Olentangy High School boys tennis coach Jeff Luxenburger knew the day was coming that Stu Brdicka no longer would play first singles for the Braves. He even had a good feeling last season that he knew who would take Brdicka's place.
Sophomore Sam Routzahn is doing his best to ease the transition as Brdicka, who finished fourth in singles in the Division I state tournament last year, now plays at Ashland University. Routzahn won four of his first five matches this season.
Olentangy was 4-2 after losing 3-2 to visiting Upper Arlington on April 8.
"I don't know if I've ever met a player that works as hard as he does. He's improved dramatically from last year, and with his work ethic I expect that he will have a great season," Luxenburger said of Routzahn. "It's definitely tough graduating Stu ... but our team is going to have a talented lineup this year. With our returning varsity players and some talented freshmen, I think we're going to be able to compete with some of the best teams around central Ohio."
Most of the lineup returns for Olentangy, including seniors Jayanth Donthireddy, Neel Shetty and Tucker Strawser and junior Ayush Sunkad.
Olentangy, which went 8-4 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye Division last season, opened this year with a 5-0 home loss to New Albany on April 1. The Braves rebounded with wins at Big Walnut (5-0 on April 2) and Hilliard Davidson (5-0 on April 4) and at home over Pickerington North (5-0 on April 3) and Massillon Jackson (3-2 on April 6).
Freshman Omar Khayat began the season at second singles. Sunkad was at third singles, sophomore Roshan Sriram and Strawser played first doubles and freshman Trevor Gerald played second doubles with Donthireddy and Shetty.
"Our singles lineup will be strong this year, though we'll be playing some of the best players in the state every week. I expect a lot of tough, close matches for our guys and it's going to depend on which player is mentally tougher," said Luxenburger, who is in his eighth season. "I hope we can see a great deal of success in doubles, as it's something we always stress in practice. That will come down to finding the right combination of teams and finding out who works the best together."
Olentangy began OCC-Buckeye play April 9 against Westerville South. The Braves finished second in the league last year behind Orange (5-0).
"Our conference is going to be very competitive again," Luxenburger said. "If we play our best, I think that we have a shot to win most every match we play this year, but with our schedule we also have a chance to have some disappointment. It's going to come down to a lot of tight matches and who is more prepared to win on any given day."
Arora among girls track team's leaders
The girls track and field team lost both of its Division I state qualifiers from a year ago to graduation in pole vault champion Siobhan Szerencsits and high-jumper Holly Nation. Among the returnees is senior sprinter Muskan Arora, the program record-holder in the 100 meters.
Two more regional qualifiers also are back in senior middle distance and distance runners Lex Brookshire and Alice Pozzi.
Brookshire finished 24th in the Division I state cross country meet in November.
Olentangy opened April 3 with a 68-60 win over Marion Harding at Olentangy Berlin.
"We see a lot of promising newcomers this year, as well as big improvements from our returning athletes," sixth-year coach Jen Sosa said. "Many of our juniors and seniors have put in significant work both running and strength training in the offseason to prepare and it shows. I can't wait to see what they accomplish. ...
"We're mostly focused on building up our young talent this year and making sure our returners are working to their full potential."
The Braves have 31 sophomores and 29 juniors among 95 athletes.
Sosa expects Arora to be one of the team's top scorers in the 100, hurdles, relays and long jump. Other sprinters include senior Katie Geniusz, juniors Abby Geniusz and Ciara Szerencsits, sophomores Olivia Johnston and Kelsey Schuliger and freshman Jaedyn Tucker.
"Our strengths will be a little more varied than in years past. In the field, our throwers and long jumpers show a lot of promise, both from our freshmen and our returning girls," Sosa said. "On the track, we have some very strong 100 runners and several 400 girls that show potential. I think our distance girls will continue to be very strong as well."
Other expected contributors include seniors Ashley Euans (throws) and Ashley Niklaus (distance), junior Kate McCauley (distance) and freshmen Caroline Coggins (throws), Ashley Kezele (hurdles) and Alyssa Sweeney (throws).
Veteran athletes to lead boys team
Four state indoor meet qualifiers, two of whom were Division I regional qualifiers a season ago, return to lead the boys track team.
Seniors Sam Holt (1,600), Carter Schaefer (3,200) and Zach Shiblag (pole vault) and junior Cade Carter (pole vault) all qualified for the state indoor meet March 2, although none finished in the top eight of their respective events. Senior DeAnte Ables (400 relay), Carter and Shiblaq all competed at regional last spring, but Olentangy did not have any state qualifiers.
The Braves began their season with a 78-59 win over Harding.
"Pole vault, distance and high jump should be our strengths," second-year coach Ken Whalen said. "Our throwers are young but hopefully will keep getting better. (In) sprints, we're not deep, but we do have a few that should help us score some points. ...
"The seniors realize that this season is their last go-round so they are driven and working hard to leave a lasting impression on the program. The best evidence of that is the three seniors qualifying for the state indoor, but I have noticed other seniors really getting at it at our practices so far. The senior members have taken the reins of leadership since in some aspects, we are young."
Other expected contributors include seniors Afton Freeman (distance) and Luke Murdock (high jump), juniors Sam Konadu (sprints), Chandler Moyer (middle distance), Caden Shiring (high jump), Ben Wheeler (high jump) and Mikey Worboy (distance) and sophomores Kole Brookshire (jumps, pole vault, middle distance), Jason Feasel (throws) and Kyle Selby (distance).
Whalen also said freshmen Luke Galloway (distance), Taye Gonzalez (distance), Bryce Sweeney (sprints) and Reilly Worthington (throws) also should participate in varsity events.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 12 -- Home vs. Westerville North
April 13 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
*April 15 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*April 17 -- At Westerville Central
*April 11 -- At Orange
April 12 -- Home vs. Whitehouse Anthony Wayne
*April 16 -- Home vs. New Albany
*April 11 -- Home vs. Orange
April 13 -- Hannigan-Galipault Tournament at Thomas Worthington
*April 16 -- At New Albany
*April 11 -- At Westerville North
April 12 -- Home vs. Hartley
April 13 -- Home vs. Olmsted Falls and Vienna Mathews
*April 15 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*April 17 -- Home vs. Orange
*April 11 -- At Westerville North
*April 16 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
April 17 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
TRACK & FIELD
April 13 -- Cruiser Invitational at Groveport
April 17 -- At Berlin
*April 11 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
April 13 -- Spike for Tykes at Mount Union
*April 16 -- Home vs. Orange