Girls Cross Country: Olentangy Liberty working with deep, experienced roster

JARROD ULREY
julrey@thisweeknews.com
Junior Sarah Gilbert is among the top returnees for the Liberty girls cross country team and seventh-year coach Darrell Dewese.

Participation numbers have been a strength for the Olentangy Liberty girls cross country team throughout most of coach Darrell Dewese's seven-year tenure.

That has continued this season despite the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

A bigger issue has been figuring out how to keep all the runners busy.

"We have 79 athletes on the roster this fall, which is fantastic participation given the circumstances," Dewese said. "The challenge now is getting them all into meets."

Five of Liberty's top seven runners have returned from last year's team, which won the Division I, district 1 championship, finished fourth at regional and was 19th at state.

The Patriots also won the OCC-Buckeye Division title, one point ahead of Orange, and both teams are now in the OCC-Central with Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Upper Arlington. Davidson won the regional last season.

On Sept. 5 in the Hot Summer Bash at Davidson, Liberty was fifth (153) of 10 teams as the host Wildcats were first (31).

Senior Audrey Piero was Liberty's No. 2 runner at state, finishing 125th (20 minutes, 9.2 seconds). Senior Elizabeth Okonak and juniors Sarah Gilbert, Allison Westfall and Rachel Ziel also have returned from the state lineup.

Senior Haley Kruest and junior Katelyn McDonnell also are among the top runners, with juniors Maria Bell, Ashley Boettcher, Holly Gluck and Tori Tuner, sophomore Annika Albrecht and freshman Julia Bockenstette in the mix.

The only competitors lost from the state lineup were 2020 graduates Linnea Kunesh and Lauren Buddie.

"Training is going well," Dewese said. "We haven't been able to get to some of our favorite training spots because of our numbers and the limitations on gatherings, but the athletes put in a lot of miles this summer. We've seen a marked improvement already from our veterans and we have three freshmen that joined the top 20 ranks at our first time trial."

Bears putting in time to improve

Berlin has strong junior and senior classes along with a talented group of freshmen in coach Catherine Ubry's third season.

"With everything going on, the seniors have dedicated themselves and have done a good job leading us," Ubry said. "A lot of them did a nice job over the summer making sure they're taking care of each other. They're an adaptable group, from having to switch (schools) as sophomores when Berlin opened, and they've made the most of it."

Seniors Katie Balthaser, Maria Fratianne, Madison Lapid and Taylor Stark ran varsity last season along with juniors Ada Freeman and Ella Ziegler and sophomore Grace Dahlke.

The Bears finished 11th in last year's Division I regional meet.

"Katie was injured and didn't run in the postseason, but she's back running well," Ubry said. "She and Grace Dahlke have been running pretty close in practice. The spread between our top five runners has been around 19 seconds, which is good."

At the Pickerington North Classic on Aug. 29, the Bears were third (100) of seven teams behind Thomas Worthington (60) and the host Panthers (60).

Dahlke (12th, 22:22.2) led Berlin, followed by Ziegler (15th, 22:28.5), freshman Brenna Mowery (18th, 22:33.0), Freeman (21st, 22:42.2), Balthaser (35th, 23:30.9), freshman Megan Friece (39th, 23:44.3) and sophomore Ava Vaught (47th, 24:04.6).

"The girls came back hungry to compete," Ubry said. "I think (the coronavirus protocols) were tough at first, but they've adapted and gotten used to it. They've done well with it, and they would rather do (the protocols) than not run at all."

--Scott Hennen

Braves runners competing for spots

The coronavirus pandemic knocked three invitationals off Olentangy's schedule, including what would have been its first meet Aug. 29, the Hartford Twilight Invitational at Hartford Fairgrounds.

Some events that remain have limited the number of runners that teams can bring to 20, which has made the Braves even more competitive than coach Dwight Dewese expected.

"We could only take 20 to Westerville North (for the Westerville Classic on Sept. 5) and the same for (Dublin) Jerome (the Celtic Clash on Sept. 26). That does create some more competition," said Dewese, who is in his 18th season. "So many girls want to be in that top group and they're working hard to earn their spot.

"One thing that happened after track and field season was canceled was that girls got an earlier start on their training, and that's showing. Some of them put in miles earlier."

