Girls Volleyball: Olentangy Liberty hopes depth leads to success

JARROD ULREY
julrey@thisweeknews.com
Logan Flaugh, a senior setter who has committed to Xavier, is among the top returnees for the Liberty girls volleyball team.

On the way to reaching the Division I state tournament in 2018 and earning a district title last fall, the Olentangy Liberty girls volleyball team had what coach Jen Chapman calls a "once-in-a-lifetime" talent in 2020 graduate Claranne Fechter.

The absence of Fechter, who is now competing for Campbell, means the Patriots are spreading the ball around more when they need a key kill or side-out this season.

It's a formula that Chapman believes should yield success for Liberty, which has a roster of 16 players after going 18-8 overall and 8-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division last year.

"We were fortunate for the past four years to have a player like Claranne Fechter," said Chapman, who is in her 18th season. "I think we've got some good young players and some good size, which always helps. Last year, eight out of 10 times you give Claranne the ball and you know it's going to be put away. This year, we've got to be more creative and use more of our offense to gain those points."

Liberty, which opened with a 25-15, 25-19, 25-11 win over Big Walnut on Aug. 22 before losing to defending state champion DeSales 25-20, 25-15, 18-25, 25-19 on Aug. 27, has moved to the OCC-Central. The Patriots' league opener is Sept. 10 at home against Dublin Coffman, which has won 155 consecutive league matches and 13 consecutive league titles.

The other teams in the OCC-Central are Orange, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Upper Arlington. Orange won the OCC-Buckeye last season at 10-0 and beat the Patriots 25-15, 25-20, 21-25, 25-22 in a regional semifinal.

Senior Logan Flaugh, a Xavier commit, is in her third season as Liberty's setter. She led the Patriots with 696 assists last season and was second-team all-district.

The other seniors are Abby Roubinek (outside hitter/right-side hitter), Ali Sebenoler (middle hitter) and Madison Tinsley (libero/defensive specialist).

Junior McKenna Cook (outside hitter) and sophomores Katherine Donahue (middle hitter) and Gabi Moulton (setter/right-side hitter) are other returnees.

The other juniors are Mackenzie Dyer (defensive specialist), Grace Ganz (defensive specialist), Kacey Hilvert (defensive specialist), Ryann Kanable (middle hitter) and Kaili Worcester (outside hitter/right-side hitter).

Sophomore Claire Mrukow-ski (opposite hitter/right-side hitter) is new to varsity but is filling a key role in the offense. Her twin sister, Meredith Mrukowski (outside hitter), and sophomore Nicole Russell (middle hitter) also are looking to contribute.

Junior Michelle Ezenkwe (middle hitter) is out indefinitely with an injury.

Pioneers maintain high expectations

Orange is coming off a fourth consecutive Division I district championship, and the Pioneers have won league titles in four of the past five seasons.

However, four players tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, and the program was shut down from Aug. 18 to Aug. 27.

"Maybe it's good to get it out of the way," said sixth-year coach Katie Duy, whose team finished 22-5 overall last fall. "(The coronavirus) might start coming up more and more. It's better now than to start and stop."

The Pioneers return six starters, including three who are starting for a fourth season.

Senior outside hitter London Davis, a four-year starter and Kansas recruit, was first-team all-state, district co-Player of the Year and first-team all-league last season. She had a team-high 254 kills and 32 blocks.

Senior middle blocker Tazmin Appiah had 128 kills and 37 blocks and was honorable mention all-league. She also is a four-year starter along with senior defensive specialist Addie Evans, who was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league after leading Orange with 372 digs and adding 40 aces.

Senior middle blocker Arianna Jackson, a three-year starter, had 38 blocks and 114 kills.

Another three-year starter is junior setter Hanna Borer, who was first-team all-district and all-league last year after leading the Pioneers with 688 assists and adding 178 digs and 41 aces.

