With as veteran a lineup as he's had in nine seasons, Olentangy girls tennis coach Jeff Luxenburger is setting lofty goals for his team.
However the season goes, the Braves will have plenty of chances to gauge their talents against what could be some of the best teams in the state.
With sophomore Nour Khayat at first singles and senior Priyanka Agochiya at second singles to lead a roster that includes three more seniors and five returnees overall, Olentangy finds itself in a competitive OCC-Buckeye Division that also includes Orange and Liberty, which were ranked third and fourth, respectively, in OhioTennisZone.com's Division I preseason rankings.
"The good news is we are going to have a talented team this season with a lot of experience and depth in the lineup. The bad news is we are in a conference with two of the strongest teams in the state," Luxenburger said. "Those matches are going to feature some intense competition, but I know if we play our best, we can compete with anyone."
Khayat qualified for the district tournament as a freshman despite missing three weeks because of a cracked growth plate in her left ankle. Agochiya is in her third year on varsity.
The Braves, who went 5-8 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Buckeye last year, opened Aug. 10 with their annual Olentangy Invitational. Their first dual match was Aug. 13 at home against Big Walnut.
"Nour has been putting in an unreal amount of work in the offseason. I am blown away by how much she has improved from last season, and that's saying a lot considering how close she was to making it to state," Luxenburger said. "We will be looking to count Priyanka's experience this year (at second singles). She has improved every year."
Luxenburger has a deep group from which to determine his third singles player and the doubles lineup, including three other returnees from last year's postseason lineup in senior Faith Shielu and juniors Khushi Agarwal and Archita Sriram.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Anna Collins and Saindhavi Saravanakumar, junior Isha Sawhney, sophomores Sonia Chirravuri and Shriya Palusa and freshmen Mimi Kekalainen and Sydney Nickel.
"I'm really hoping that we can have great success at doubles this year, as it's something we stress in practice," Luxenburger said. "If we can win a doubles court or two on any given match day, then we know we have a great shot to get the win."
Olentangy begins OCC-Buckeye play Aug. 22 at Westerville South.
Girls golf team features youth
While the girls golf team features two veterans atop the lineup in junior Lauren Sommerfeld and senior Sam Horton, third-year coach Micah Conley is especially encouraged by an influx of talented freshmen.
"We're young but very talented. Our freshmen are experienced and all of them are going to shoot some low scores," Conley said. "It will be a growing year. The girls must take advantage of all the experiences along the way, all the highs and lows."
Freshman Olivia Drankwalter's round of 84 led Olentangy to a team score of 374 in its first event of the year, the first round of the four-round OCC-Buckeye tournament Aug. 8 at New Albany Links. The Braves were second behind Liberty (353) and ahead of Westerville Central (375), South (451) and Westerville North (497).
Also scoring were Sommerfeld (85), Horton (94) and freshman Gretchen Stoner (111). Freshman Claudia Novak shot a 112.
"Lauren is poised for a big year," said Conley, adding that Sommerfeld scored in the 70s in two tryout rounds. "Putting was her weakness last year but she's worked a lot on that with her (personal) coach. The biggest improvement I see is in her confidence. She's executing every single shot. She had a 73 in the first round of tryouts and everything was on. She was confident and consistent.
"Sam has worked on her chipping; that's where her focus has been and that's set her up for success."
Novak and Drankwalter held the third and fourth spots to start the season, ahead of a competition for the final two varsity berths between senior Lauren May, freshman Tessa Baker and Stoner.
The second round of the league tournament was Aug. 14 at Mentel Memorial.
Olentangy went 9-11 in the OCC-Buckeye last year to finish fourth behind champion Orange (19-1).
Phillips, Zeitner pacing boys golf team
Senior Bennett Zeitner is the only returnee from last year's top five for the boys golf team, which is the smallest it's been since coach Joel Glassburn came to Olentangy as junior varsity coach in 2001.
Sophomore Tyler Phillips saw occasional time on varsity as a freshman and led the Braves in the first round of the OCC-Buckeye tournament Aug. 6 at Turnberry, as he shot a 76. That was nine shots better than in the season-opening Thomas Worthington Invitational the previous day at Delaware Golf Club, in which the Braves shot a 341 and finished 10th of 14 teams as St. Charles won (294).
Zeitner shot a 78 at Delaware and a 79 at Turnberry.
The Braves shot a 327 on Aug. 6, fourth behind Orange (301), Liberty (304) and Central (327) and ahead of North (389) and South (425). Central won the fifth-player tiebreaker over Olentangy.
"Continuous improvement is our goal right now," said Glassburn, who is in his 16th season as head coach. "You look at other sports where they have games before the league (competition) starts; we go into it right away."
Also scoring Aug. 6 were senior Braeden Gulley (86) and sophomore Ben Wilch (86). Junior Taylor Lansdale shot a 98.
The Braves' sixth player to start the year was junior Max Lipari.
Olentangy is 4-6 through two rounds of the league tournament, having placed fourth (329) on Aug. 12 at Apple Valley behind Liberty (298), Orange (305) and Central (312) and ahead of North (378) and South (394). Liberty and Orange are tied for first at 9-1.
The Braves went 7-9 in the OCC-Buckeye last year to finish fourth behind champion Liberty (14-2).
Olentangy has 11 golfers in the program.
"It's probably the most challenging year, numbers-wise, for me. We haven't been that small since I started 19 years ago, but that's what happens in the district we're in," Glassburn said. "We're so big that we have to split so many times. It's unfortunate that it's affected us so much."
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy field hockey, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
*Aug. 19 -- At Dublin Coffman
Aug. 17 -- Kent Miller Colonial Fall Classic at Hiawatha
Aug. 16 -- At Hilliard Darby
Aug. 20 -- At Worthington Kilbourne
Aug. 20 -- At Marysville
Aug. 13 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
Aug. 17 -- Home vs. Sylvania Northview
Aug. 20 -- At Coffman