Throughout last season, the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team excelled at giving the ball to 2019 graduate Ben Roderick and then, according to coach Greg Nossaman, getting "the heck out of the way."
Players such as Henry Hinkle played an important role, but having a system that revolved around the district's Player of the Year paid dividends in the Patriots' first run to the Division I state tournament and a 24-5 finish.
Because four other members of the 2019 graduating class also were key players last season, players such as senior forward Kal Jayaraman, junior guards Cam Barcus and Ty Foster and junior forward Andrew Wade have been asked to take on leading roles alongside Hinkle, a junior guard, for the first time.
The progression has been steady for the Patriots, who were 10-4 overall after beating Harvest Prep 74-72 in overtime Jan. 18 and before playing Hilliard Davidson on Jan. 21.
Liberty had won five in a row before Jan. 21, including beating Delaware 66-58 on Jan. 14 and Orange 56-48 on Jan. 17. Harvest Prep was last year's Division III state champion.
The Patriots are in a multi-team battle for the OCC-Buckeye Division title. One of those teams, Westerville South, plays host to Liberty on Friday, Jan. 24.
South leads the league at 5-1. Liberty and Westerville North are 4-2, Westerville Central is 3-3 and Orange is 2-4.
Hinkle, who averaged 7.8 points last season, scored 31 against Delaware and had more than doubled his average this season to 17.1 before Jan. 21.
Barcus, Foster, Jayaraman and Wade all were averaging between nine and 12 points.
Jayaraman is one of six seniors, with guards Tyson Chapman and A.J. Rausch also playing key minutes off the bench.
"It's different being the leader of the team because before I was not the leader, I was a follower," Jayaraman said. "We started off the year and had a couple games where we didn't play as well as we wanted to, but we're looking to turn it around and keep moving forward. We've still got some work to do, but I think we're on our way to being the team we want to be."
Gymnasts tuning up for postseason
Gymnastics coach Tara Mays views January as the time for her team to work on skills that it can add to routines once the OCC-Buckeye meet is held Feb. 11 at Hilliard Darby.
The Patriots next compete Jan. 30 at Orange and have just one other meet before the league event. The district meet is Feb. 22 at Worthington Kilbourne.
On Jan. 11, Liberty scored 124.55 to finish 12th in the 16-team McGee Invitational at Dublin Jerome behind champion Thornville Sheridan (140.775).
The Patriots finished fifth (127.15) in the 12-team Kilbourne Invitational on Jan. 18 behind champion Jerome (136.725).
"A lot of them were trying new skills (at Jerome), so (the lower score) was expected because when you up your skills, you might fall," Mays said. "We've talked about how this is the month of skill building."
Freshman Hailee Cobb has been the team's highest scorer for much of the season.
In the McGee Invitational, Cobb was 19th in the all-around (33.425), including placing 12th on uneven bars (8.7). She also has recorded a 9.0 on floor exercise this season.
Freshman Camryn Thompson has been one of the team's better scorers on balance beam and bars but was out with a foot injury during the McGee Invitational.
Seniors Kathryn Edwards and Courtney Street, junior Katie DiSalle, sophomores Kenna Henry and Alana Willett and freshman Sam Penzone also have contributed.
Liberty names new coaches in two sports
Liberty announced last week that it has hired new coaches for boys cross country and boys tennis.
Adrian Tolentino will coach boys tennis after spending the last three seasons as coach for Upper Arlington Jones Middle School. A Capital University graduate, he also is the Davidson girls coach and has taken over after Josh Matusky led the Patriots for three seasons. Last spring, Liberty's Vishnu Bodavula and Marcelo Aguilar reached the Division I state tournament in doubles.
Patrick Brean recently was named boys cross country coach after serving for three seasons as an assistant for Ashland and then leading that program last fall. He was named the District 6 boys cross country Coach of the Year.
While Liberty had one individual state qualifier in senior Jack Humenay, Ashland finished 13th in the Division I state meet this past season.
Brean replaces Jared Mills, who led the program for 13 seasons.
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 24 -- At Westerville South. The Patriots beat the Wildcats 74-59 on Dec. 12.
Jan. 25 -- At Huber Heights Wayne
*Jan. 24 -- Home vs. South. The Patriots lost to the Wildcats 51-43 on Dec. 12.
Jan. 24 -- Lexington at Sawmill Lanes
*Jan. 27 -- Berlin at Sawmill Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 25 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Kenyon College
*Jan. 23 -- At Olentangy
Jan. 24 -- Home vs. Delaware
Jan. 25 -- Grizzly Invitational at Wadsworth