The grind of the most successful season in program history has had an effect on the Olentangy Liberty girls volleyball program the past few weeks.

Some of the top returnees who led the Patriots to a Division I state semifinal for the first time last fall also helped their club teams advance deep into national tournaments over the summer.

The bumps and bruises of extra time on the court might affect Liberty's rotations early on -- the Patriots were 3-2 entering the week -- but the pieces likely are there for another postseason run.

Liberty begins OCC-Buckeye Division play Tuesday, Sept. 3, at Orange, which it beat for a regional title last season.

"We're just trying to stay healthy," said 17th-year coach Jen Chapman, whose team finished 27-1 overall and 10-0 in the league last season. "We had a couple kids from club that have injuries. It's tough because it's a long season when you're continuing all the way through June and into the beginning of July. That's where I see a little bit of fatigue, but we're trying to manage that because you want them to go hard in high school."

One thing that isn't weighing as heavily on the minds of at least a couple of the team's top players is their future. Senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Claranne Fechter was last year's league Player of the Year and has committed to Campbell, while junior setter Logan Flaugh has committed to Xavier.

Seniors Sydney Novy (defensive specialist), Sarah Rausch (outside hitter) and Raegan Rosi (outside hitter) and junior Sydney Reed (defensive specialist) are other key returnees.

The other seniors are Julia Gomez (setter), Brooke Hammons (defensive specialist) and Taylor Killen (middle hitter).

Junior Ali Sebenoler, who is the team's tallest player at 6-foot, should see key minutes at middle hitter but has been battling an injury.

Junior Abby Roubinek and sophomore McKenna Cook are the main right-side hitters and both also can play outside.

Others looking to contribute include junior Madison Tinsley (defensive specialist), sophomore Michelle Ezenekwe (middle hitter) and freshman Katherine Donahue (middle hitter).

Liberty has gone 50-3 over the past two seasons.

"We went undefeated in the regular season (last year) and it was the first time we won regionals," Chapman said. "I don't know if it's really made that big of a change. I think the kids that were there last year definitely have the hunger to get back there again."

Pioneers aiming for state tourney

Fifth-year coach Katie Duy believes Orange can follow up its best season in only one way: By aiming higher.

The Pioneers broke through to a Division I regional final on their third try, but lost to Liberty 31-29, 21-25, 25-17, 13-25, 15-13. Duy said her team has the talent to make another run at its first state semifinal.

"If we are going to win a fourth consecutive district championship and go further, we're going to have to stay hungry," said Duy, whose team finished 21-6 overall and was runner-up (8-2) to Liberty (10-0) in the OCC-Buckeye. "The girls in the program are continuing to stay hungry and want to improve on last season's result."

Orange returns seniors Maya Hendricks (defensive specialist/outside hitter), Nina Marin (defensive specialist) and Madison Moll (outside hitter) and juniors Tazmin Appiah (middle hitter), London Davis (outside hitter), Abby Deshazo (defensive specialist), Addie Evans (defensive specialist) and Arianna Jackson (middle hitter).

Davis was second-team all-district and first-team all-league last season after recording 275 kills and 44 blocks. Moll had 157 kills and 79 blocks, Appiah had 97 kills and 79 blocks and Evans had 261 digs and 33 aces.

"We graduated a large senior class, but we're still bringing back a lot of experience," Duy said. "Along with the experience, we also have we have a lot of depth, especially on offense. Anyone could step up at any time for us."

Sophomore setter Hanna Borer had 468 assists last year while subbing for injured 2019 graduate Carrigan O'Reilly. Borer also had 48 aces and 158 digs.

"Hannah takes over the offense at setter full time now and she trusts everyone," Duy said. "We're playing with a lot of confidence right now."

The Pioneers defeated Big Walnut 25-15, 25-16, 25-19 on Aug. 20 and Hilliard Davidson 25-7, 25-9, 25-15 on Aug. 22. They played Dublin Coffman on Aug. 27 and begin league action Tuesday, Sept. 3, at home against Liberty.

-- Scott Hennen

Braves looking to make progress

First-year Olentangy coach Travis Weitthoff does not want the loss of two Division I recruits, or the fact that he is starting two freshmen, to appear as though he's making excuses.

Senior libero Madyson Chitty, a Rutgers commit, is one of several Braves who played key roles last year as the team went 19-6 overall and 6-4 in the OCC-Buckeye and reached a Division I district final.

Other returnees include seniors Taylor Lansford (right-side hitter) and Ava Weithman (defensive specialist) and juniors Ellen Kinnaird (middle hitter) and Sophie Sparks (outside hitter).

Olentangy, whose starting freshmen are defensive specialist Jonna Spohn and outside hitter Sophia Weithman, was 1-2 before playing Big Walnut on Aug. 27.

"Our fundamentals have been there. We will make the necessary adjustments," said Weitthoff, who was the Braves' freshman girls coach from 2012-14 and the boys team's first coach from 2013-15. He succeeds Sarah Polhemus, who resigned last November after going 35-15 overall and 12-8 in the league in two seasons.

"The message is 'one team.' We'll stay together and try to play our best volleyball at the end of the year," Weitthoff said. "We'd love to win today ... but our goal is to be the best team in October and November."

The Braves opened Aug. 17 with a 25-20, 25-17, 25-17 home loss to Sylvania Northview. They lost in five games Aug. 20 at Dublin Coffman before sweeping visiting Upper Arlington 25-16, 25-16, 25-19 on Aug. 22.

Among Olentangy's losses to graduation were outside hitters and twins Emily and Olivia Margolies, who now play at Ohio University. Olivia led the Braves in kills (394) and aces (46) last season and Emily added 224 kills and 352 digs, second on the team to Chitty's 600.

Sparks had 174 kills and 94 blocks.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Anna Cecil (right-side hitter) and Maddie Harris (middle hitter), juniors Kenzie Bajorek (outside hitter), Lauren Beaumont (defensive specialist), Cam Clark (defensive specialist) and Olivia Grose (setter) and sophomores Ava Burkett (setter) and Erin Cecil (setter).

Olentangy begins OCC-Buckeye play Tuesday, Sept. 3, at Westerville South.

-- Dave Purpura

Bears 'hungry' to improve

Berlin has a senior class of one as it looks to improve on a 4-18 finish in its inaugural season.

That senior is defensive specialist Shelby Buck, who had 153 digs and 22 aces last season.

"Shelby's leadership and experience will definitely make us better and also help to mentor the younger players coming in," said second-year coach Dana Stearns, whose team went 1-13 in the OCC-Cardinal a year ago. "I think all of the returning players are determined and hungry to get more wins this season. We want to grow and pick up where we left off and win some of the close matches that we weren't able to close out last year."

Junior right-side hitter/setter Morgan Lenix was honorable mention all-league last year, finishing with 103 kills, 34 aces, 116 digs and 158 assists. Sophomore setter Elise Brown led in assists (253) and aces (37) and had 70 kills, and sophomore defensive specialist Jenna Boucher led with 189 digs and had 24 aces.

Sophomore right-side hitter/setter Lauren Young had 99 kills and 21 blocks, and sophomore defensive specialist Taylor Walker had 76 digs.

Junior middle blocker/outside hitter Heather Higgins (second-team all-league) led the Bears in kills (152) and blocks (26) and had 103 digs and 28 aces, but was lost for the season with a knee injury.

Berlin has a new player in junior outside hitter/middle blocker Faith Hawkins, who moved in from Texas.

"Faith will be an impact player for us because she's versatile and has experience playing at a high level," Stearns said. "Lauren Young will take a lot of swings for us this year, especially with losing Heather to injury. We will have some freshmen contributing for varsity in (outside hitter/middle blocker) Rozalyn Zielinski and (outside hitter) Courtney Higgins, as well as a handful of players that will float between j.v. and varsity."

The Bears opened Aug. 22 by losing to Hilliard Bradley 25-18, 25-11, 25-16 in league play. They played Dublin Jerome on Aug. 27 in another league match.

-- Scott Hennen

sports@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSports

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for Berlin, Liberty, Olentangy and Orange:

BERLIN

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 31 -- Westerville North Classic

FIELD HOCKEY

Aug. 29 -- At Bexley

Sept. 4 -- At Hartley

BOYS GOLF

Aug. 31 -- Upper Arlington Pinnacle Classic at Pinnacle

GIRLS GOLF

Aug. 30 -- Delaware at Bent Tree

Sept. 4 -- OCC-Cardinal at New Albany Links

Sept. 5 -- Westerville South at Bent Tree

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 29 -- At Granville

*Sept. 3 -- At Hilliard Bradley

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 29 -- At Hartley

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Watkins Memorial

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 29 -- At Hilliard Darby

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne

Sept. 4 -- At Columbus School for Girls

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington

*Sept. 3 -- At Darby

LIBERTY

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 31 -- Asics Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 4 -- OCC-Buckeye at Royal American

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 3 -- At Newark

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 31 -- Home vs. Centerville

Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Newark

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 29 -- At Westerville North

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Westerville Central

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 29 -- At Newark

*Sept. 3 -- At Orange

OLENTANGY

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 31 -- Westerville Classic at Westerville North

FIELD HOCKEY

Sept. 4 -- Home vs. New Albany

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 4 -- OCC-Buckeye at Royal American

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 29 -- At Pickerington North

Sept. 3 -- At Hilliard Davidson

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 31 -- Home vs. Watterson

Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 29 -- At Westerville Central in first round of OTCA Division I district tournament

*Sept. 3 -- At Orange

*Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Liberty

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 31 -- Home vs. DeSales

*Sept. 3 -- At Westerville South

ORANGE

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 31 -- Westerville North Classic

FIELD HOCKEY

*Sept. 4 -- At Thomas Worthington

GIRLS GOLF

Aug. 29 -- Marysville and Olentangy at Oakhaven

Sept. 4 -- OCC-Buckeye at Royal American

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 3 -- At Franklin Heights

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley

Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Franklin Heights

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Westerville South

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Olentangy

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 29 -- At Franklin Heights

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Liberty

*League contest