided to go in a different direction with the program," athletics director Buck Weaver said.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Nov. 30 -- at Upper Arlington
Dec. 1 -- Westerville South at Westerville Community Center
Dec. 7-8 -- Ned Reeb Memorial Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 14 -- Dublin Jerome at Dublin Recreation Center
Dec. 21 -- Delaware County Classic at Ohio Wesleyan
Jan. 4 -- Olentangy at Mount Carmel Fitness Center
Jan. 5 -- Southeast Classic at Ohio University
Jan. 6 -- Berlin, Liberty and Olentangy at Ohio Wesleyan
Jan. 8 -- at New Albany
Jan. 12 -- Hilliard/Olentangy Challenge at Hilliard YMCA and Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
Jan. 19 -- at St. Charles with Berlin and Columbus Academy
Jan. 26 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Thomas Worthington
Below are the coming schedules for the Orange boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, hockey and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 14 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*Dec. 14 -- At Westerville Central
Dec. 15 -- At Grove City
*Dec. 14 -- Olentangy at Capri Lanes
*Dec. 18 -- Grandview at Sawmill Lanes
*Dec. 14 -- Big Walnut and DeSales at Central Ohio Gymnastics and Cheerleading
*Dec. 14 -- New Albany at Chiller Easton
*Dec. 15 -- Dublin Coffman at Chiller Dublin
*Dec. 19 -- Berlin at Chiller North
Dec. 14-15 -- Liberty Classic