The Olentangy High School softball team entered the season confident that it can build on last year's run to a Division I regional final, one that included the Braves' first district championship since 1999, and perhaps even exceed that achievement.
But the Braves think that if that is to happen, it won't be a carbon copy of a year ago for a few reasons.
"We were pretty loaded last year," seventh-year coach Alan Tharp said. "We have four letterwinners back and nine girls who were in our program last year. Olentangy Berlin has 11 girls who played for us last year. We got hit hard."
That change in personnel also caused a change in strengths, according to senior third baseman Brooke Wells.
"We need to work on hitting. That's what made us go so far last year," said Wells, a four-year starter. "We lost some power, but we've seen the new girls bringing something, too. We've gained a lot of speed. We have a lot of really fast players."
The other returnees are senior Emily Bullock (1B), junior Payton Cox (OF/P) -- a Boston College commit who led the Braves in batting average (.476), hits (49), home runs (7) and RBI (47) last season -- and sophomore Olivia Davidson (SS). Bullock had 30 hits and two home runs last year and Davidson had 32 hits as Olentangy went 19-12 overall and 8-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division, losing to Teays Valley 9-5 in the regional final.
Olentangy was 2-4 before playing Pickerington Central on April 2. Last week in Vero Beach, Florida, the Braves got wins over Murrysville (Pennsylvania) Franklin Regional (8-6 on March 24) and Madison (Wisconsin) James Madison Memorial (11-1 on March 26). They fell to South Park Township (Pennsylvania) South Park (9-3 on March 25), Madison Memorial (4-2 on March 26) and Fort Pierce (Florida) Central (11-10 on March 27).
"I am really pleased with our defense," Tharp said. "That's always been my thing as a coach. I don't like making mistakes and giving runs away. We don't have strikeout pitchers. We want (opponents) to hit our pitch and play defense. If we can keep ourselves in the game, we have a good enough offense that I'm confident we'll stay in games."
Olentangy lost its first game after coming home from Florida, 16-5 in five innings at Big Walnut on April 1.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Ana Oliverio (C/OF), Megan Rease (OF) and Emily Scott (INF), junior Lexi Bretzinger (P/INF), sophomores Brynn Kibler (P/OF), Emily Prosser (OF) and Cara Wilson (C/OF) and freshmen MacKenzie Condon (INF/OF), Jaycee Feeney (OF/INF), Julia Hall (P/OF) and Olivia Hulshof (INF/OF).
Kibler is the Braves' primary pitcher.
Olentangy begins pursuit of its second consecutive OCC-Buckeye title Wednesday, April 10, at home against Westerville South.
"I'm excited. Let's see what happens," Cox said. "There's a lot of potential. We could make it the same (as last year) with this team."
Expectations high for baseball team
With Ohio State recruit Caden Kaiser and another Buckeyes commit, sophomore Jace Middleton, helping to lead the way, baseball coach Ryan Lucas is not downplaying expectations as his team seeks its fourth league championship in five years and third district title in four seasons.
"This is probably the most talented offensive team we have had in my seven years here," Lucas said. "Our challenge, like it is every year, is for our players to accept and embrace their roles, making everything about the team, and getting better on a daily basis. We must get consistent performances on the mound from our guys and throw strikes. If we concentrate on improving our individual and team game every day, we have enough talent to be in every game. Our chemistry with this group is very good."
Olentangy was 3-2 before playing New Albany on April 3. The Braves opened March 23 with a 12-3 home win over Teays Valley before splitting four games in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. They defeated Lewisburg (West Virginia) Greenbrier East 18-0 in five innings March 28 and beat Coal City (West Virginia) Independence 10-0 on March 29 before losing to Sevierville (Tennessee) Sevier County 13-3 in six innings later that day and Powell (Tennessee) 21-6 on March 30.
Kaiser (CF/P/1B) batted .400 to share the team lead last season, when Olentangy went 21-10 overall. Senior Logan Ketron (P/3B/OF), a Cuyahoga Community College recruit, went 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 17 walks in 40 2/3 innings and batted .290 with 23 RBI.
Senior Connor Haag (SS/3B/DH) batted .319 with 19 RBI and a team-high three home runs.
Other college recruits are seniors Ben Brewster (P/utility, Point Park) and Connor McCulty (2B/SS, Walsh).
Middleton will pitch and play the outfield.
The rest of the roster consists of seniors Christian Bova (P/3B), Sutton Bucci (1B), Cole Couchman (P/1B/DH) and Dan DelGratta (P/3B) and juniors Josh Anderson (P/OF), Jack Baldwin (SS/2B), Max Caron (C), Jake Coleman (OF/P), Denny Deal (P/OF/1B), Trent Maddox (OF) and Isaac O'Rielley (OF).
"This team is one of our most talented, but we just don't have the depth we have had," Lucas said. "The opening of Berlin took a lot of juniors and sophomores, but our freshman class is pretty big. The future is bright. We just need to stay healthy this season because of the lack of depth."
Olentangy begins OCC-Buckeye play Friday, April 5, at home against South. The Braves went 11-4 in the league last year, finishing second behind eventual Division I state champion Liberty (14-1).
Boys volleyball team plans to reload
The boys volleyball team looked considerably different when it opened April 3 at home against Pickerington Central from when it competed in the Division I state tournament 10 months ago.
Olentangy lost 11 players to graduation, including all but one starter, from a team that went 23-5 overall and 10-0 in the OCC-Buckeye and lost to eventual state champion Cincinnati Moeller 23-25, 31-29, 25-22, 25-21 in a state quarterfinal.
The Braves' only returning starter is senior Hayden Kekeres (outside hitter/defensive specialist), although a few other players saw varsity time, including seniors Zane Nelson (setter/right-side hitter) and Jack Rettinger (right-side hitter) and sophomore Sam Irwin (middle hitter/defensive specialist).
Kekeres is a Marymount commit.
"It's been a lot of teaching. We're all being patient. We're running a lot of drills to get everybody up to speed," fourth-year coach Karen Kochheiser said. "We've gone to some Ohio State matches to help the guys watch and learn different situations. The guys are receptive to coaching and they're fun to be around. We have a lot of work to do."
Rounding out the roster are senior Donald Gross (middle hitter/right-side hitter), juniors Archer Spencer (outside hitter/defensive specialist) and Szymon Juscinski (libero/def-ensive specialist), sophomores Cameron Cash (libero/defensive specialist), Max Kaiser (setter/right-side hitter), Sam Kaylor (outside hitter/defensive specialist), Jacob Nussdorfer (right-side hitter) and Mason Stein (defensive specialist/right-side hitter) and freshman Michael Condon (outside hitter/defensive specialist).
Olentangy begins OCC-Buckeye play Tuesday, April 9, at Westerville North.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 5 -- Home vs. Westerville South
April 6 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby
*April 8 -- At South
*April 10 -- At Westerville North
*April 4 -- Home vs. South
April 6 -- At Dublin Jerome
*April 9 -- At Westerville Central
*April 4 -- At South
April 6 -- At Dublin Coffman
*April 9 -- Home vs. Central
April 6 -- Home vs. West Jefferson and Worthington Kilbourne
April 8 -- At Grove City
*April 10 -- Home vs. South
April 4 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
April 6 -- Home vs. Massillon Jackson
April 8 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*April 9 -- Home vs. South
TRACK & FIELD
April 5 -- Panther Invitational at Darby
April 10 -- Home vs. Orange
April 6 -- At Kettering Fairmont with Liberty Township Lakota East and Mount Vernon
*April 9 -- At North
April 10 -- At Coffman