Junior outside hitter Molly Shomock, who had 135 kills last fall, is in her second season as a starter.

"We have a lot of experience and a lot of the girls are three- and four-year starters," said Duy, whose team opens Thursday, Sept. 3, at home against Pickerington North. "Some of our juniors give us a lot of experience. Our experience and tough schedule will hopefully help us to play at state."

Orange has never reached a state semifinal. Last fall, they lost in a regional final to eventual state champion DeSales 27-25, 25-16, 26-28, 25-22.

Rounding out the roster are senior Abby DeShazo (defensive specialist), juniors Lauren Berend (defensive specialist), Olivia McAtee (right-side hitter/middle hitter), Makenzie Moll (defensive specialist), Kate Moorhead (defensive specialist) and Ainsley Robare (setter) and freshmen Madison Cugino (defensive specialist/outside hitter), Angelena Greene (right-side hitter) and Skylar Kelso (middle hitter/right-side hitter).

--Scott Hennen

Serving success guiding Braves

Second-year Olentangy coach Travis Weitthoff might have been proudest of his team's serving entering the season, but it wasn't necessarily a strength he was expecting.

"I've had a lot of good serving teams and this might be the one of the better ones. You can put pressure on the opponent right off the bat (with a good serve)," Weitthoff said. "It might be a result of unintentional consequences. We wanted to be the best serve-receive team we could possibly be, pass the serve with the best of them. Every day, we did serve-receive drills, dating back to the summer. By doing all of those, it made them a better serving team because we've done that for hours upon hours. ...

"I think we can throw seven or eight strong servers in a row at other teams. That's exciting."

Seniors Lauren Beaumont (defensive specialist), Ellen Kinnard (middle hitter) and Sophie Sparks (outside hitter) return from last year's team that went 12-12 overall and 6-4 in the OCC-Buckeye.

Sparks, a Troy commit, had a team-leading 287 kills last year. Sophomore outside hitter Sophie Weithman added 108.

Olentangy was 1-2 before playing Liberty on Sept. 1.

The Braves opened with a 25-23, 25-21, 21-25, 25-22 home loss to Watkins Memorial on Aug. 21. They defeated host Sylvania Northview 25-20, 25-19, 17-25, 25-19 on Aug. 22 and lost at home to Coffman in five games Aug. 26.

According to Weitthoff, the team's three sophomores -- Maddie Franzel (opposite hitter), Jonna Spohn (defensive specialist) and Weithman -- all will see significant playing time.

Rounding out the roster are juniors Kira Bretzinger (outside hitter/opposite hitter), Sophie Flowers (outside hitter/opposite hitter), Zoey Kohlhorst (middle hitter), Caitlin Troutman (defensive specialist) and Leah Weisner (defensive specialist).

"We were so young last year that we are lucky to have these girls back with even more experience," Weitthoff said. "In one of our scrimmages, I looked out and realized we might have had one girl out there who can drive. We're young but talented."

Olentangy begins OCC-Cardinal play Sept. 10 at home against Berlin.

The Braves reached at least a district semifinal for the fifth consecutive season in 2019 and are seeking their first district title since 2008.

--Dave Purpura

Players grow into leaders for Bears

Berlin coach Dana Stearns has watched her group of five seniors and five juniors take the leadership reins in the program's third season.

The Bears lost only one player to graduation after going 4-19 overall and 2-12 in the OCC-Cardinal last season. They finished 4-18 in 2018.

"We have been growing for three years," Stearns said. "We have more experienced kids and they have grown through a trial by fire.

"Leadership on young teams is a developing thing, and our seniors have grown into that role. I would say our leadership is one of our strengths."

Senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Morgan Lenix (honorable mention all-league; 55 kills, 14 aces, 69 digs) and junior right-side hitter/setter Lauren Young (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league; 57 kills, 88 digs) lead the returnees.

Senior outside hitter Heather Higgins is back after missing last season with a knee injury.

