The Olentangy Liberty girls golf team returns three of its top five players following a season in which it was a league runner-up and finished among the top squads in the Central District.
A strong offseason by some of those key players, combined with the growth of others in the program, has the Patriots believing even better finishes could be coming their way over the next few weeks.
On Aug. 8 during the opening round of the four-round OCC-Buckeye Division tournament at New Albany Links, Liberty shot 353 to finish first and take a 5-0 record into the second round Aug. 14 at Mentel Memorial.
Defending champion Orange had only two players participate in the opening round and did not post a team score.
"It looks very promising," second-year coach Shayla Glover said. "We're going to have a solid group of girls this year. We're definitely going to feel the absence of the previous girls in the program, but there's a lot to build on. All of the girls have definitely improved since last season. Many have played in tournaments."
In the league opener, junior Gracie Baun led the Patriots with an 84 that tied her for third overall, and sophomore Taya Buxton carded an 85.
Both are key returnees along with senior Sophie Dudon and juniors Abigail Corbin and Juliana Renda. Dudon and Renda each shot 92 in the opening round of league play.
Junior Sarah Latzke was expected to be a key returnee but moved out of the area.
Liberty also lost Kavya Manocha, a 2019 graduate who shot 76 to place eighth in the Division I district tournament, one stroke behind the second of two individual state qualifiers.
Renda shot 84 at district and Baun had an 89 as Liberty was sixth (336) of nine teams.
On Aug. 5, Liberty was seventh (357) of 15 teams behind champion New Albany (297) in the Lady Lion Invitational at Jefferson as Baun shot 82.
"We just want to continue to build on the success of last year with having a couple new girls on varsity," Glover said. "I'm excited for everyone to do well and I'm excited to see the fruit of their hard work and effort pay off."
Strong duo returns to lead tennis team
Having the two-time defending Division I state championship doubles team means the girls tennis squad knows it'll be competitive in every match.
Exactly how they fill out the rest of their lineup could determine how much overall success the Patriots enjoy this season after going 11-6 overall and reaching a district semifinal of the OTCA team tournament.
Juniors Maddie Atway and Dani Schoenly have returned after playing first and second singles, respectively, throughout the 2018 regular season and then teaming up in doubles for the postseason. They beat Mayfield's Caitlyn Hsu and Hannah Kassaie 6-2, 6-3 to capture the state championship and won all of their state matches in straight sets.
"Maddie and Dani are the best one-two of anybody in the state," fourth-year coach Will Thieman said. "Hopefully we have some other girls that can step up and get that third point."
Senior Ananya Dhati and junior Cathy Zhu also are returnees. Others looking to contribute include junior Emma Clark, sophomore Sraavya Potluri and freshmen Charvi Thumati and Kylie Wilson.
Liberty was runner-up (4-1) in the OCC-Buckeye a year ago behind Orange (5-0), which Thieman expects to again be among the league favorites after making it to an OTCA state semifinal.
Also making it to state last season was the doubles team of 2019 graduates Ellie MacDowell and Lexie Brengartner. The pair lost in the first round.
"We have some talent and a good group of girls," Thieman said. "All we can do is give a ton of effort. It's going to be a fun year."
Boys golfers to field young, deep lineup
During tryouts, the boys golf team had nine players average 78 or better.
None of the players who made the team are seniors, further demonstrating to 16th-year coach Ryan Snivley that his program is healthy.
The Patriots are hoping to defend their OCC-Buckeye title and again contend for a Division I state berth after winning a sectional title (309) and finishing fifth (317) at district.
"I'm loaded with sophomores with 11 (in the program), so their class is very talented," Snivley said. "This is probably the most depth I've had. There's just a ton of competition. Everything was really, really close (during tryouts). It's a good problem to have."
Liberty shot 304 to finish second to Orange (301) in the opening round of the OCC-Buckeye tournament Aug. 6 at Turnberry as junior Grant Smeltzer was co-medalist with the Pioneers' Jon Green as both shot 72.
Juniors Andrew Blosser and Hunter Corbin each shot 77, and sophomore Ben Armbruster had a 78.
In the second round Aug. 12 at Apple Valley, Liberty shot 298 to finish first while Orange was runner-up (305).
Sophomore Noah Wingart also is expected to be a regular in the lineup.
Sophomores Jack O'Donnell and Nick Dickens are looking to contribute along with sophomore Logan McCarrell, who competed on varsity last season.
Smeltzer was the sectional medalist with a 72 at Turnberry after winning a one-hole playoff. He followed by shooting a 71 and winning a one-hole playoff to earn district medalist honors at Apple Valley and then tied for 14th (160) at state.
Smeltzer also was a key contributor two seasons ago when Liberty was state runner-up.
Josh Steyer and Caden Gallagher are 2019 graduates playing for Ohio Northern and Ashland, respectively.
"The nice thing is that (the sophomores) have a lot of tournament experience already," Snivley said. "They play in the spring and even in the fall. They're competitive and they've been around good golf, so they know what it takes to be successful."
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty cross country, field hockey, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 17 -- OHSAA Preseason Invitational at National Trail Raceway
*Aug. 21 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
Aug. 20 -- Columbus School for Girls at Scioto Reserve
Aug. 16 -- At Thomas Worthington
Aug. 20 -- Home vs. UA
Aug. 16 -- At Dublin Coffman
Aug. 20 -- At UA
Aug. 15 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
Aug. 20 -- Home vs. Marysville