J.D. Damrath has coached hockey from the youth to college levels, including the Ohio State women's club program.
At each echelon, successful teams kept a steady pace of improvement throughout the season. Damrath has witnessed such a progression in his first season leading the Olentangy Orange High School hockey team.
The Pioneers are 8-8-0-1 overall and lead the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division at 5-4 (10 points) after defeating Columbus Academy 8-1 on Jan. 3 and losing to St. Charles 5-0 on Jan. 5. Olentangy is second at 4-4 (8).
"Improvement has been steady from game to game," Damrath said. "That's encouraging. We call it taking the next rung on the ladder. You may take a couple steps back, but there have been more steps forward than back."
The Pioneers have been led in scoring by Zach Miller, a senior forward who had his second hat trick of the season against Academy. He has 15 goals and seven assists while his brother, junior forward Cam Miller, is next with 11 goals and three assists.
Junior defenseman Jake Marrone has 10 goals and four assists, and senior forward Aaron Mosher has six goals and three assists.
"We also have Mosher with my brother and us three have really got things going," said Zach Miller, who also had a hat trick Nov. 24 in a 6-5 shootout win over Dayton in the Chiller Thanksgiving Classic. "I have been playing with (Mosher) since the sixth grade, and I know my brother so well. When you put us all three together out there, we really click. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do and where everyone is going. It works out pretty well."
Zach Miller said it took some time to get used to the nuances of Damrath's coaching style and his newly installed schemes on the ice. Those problems have become a thing of the past.
"It was weird at first, but I like it now," he said. "In the first couple weeks of the summer, I wasn't sure how this was going to go, but after the season started and coach started doing his own stuff, you don't even think of it as being new anymore.
"I think we are playing a lot better on defense. We started locking down and doing things we are supposed to be doing like putting bodies on bodies."
Damrath also likes the look of the Pioneers on the defensive end.
"We have made mistakes but goaltending has made up for a lot," he said. "Senior Nathan Thompson went against Academy (and made 28 saves) and we have four good guys who could go any night for us."
The other three players who have seen time in goal are junior Carter Goodknight and freshmen Kyle Diehr and Connor Reed.
Damrath also said senior Josh Gutkoski and freshman Grant Hendrickson have led the defense.
"We're coming together really well," Damrath said. "We have the j.v. and the varsity working out together. They have done a good job of mixing freshmen and seniors in the same lineup."
Zach Miller said the Pioneers need to become more offensive-minded.
"We have had trouble scoring so we have to get more shots on net," he said.
Boys basketball team continues strong play
The boys basketball team had won five of six games and was 7-3 overall before playing Hilliard Davidson on Jan. 8.
The Pioneers have won three OCC-Buckeye games in a row, including edging Olentangy 66-65 on Jan. 4 to improve to 3-1 in the league. Ryan Cutler clinched the victory with a free throw in the waning seconds as part of his 12 points.
Luke Ballinger and Nik Brannon both scored 14 points to lead four players in double figures. Bryson Lane had 11 points and Andre Irvin added nine.
Orange defeated Westerville South 80-73 on Dec. 21 in league play as Lane scored 22 points and Irvin had 20. Coach Anthony Calo is 2-3 in the series against his father, Ed Calo, who coaches South. The teams have their next meeting Feb. 1 at Orange.
Girls basketball team suffers close losses
Although the girls basketball team lost two in a row to begin the new year, it dropped both contests by no more than three points.
The Pioneers, who played Davidson on Jan. 8, fell to 3-8 overall with a 47-46 loss to Licking Heights on Jan. 5. Anna Grabau scored 14 points and Lauren Perone added 10 with three 3-pointers.
Orange slipped to 0-5 in the OCC-Buckeye after being edged by Olentangy 46-43 on Jan. 4.
The Pioneers picked up their third win by defeating Ringwood (Australia) 52-41 in the Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic on Dec. 28 at DeSales.
Below are the coming schedules for the Orange boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 11 -- Home vs. Westerville North
Jan. 15 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
*Jan. 11 -- At North. The Pioneers lost to the Warriors 39-36 on Dec. 4.
Jan. 15 -- At Big Walnut
*Jan. 11 -- Liberty at Chiller North
*Jan. 12 -- Olentangy at Chiller North
*Jan. 13 -- Springboro at Chiller North
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 12 -- Hilliard/Olentangy Challenge at Hilliard YMCA and Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
*Jan. 10 -- At Liberty