Also back are senior Faith Hawkins (right-side hitter; 56 kills), juniors Elise Brown (setter; 139 assists, 14 aces) and Alaina Moe (middle blocker) and sophomores Maddie Cropper (defensive specialist), Courtney Higgins (outside hitter) and Rozalyn Zielinski (outside hitter/middle blocker; 45 kills).

Seniors Jenna Boucher (defensive specialist) and Julia Riebel (middle blocker), juniors Ella Showalter (outside hitter) and Taylor Walker (defensive specialist) and sophomore Emmy Bush (middle blocker/right-side hitter) round out the roster.

"We're playing around with the lineup and have different starters each game," Stearns said. "I feel like we have the versatility to be able to play girls in different positions, which is nice."

The Bears opened Aug. 29 by defeating Bexley 25-14, 25-19, 25-11. They begin league play Sept. 10 at Olentangy.

--Scott Hennen

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At a glance

OLENTANGY BERLIN

*Coach: Dana Stearns, third season

*Top players: Elise Brown, Faith Hawkins, Heather Higgins, Morgan Lenix, Lauren Young and Rozalyn Zielinski

*Key loss: Shelby Buck

*Last season: 4-19 overall

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Dublin Scioto and Hilliard Bradley (13-1), Worthington Kilbourne (10-4), Dublin Jerome and Hilliard Darby (6-8), Delaware (5-9), Berlin (2-12), Thomas Worthington (1-13)

*2019 postseason: Lost to Newark 14-25, 25-17, 25-18, 25-21 in first round of Division I district tournament

OLENTANGY LIBERTY

*Coach: Jen Chapman, 18th season

*Top players: McKenna Cook, Katherine Donahue, Logan Flaugh, Abby Roubinek, Ali Sebenoler and Madison Tinsley

*Key losses: Claranne Fechter, Brooke Hammons, Sydney Novy, Sarah Rausch, Sydney Reed and Raegan Rosi

*Last season: 18-8 overall

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (10-0), Liberty (8-2), Olentangy (6-4), Westerville Central (4-6), Westerville North (2-8), Westerville South (0-10)

*2019 postseason: Defeated Mount Vernon 25-15, 25-9, 25-12; def. Lancaster 25-8, 25-15, 25-18; def. Central 25-15, 25-17, 25-14; lost to Orange 25-15, 25-20, 21-25, 25-22 in Division I regional semifinal

OLENTANGY

*Coach: Travis Weitthoff, second season

*Top players: Ellen Kinnard, Sophie Sparks, Jonna Spohn and Sophie Weithman

*Key losses: Anna Cecil, Madyson Chitty and Taylor Lansford

*Last season: 12-12 overall

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (10-0), Liberty (8-2), Olentangy (6-4), Central (4-6), North (2-8), South (0-10)

*2019 postseason: Def. Central Crossing 25-12, 25-14, 25-18; def. Thomas 25-16, 25-18, 25-19; lost to Watterson 25-21, 25-14, 25-19 in Division I district semifinal

OLENTANGY ORANGE

*Coach: Katie Duy, sixth season

*Top players: Tazmin Appiah, Hanna Borer, London Davis, Addie Evans, Arianna Jackson and Molly Shomock

*Key losses: Maya Hendricks, Nina Marin and Madison Moll

*Last season: 22-5 overall

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (10-0), Liberty (8-2), Olentangy (6-4), Central (4-6), North (2-8), South (0-10)

*2019 postseason: Def. North 25-12, 25-6, 25-12; def. Pickerington Central 25-10, 25-12, 25-17; def. Grove City 25-14, 25-21, 25-17; def. Liberty 25-15, 25-20, 21-25, 25-22; lost to DeSales 27-25, 25-16, 26-28, 25-22 in Division I regional final

Senior outside hitter London Davis, a Kansas recruit who was first-team all-state and the district co-Player of the Year last season, returns to lead Orange.