As the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team began the second half of the OCC-Buckeye Division schedule in mid-January, junior point guard Henry Hinkle sensed things were changing in the locker room.
"The chemistry is definitely getting better," Hinkle said after a 56-48 victory over Orange on Jan. 17. "Most of us haven't played with each other since fourth grade, but we're kind of starting to get back close to the chemistry we had last year. We're going to have to work for a first-place spot (in the league) this second round, practice hard and try to win the league."
His gut feeling was correct.
The Patriots won six of their next eight games and did just enough to earn a share of the league title with Westerville South after winning it outright last season.
On a wild final night of league play Feb. 14, Liberty lost to Olentangy 55-53 to snap a five-game league winning streak and South lost to Westerville Central 63-61 as both finished 7-3.
Liberty had won four in a row, including beating DeSales 59-57 on Feb. 11, before falling to the Braves.
The Patriots are 16-6 overall and seeded ninth for the Division I district tournament, opening at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at home against 34th-seeded Mifflin. The winner plays 29th-seeded Northland on Feb. 28 in the second round.
Hinkle scored 32 points against DeSales and averages 18.
Junior forward Andrew Wade, who is one of the team's tallest players at 6-foot-5, averages 12 points and nearly 10 rebounds. He set a program record for rebounds in a game with 21 in a 74-72 overtime win Jan. 18 over Harvest Prep.
Senior guard Tyson Chapman also has moved into a more prominent role.
Senior forward Kal Jayararam has returned to action after missing about two weeks with an ankle injury.
"We had three football guys and they missed the first week of practice, and you know what, it takes awhile for players to get it going again," said coach Greg Nossaman, whose team reached a state semifinal last season. "We've got a good rotation now, playing seven to eight guys, and we're playing with a lot of confidence. Our defense has been really good."
Swimmers battle for state berths
The swimming and diving program will be well represented in the Division I state meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Junior Olivia Lynch will be in the girls diving competition Thursday, Feb. 20, after she won the district championship with 510.0 points Feb. 13 at Ohio State.
The boys diving competition is Saturday, Feb. 22, and the Patriots will have two representatives in sophomore Anthony Sciulli, who placed sixth (502.4) at district to earn the last automatic berth, and senior Michael Boothman, who was seventh (414.45) but will compete because two of the qualifiers will be participating in an international meet in Germany. One of the qualifiers who will be competing overseas is junior Jack Matthews, who placed third (659.8) at district after earning a state runner-up finish last season.
At district, the boys finished fourth (221) behind champion Upper Arlington (381.5) as 23 teams scored and the girls were 10th (82) behind champion New Albany (378) as 26 teams scored.
The top two finishers in each swimming event automatically advanced to state Friday, Feb. 21, and Feb. 22. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on district times statewide.
Here's a list of state qualifiers.
Earning an automatic state berth for the boys was the runner-up 200-yard freestyle relay (1 minute, 24.13 seconds) of John Bently, Isaac Iversen, Max Miller and Christian Hosler.
"We've been doing really well," Bently said. "Everyone has been dropping (time) and we all swam pretty great. I think we'll do pretty well at state."
The 200 medley relay of Bently, Miller, Hosler and Iversen was third (1:33.86), the 400 free relay of Hosler, Eli Grubbs, Andrew Gehring and Bently was third (3:08.63) and Hosler was third in the 50 free (20.68).
Also reaching the podium was Miller in the 100 breaststroke (sixth, 58.18).
The other individual competitors for the boys were Cameron Friedauer in diving (10th, 343.0), Aiden Gaier in the 200 free (26th, 1:52.92), Gehring in the 50 free (13th, 21.96), Grubbs in the 200 individual medley (16th, 1:58.01), Dylan Ingram in the 100 butterfly (19th, 54.64) and 200 free (18th, 1:49.45), Iversen in the 50 free (11th, 21.76) and 100 breast (13th, 59.5), Keegan McCauley in the 100 fly (30th, 57.45), Jack McDonnell in the 100 backstroke (29th, 59.43) and 500 free (27th, 5:09.43), Mitchell McKee in the 100 fly (28th, 56.83), Blake Overly in the 100 back (24th, 57.2) and 100 free (27th, 50.89), Nick Sells in the 200 IM (23rd, 2:05.13) and 100 fly (15th, 53.53), Tyler Stoltman in the 100 back (21st, 56.08), Gavin Weis in the 200 free (10th, 1:45.27) and 500 free (22nd, 5:05.23) and Isaac Wolfe in the 100 back (26th, 57.86).
Kate Saczawa led the girls swimmers at district, finishing third in the 100 back (55.99) and 10th in the 50 free (24.18). She also swam on the 11th-place 200 medley relay (1:51.1) with Lydia Colvin, Meggie Gehring and Kirin Loughrey.
The 400 free relay of Christina Racke, Sarah Worster, Brooke Kleinschmidt and Loughrey was 10th (3:45.38) and the 200 free relay of Racke, Morgan Lisch, Worster and Gehring placed 12th (1:42.96).
Also competing were Colvin in the 100 breast (29th, 1:13.5), Emma Friedauer in diving (27th, 116.0), Grace Gabriel in the 500 free (24th, 5:29.35), Gehring in the 100 fly (30th, 1:03.16), Morgan Hofmeister in the 200 free (21st, 2:00.6) and 500 free (15th, 5:19.12), Kleinschmidt in the 100 back (30th, 1:02.94), Lisch in the 200 free (30th, 2:09.38) and 100 breast (28th, 1:12.11), Loughrey in the 100 back (23rd, 1:01.2), Racke in the 50 free (24th, 25.43) and Bella Skoog in diving (16th, 289.0).
Gymnasts prep for postseason
The gymnastics team heads into the district meet Saturday, Feb. 22, at Worthington Kilbourne coming off a third-place finish (128.9) in the OCC-Buckeye meet Feb. 11 behind Orange (131.125) and Olentangy (130.95).
Liberty finished third overall with 12 points (4-4), behind Orange (20, 8-0) and Olentangy (16, 6-2).
In the league meet, Camryn Thompson was first on uneven bars (8.7) and balance beam (8.6). Katie DiSalle tied for fourth on bars (7.9) and tied for sixth on floor exercise (8.5), and Sam Penzone tied for fifth on beam (8.075) and was fifth in the all-around (32.35).
The boys and girls bowling and hockey teams open their postseasons this week.
The boys bowling team will compete in the Division I sectional Friday, Feb. 21, at HP Lanes and the girls will compete the following day at the same site.
The hockey team opens the district tournament with a second-round game at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, against Gahanna or Centerville at Chiller North.