Six of last year's top seven returned in seniors Maggie Duffy, Jessica Morris and Cara Wilson, junior Grace Holt and sophomores Aspen Carson and Camryn Cummings.

While Duffy, Holt and Wilson had established themselves as the Braves' top three before opening the season Aug. 25 with a dual meet at Berlin, Dewese said Morris, Carson and Cummings were close behind.

Other potential varsity runners include juniors Gracie Frea, Caroline Gilligan, Anna McGrath and Sophia Pasquale and sophomore Anushka Maharana.

"We have a lot of new faces, too," Dewese said. "They'll have their opportunities to run at meets and maybe even get into the top seven."

With two other invitationals Olentangy was supposed to attend having been canceled, the Braves added home dual meets Sept. 12 against Big Walnut and Saturday, Sept. 19, against Liberty.

--Dave Purpura

Pioneers look for continued success

Orange is coming off a season in which it qualified for the Division I state meet as a team for the third time in four years.

The Pioneers have started without their No. 1 runner, senior Abby Schroff, who is battling a problem with one of her heels. That hasn't dampened the spirit of seventh-year coach Rae Schuh, however.

"So far everyone has been looking good," said Schuh, whose team was 20th at state last fall. "Abby Schroff has been injured. She has an extra bone in one of her heels and that's flared up suddenly, so she hasn't raced early this season. She had a great summer for us. They all worked a ton this offseason."

Stepping into the No. 1 spot for Schroff has been senior Medha Patria, and Schuh said sophomore Kayla Sucharski and freshman Mairin O'Brien also have run well.

"I think the girls were hungry to race after track (and field) was canceled," Schuh said. "We're really excited to race this year

"It seems like at every race that they're really excited for it. They don't know if it will be their last race, so they really go all out."

The Pioneers were scheduled to compete at the New Albany Classic on Aug. 24, but the girls race was canceled because of bad weather. They ran at the Hot Summer Bash on Sept. 5 at Davidson, finishing fourth (150) of 10 teams behind the champion and host Wildcats (31).

Patria (16th, 20:28.91) led Orange, followed by Sucharski (22nd, 20:51.59), O'Brien (27th, 20:59.08), sophomore Abby Wells (44th, 21:34.7), junior Bella Homorody (47th, 21:43.48), freshman Maddie Sharp (50th, 21:51.55) and sophomore Lainey Garling (58th, 22:19.93).

--Scott Hennen

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At a glance

OLENTANGY BERLIN

*Coach: Catherine Ubry, third season

*Top athletes: Katie Balthaser, Grace Dahlke, Ada Freeman and Ella Ziegler

*Key losses: Meghan Boggess, Rebecca Koppelman and Megan Schlabig

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Thomas Worthington (51), Worthington Kilbourne (64), Berlin (79), Hilliard Darby (91), Dublin Jerome (99), Dublin Scioto (161), Delaware (204), Hilliard Bradley (217)

*2019 postseason: Fifth at district, 11th at regional

OLENTANGY LIBERTY

*Coach: Darrell Dewese, seventh season

*Top athletes: Sarah Gilbert, Haley Kruest, Ellie Okonak, Audrey Piero, Allison Westfall and Rachel Ziel

*Key losses: Lauren Buddie, Linnea Kunesh and Jillian Martz

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Liberty (38), Orange (39), Westerville Central (62), Westerville North (118), Westerville South (120), Olentangy (156)

*2019 postseason: First at district, fourth at regional, 19th at state

OLENTANGY

*Coach: Dwight Dewese, 18th season

*Top athletes: Aspen Carson, Maggie Duffy, Grace Holt and Cara Wilson

*Key loss: Hannah Moore

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Liberty (38), Orange (39), Central (62), North (118), South (120), Olentangy (156)

*2019 postseason: 13th at district

OLENTANGY ORANGE

*Coach: Rae Schuh, seventh season

*Top athletes: Mairin O'Brien, Medha Patria, Abby Schroff and Kayla Sucharski

*Key losses: Paige Benecke, Allison Clifford and Olivia Dieckmann

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Liberty (38), Orange (39), Central (62), North (118), South (120), Olentangy (156)

*2019 postseason: Second at district, fifth at regional, 20th at state

Katie Balthaser is among the top returnees for Berlin and third-year coach Catherine Ubry.