Following the loss of a seven-member senior class two seasons ago, the Olentangy Liberty gymnastics team was in rebuilding mode last winter.
The Patriots again are fielding a young team, but a freshman class that features a group of impact competitors combined with several key returnees has boosted their hopes -- and their scores -- early this season.
On Dec. 14 in the 17-team Hilliard Invitational at Hilliard Darby, the Patriots scored 129.025 to finish fifth behind champion Dublin Jerome (135.675).
That's a big step up from where Liberty was at the end of last season, when it scored 122.875 to place 16th in the district meet.
"It's been going really well," third-year coach Tara Mays said. "We had a lot of graduating seniors two years ago and last year, but we've got a really strong freshman class and a really strong sophomore class as well. Our upperclassmen are doing a really good job of leading this team."
Kathryn Edwards and Courtney Street are senior returnees.
Junior Katie DiSalle is a returning all-around performer who was 53rd (31.0) at district last season to lead the Patriots.
Sophomore Kenna Henry is another returning all-arounder, and sophomore Beth Finn returns after competing at district on uneven bars and balance beam.
In the Hilliard Invitational, freshman Hailee Cobb finished fifth in the all-around (34.1), including placing third on bars (8.9), and freshman Camryn Thompson was 18th in the all-around (32.15), including finishing eighth on beam (8.55).
Sophomore Alana Willett is a newcomer with previous club experience. She also competed all-around at Darby, as did freshman Sam Penzone.
The others on the team are freshmen Christina Edwards and Ava Jones.
"Katie DiSalle competes all-around and will be a really strong leader for our team," Mays said. "Alana Willett is a sophomore who's new to the team but did club. ... Camryn Thompson is a really strong freshman with excessive club experience and Hailee Cobb was on the same team as Camryn. Both are really strong."
Liberty, which returns to action Jan. 11 at Jerome, finished third (12 points, 2-2) in the OCC-Buckeye Division last season behind Olentangy (20, 4-0) and Orange (16, 3-1).
Olentangy scored 124.7 in its opening meet and Orange scored 129.35 to open its season, setting up what could be a tight league-title race.
"We're going to try to keep getting better and see how we do," Mays said. "We have team goals and scores in mind, but they want to see how it feels especially since they're getting to know what it's like to compete in gymnastics in high school. They want to get experience and try to build on every meet and on last year and the year before. They have a really strong goal of bonding as a team and they've done a really good job of that so far."
Hockey squad out to strong start
After beating Cincinnati Moeller 2-1 in overtime Dec. 14, the hockey team fell to Upper Arlington 3-1 on Dec. 15 for its first loss.
The Patriots are 10-1-1 overall and 2-1 in the CHC. They play Dec. 27 at Chiller Dublin against two-time defending district champion Jerome, which they beat 6-3 on Dec. 8 as Ben Brown and Aidan King both scored two goals, Nik Jozefiak and Gage Schlotterbeck had one goal each and Korey Raymond added two assists.
Liberty, which also plays four games in the Parma Padua Holiday Tournament from Friday, Dec. 20, through Sunday, Dec. 22, closes the 2019 portion of its schedule Dec. 29 against Dublin Coffman at Nationwide Arena.
"It's actually been incredible," Raymond said. "Our chemistry is beautiful. We're able to score so many goals with our strong forecheck and it's really coming together."
The Patriots had lost eight consecutive times to Jerome before breaking through during their first matchup this season.
Schlotterbeck has 14 goals and 12 assists, Raymond has eight goals and 18 assists and Jozefiak has 12 goals and 14 assists. Andrew Vidrick and Andy Keeler both have five wins in goal.
Wrestlers capture home tourney title
With 197 points, the wrestling team edged Medina Highland (195.5) for the championship in the 27-team Liberty Classic on Dec. 13 and 14.
Capturing titles were Dylan Russo (195 pounds), Kaden Tong (220) and Lucas Uliano (145), with Hunter Ford (120) finishing third, Ben Cox (182), Jayce Fitzpatrick (160) and Nick Rutsky (106) placing fourth and Jadon Brownlee (heavyweight) finishing fifth.
Liberty next competes Dec. 27 and 28 in the Medina Invitational Tournament.
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty boys basketball, girls basketball and hockey teams:
*Dec. 20 -- At Westerville North
*Dec. 20 -- Home vs. North
Dec. 21 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
*Dec. 19 -- Big Walnut at Capri Lanes
Dec. 20 -- Lakewood St. Edward in Parma Padua Holiday Tournament at OBM Arena in Strongsville
Dec. 21 -- Hunting Valley University School and Padua in Padua Holiday Tournament
Dec. 22 -- TBD in Padua Holiday Tournament