Andrew Kieffer faced a few uncertainties when he joined the Olentangy hockey team in the fall, not the least of which was that he was a freshman preparing to face considerably older players in Capital Hockey Conference play.
Kieffer's role also was up in the air, given that forward Landon Johnson -- who was expected to be one of the team's top scorers -- missed the entire preseason as he helped the football team to a Division II, Region 7 runner-up finish.
"Landon is a key player and it was rough when he wasn't here," Kieffer said. "We were missing that big, key asset, but when he was gone, we needed somebody to step up. I knew I could do it, so I challenged myself to do it and it paid off, I guess."
Not only has Kieffer been the Braves' top point scorer during CHC play, but he also worked his way from the third line into a productive first line as a wing, opposite Johnson and flanking center Nick Biehl.
Boosted by a varsity debut in which he recorded four goals and two assists Nov. 22 in a 13-3 win over Dublin Scioto, Kieffer has seven goals and six assists on the season.
Johnson has 10 goals and three assists for Olentangy, which is 4-14 overall and 2-8 in the CHC-White Division. The freshman-laden Braves will try to snap an 11-game losing streak Friday, Jan. 17, when they play Springboro in the Pioneer Classic at Chiller North.
Coach Mike Ross settled on the current first line in mid-December, near the beginning of a stretch that saw the Braves play Upper Arlington -- which was 21-0 entering last weekend and ranked second in the state -- as well as other CHC-Red teams in Liberty, New Albany and St. Charles.
"(Kieffer) is one of our bigger, younger guys so he can handle himself physically on the ice," coach Mike Ross said. "When I moved Kieffer up there, it was just a good blend of Landon's physical play and offensive ability. Kieffer is quick, he's good with the puck, he can score and he can pass."
Senior defender Alec Rieser said Johnson and Kieffer, who previously played in the Columbus Capitals club program, have a knack for reading the game.
"(Kieffer) is going to be fun to watch his senior year," Rieser said. "He came in with the desire to play and he earned it on. He's on the first line. He's doing something right.
"(Johnson) is a monster when he's on the ice. It seems like he gives us a point a game, no matter what. He is just a team player. He knows how to get the team together, move the puck, work with it."
Olentangy will get a break from CHC play in the Pioneer Classic. The Braves' remaining six league games are against teams from the CHC-Blue and White divisions.
"It's been a tough stretch," Ross said. "I've told the guys I'm not overly concerned with the scores of these games. I am more concerned with how we compete. We're going to take our lumps along the way, but if we learn to play strong defensively against the better teams, when we're playing teams we're more competitive with, that will pay dividends."
Swimming teams fine-tuning technique
With one event remaining before the OCC-Buckeye meet Jan. 25 at Kenyon College, swimming coach Calvin Higdon said the boys and girls teams are concentrating on technique and receiving contributions from several athletes, both in individual events and on relays.
"I am seeing a lot of progress from the team being engaged in turns and underwater dolphin kicks. This was a major focus for us early in the season and they are getting closer to where I want them," said Higdon, whose team visits perennial power Upper Arlington for its final dual of the season Saturday, Jan. 18. "(Girls swimmers) Regan Kauderer and Regan Blythe have been swimming great legs for us on relays. I have been rotating them on and off the 200 (-yard) medley and 400 (freestyle) relays.
"The same can be said for (boys swimmers) Connor Kilrain and Clay Edwardson. They are both rotating between the same relays."
According to Higdon, top individual performances entering the week included girls swimmer Cameron Kuriger's win in the 100 butterfly (55.78 seconds) in the Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 14 at Ohio State and wins by Kuriger in the 100 fly (56.37) and Martina Peroni in the 200 individual medley (2:06.17) in the DHL-Northwest Classic on Dec. 21 at Bowling Green.
Boys swimmer Preston Kuriger placed third in the 100 backstroke (53.64) and fourth in the 100 free (47.31) at Bowling Green.
In the Northeast Classic that concluded Jan. 11 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, Peroni accounted for 35 points for the girls team by winning the 200 free (1:51.01), placing fourth in the 100 fly (56.5) and participating on the 400 free relay (10th, 3:37.68) and 200 medley relay (14th, 1:52.54).
Olentangy finished 13th (68) behind champion New Albany (311.5) as 44 teams scored.
Preston Kuriger placed fourth in the 100 fly (51.79) and 12th in the 200 free (1:46.08) to lead the boys team to 19.5 points and 27th place behind champion St. Charles (227) as 42 teams scored.
Swimmers had to meet time standards to compete in the event, which was held in the same facility that will play host to the state meet for the 41st consecutive year Feb. 19-22.
Girls bowlers off to strong start
A balanced effort led the girls bowling team to a 5-2 record overall and in the COHSBC-A before a Jan. 15 match against Lexington as well as 2-2 in the OCC-Buckeye.
Savannah Claar's 181.5 pins per game average led the Braves, ahead of Phoebe Anderson (179.9), Kristen Mullins (169.8), Hannah Lamar (166.2) and Katie Claar (161.1). Savannah Claar's 246 game and 416 series Dec. 9 against Berlin at Delaware Lanes were the team's top individual performances of the season entering the week.
Mullins had a 416 series Dec. 5 against New Albany, also at Delaware Lanes.
With a less consistent lineup, the boys team was 0-7 overall and in the COHSBC-A before playing Lexington as well as 0-4 in the OCC-Buckeye. Nathan Holycross (153.1) and Derek Rather (149.9) led the team, which had 12 bowlers compete in at least one game.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Westerville South. The Braves lost to the Wildcats 65-58 on Dec. 6.
Jan. 21 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
*Jan. 17 -- At Westerville South. The Braves lost to the Wildcats 65-41 on Dec. 6.
Jan. 18 -- At Lexington
Jan. 21 -- At Big Walnut
Jan. 18 -- Central District Preview at Palace Lanes
Jan. 19 -- Winter Shootout at HP Lanes
*Jan. 22 -- Orange at Delaware Lanes
*Jan. 17 -- At Orange
Jan. 20 -- Olentangy Invitational
Jan. 17 -- Springboro in Pioneer Classic at Chiller North
Jan. 18 -- Farmington Hills (Mich.) Shamrock Prep and Sylvania Southview in Pioneer Classic
Jan. 19 -- TBD in Pioneer Classic
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 18 -- At Upper Arlington
*Jan. 16 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
Jan. 18 -- Mason Wrestling Invitational