Luke Bendick understands that those who came out to support him during the Division I state boys track and field meet June 1 at Ohio State might have been feeling a bit anxious after he failed on his first two attempts at 15 feet, 2 inches in the pole vault.

He was experiencing it, too, which might be the biggest reason the Olentangy Liberty High School senior ultimately wasn't able to have as much success as he was hoping for in his final prep meet.

On his third try at 15-2, Bendick was able to lock up a second consecutive spot on the awards podium by easily clearing what he chose to be his opening height attempt.

Bendick then cleared 15-6 and 15-10 on his second attempts at both heights, earning him a third-place finish behind Vandalia Butler junior Dalton Shepler (16-6) and Toledo Whitmer junior Tre Young (16-2).

Bendick missed on all three of his tries at 16-2 while Young cleared the height on his third try in what was a rematch of the indoor state meet March 2 in Geneva. In that meet, Shepler finished first (16-6), Bendick was second (16-0) and Young placed third (15-6).

"I think it was just nerves," Bendick said. "I was kind of too focused on what I needed to do instead of having fun and not going out and jumping. I was too focused on winning and that's what got to me at the end.

"(I got) 15-2 on my third attempt. That was really stressful. I'm sure I worried the family a lot. I really didn't want to 'no height.' After that I started to kind of ease up, but still I wasn't feeling too confident about anything. It was kind of an off day, but it is what it is."

It ended a prep career that included Bendick finishing seventh (14-6) at last year's state meet.

He went to a longer pole this season, and the results included him winning the OCC-Buckeye Division title May 11 at Hilliard Davidson (league-record 15-9), capturing a district 2 title May 18 at Hilliard Darby (15-6) and easily winning the regional May 22 at Pickerington North (16-4 3/4).

"I'm upset now, but in a day or two it won't bother me," Bendick said. "It was a good run. I'm just looking forward to college at Ohio State since I'll be jumping here. I just need to keep reminding myself to have fun with it because that's what keeps me relaxed instead of trying to place."

Bendick scored six points at state to give Liberty a tie for 34th place behind champion Pickerington Central (87) as 78 teams scored.

Also competing for the Patriots was senior Gavin Smith, who placed 11th in long jump (21-1 3/4). He advanced to state as an at-large qualifier after going 22-1 1/2 to finish fifth at regional.

His personal best came when he went 22-4 to earn a runner-up finish at district.

Smith, who was ninth (20-8) at the indoor state meet, also is planning to attend Ohio State, where he is considering walking on or being a part of the club program.

"Obviously I got (to state) as an at-large (qualifier), and it's just the environment and the atmosphere (at state) that is phenomenal," Smith said. "All the fans are great and it's an amazing pit, so it was a good experience. The board was a little tricky. In the postseason, it's a little small."

Bendick and Smith led a senior class that also featured Drew Boggs, Adam Clark, Drew Folwarczny and Joseph Johnson, who ran on the 3,200-meter relay that was sixth at regional (8:03.44), and Alex Adams, Justin Chrisman and Ubby Suligavi, who joined Smith on the sixth-place 400 relay (42.79) at regional.

Folwarczny also was seventh in the 800 (1:57.23) at regional.

Junior Matthew Onate, who ran on the 400 relay during the preliminary at regional, and junior Nick Ruppe, who tied for eighth at regional in the pole vault (13-0), should be among the top returnees.

Others eligible to return include juniors Holden DeVassie (middle distance), Jack Humenay (distance), Noah Kottenstette (discus), Aidan McClure (sprints), Jadin Mumaw (shot put), Judd Ogle (distance), Camden Wegner (middle distance) and Benton Wishart (hurdles), sophomore Henry Debord (shot put) and freshman Dean Stack (high jump).

Girls track team to return large group

Of the 13 athletes the girls track team had competing in the Division I regional, eight are eligible to return.

The biggest loss will be Gracie Sprankle, who was seventh at regional in the 3,200 (11:20.24) and joined senior Madeline Ailes, junior Linnea Kunesh and sophomore Audrey Piero on the ninth-place 3,200 relay (9:50.86). Sprankle was a state qualifier in the 1,600 last season.

The 400 relay of seniors Jessica Barna and Sienna Sakich and sophomores Sydney Reed and Nicole Tonetti was eighth (49.71) at regional.

Senior Mollie Kunar (shot put) also competed at regional.

Tonetti competed on the 800 relay that placed fourth at state last season.

The other regional competitors eligible to return are junior Noelle Meeker (pole vault), sophomore Taylor Weiss (high jump) and freshmen Sarah Gilbert (3,200) and Ava Howski (pole vault). Meeker was OCC-Buckeye champion and sixth at regional.

Others eligible to return include junior Emily Williams (long jump), sophomores Sophie Culver (high jump), Charlotte Hummell (hurdles), Divya Patel (middle distance) and Alexa Pyun (discus) and freshmen Samantha Sincek (middle distance) and Ellie White (hurdles).

Baseball team losing strong senior class

Over the past four years, the baseball team posted three seasons of at least 20 victories and followed last year's Division I state title with a district runner-up finish this spring.

Senior Mitchell Okuley was a key player all four seasons, closing his career with 84 RBI and batting better than .350 each of the last three years.

The Ohio State recruit batted .421 with 19 RBI this spring as the Patriots went 23-6, earning a second consecutive OCC-Buckeye championship before having their season end with a 4-3 loss to Upper Arlington in a district final May 22 at Dublin Coffman.

Okuley (C/OF/P), seniors Jack Metzger (P/1B) and Justin Nelson (1B/P) and junior Brennan Rowe (OF/DH/P) were first-team all-league, with Metzger and Okuley earning co-Player of the Year honors and Ty Brenning being named Coach of the Year.

Senior Craig Lutwen (SS) was second-team all-league, and senior Andrew Rodriguez (3B) was honorable mention all-league.

Okuley was first-team all-state, Metzger made the second team and Rowe was honorable mention.

"There are 10 seniors we're going to have to say goodbye to that were champions on and off the field," Brenning said. "We're talking about a team that had a 3.5 (GPA). Mitchell Okuley is our scholar-athlete at almost a 4.5."

Metzger, who has committed to Dartmouth, hit .431 with three home runs and 28 RBI and went 6-2 with a 1.42 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 59 innings.

Nelson hit .362 with 16 runs scored, Lutwen had 18 RBI and Rodriguez had 15 RBI. Senior Ben Wenner pitched 15 2/3 innings, going 2-0, and senior Drew Lane pitched 12 innings.

Michael Atkinson (2B) also was a key senior.

Juniors Corbin Parrish (RF) and A.J. Rausch (CF) and sophomore Brian Yamokoski (C) should be other top returnees.

Rowe went 7-1 with 33 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings while batting .406 with two home runs and 22 RBI.

Rausch, an Ohio University commit who was second-team all-league, hit .322 with 20 RBI. Yamokoski hit .324 with 15 RBI, and Parrish also drove in 15 runs.

Junior Ben Billings went 4-1 with a 2.07 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 27 innings. He should join Rowe and junior Nick Lipovsek (1-2 in 17 1/3 innings) as key returning pitchers.

Others eligible to return include sophomores Jackson Cromwell (P/OF), Dom Magistrale (OF), Landon Smith (1B/OF) and Michael Tuttle (SS/2B) and freshman Nolan Fogg (1B/OF).

"We've got to move on to the next group coming through," Brenning said. "These (seniors) are going to take the lessons they learned with them. That's the consolation prize."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek