Olentangy wrestling coach Dennis Lyberger knows the competitors to whom his team will look for leadership, but he acknowledges that the Braves could spend the early part of the season trying to find their way and fill holes in the lineup.
One Division I district qualifier from last year returns in sophomore Vaughn Fowler, and the Braves have three other wrestlers in juniors Ben Hall (138 pounds), Ethan Hand (heavyweight) and Jackson Moses (126) who advanced to district as freshmen.
State qualifiers Brady Pethtel, Jacob Sherman and Nick Varanelli graduated. Sherman, a three-time state qualifier who finished fourth last season at 113, is wrestling at Kent State and Varanelli is competing at Indianapolis.
Sherman was the eighth wrestler in program history to make state three years in a row.
"We're young and inexperienced and we must continue to get better," said Lyberger, whose eighth season with the Braves began Dec. 7 with an eighth-place finish in the annual Olentangy Invitational. "I can't think of a season off the top of my head since I've been here that we have been this inexperienced. When that's the case, you just have to get back to emphasizing the basics. The older, more experienced guys do a lot of teaching, too."
Fowler, who went 17-8 last season at 113, began this season at 120.
Senior Nick Boyarko (170) also advanced to district last season but did not come out this year.
Hand missed all of last season because of an ankle injury but had a strong football season this fall, recording 56 tackles and four sacks as a linebacker to earn special mention all-district honors.
Rounding out the roster to start the season are seniors Cameron Everson (145), James Everson (132), Mostafa Hussein (152) and Adam Orndorf (160) and sophomores Gabe Bulugaris (113) and Zach Neville (106).
Bulugaris and Neville finished second in their respective classes in the nine-team Olentangy Invitational, leading the Braves to 80 points and eighth place as Centerville won (280).
"The other problem we have is that we have no one in the room besides Ethan Hand with any varsity experience above 160," Lyberger said. "For the beginning of the year, we'll have to forfeit 170, 182, 195 and 220. We have hard-working kids with a good work ethic, but it will be tough in the early matches without being able to fill those classes. We have a senior, Max Williams, who could step in at 182 eventually."
Olentangy begins OCC-Buckeye Division competition Jan. 7 at Westerville South. The Braves went 2-3 in the league last season to finish fourth behind champion Liberty (5-0).
"The thing that we're trying to stress the most is for everyone to look at themselves individually and keep getting better each day," Lyberger said. "The improvement will come along."
Three state qualifiers return for girls swim team
Division I state qualifiers Cameron Kuriger, Anna McGrath and Martina Peroni -- all of whom are sophomores -- return for the girls swimming team, which will seek its second consecutive OCC-Buckeye championship.
Peroni placed fifth at state in both the 200-yard individual medley and 500 freestyle, Kuriger was fifth in the 100 butterfly and both were on the 16th-place 400 free relay with McGrath and 2019 graduate Bridget Parker, a four-time state qualifier who now swims at Dartmouth.
"The strongest area of the girls team is our sophomore class," second-year coach Calvin Higdon said. "The returning state qualifiers should be able to come back and grow from last year. Martina and Cameron both finished fifth at the state meet in their respective events and have been looking strong over the past year. ...
"The girls should be pushing for a first-place finish in the Buckeye Division again. Repeating is much harder than winning for the first time, and I made sure to emphasize that from day one."
Olentangy opened Nov. 29 against Dublin Jerome at Dublin Community Recreation Center. The girls lost to the Celtics 108-62 and the boys fell 133-37.
Three district qualifiers return for the boys team in seniors Preston Kuriger and Chris Sabharwal and sophomore Max McAlister. Kuriger and Sabharwal each qualified in two events and all were on the 200 medley and 400 free relays.
"I look for big breakouts from them," Higdon said. "I believe (Kuriger) is more motivated than ever. Chris is a key leader for us in the pool and out for the team and looks strong thus far. Max has made big strides from freshman to sophomore year and I am very excited for him."
According to Higdon, others contributors for the girls team will include sophomore Ellie Berry and freshmen Regan Blythe and Regan Kauderer. Top boys swimmers also should include senior Nate Steele and junior Joseph Bulinski.
"We gained depth on the boys side with a larger freshman class (of eight swimmers), which I believe this will help us once we get to the OCC(-Buckeye) meet," Higdon said.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 13 -- At Westerville North
Dec. 14 -- Home vs. Walnut Ridge
*Dec. 13 -- At Westerville North
*Dec. 13 -- Grandview at Delaware Lanes
Dec. 14 -- Pioneer Baker Bash at Palace Lanes
*Dec. 13 -- Olentangy Berlin at Chiller North
*Dec. 14 -- St. Charles at Chiller North
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 13-14 -- Ned Reeb Memorial Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 14 -- Jeremy Ammons Kilted Klassic at Sparta Highland