Girls Basketball: New-look Olentangy Liberty set for 'learning year'

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Seniors Caitlin Splain (left) and Sarah Balliett (right) are among the top returnees for a new-look Liberty girls basketball team. The Patriots are now coached by Tom Waterwash, who succeeded Sam Krafty after a six-season stretch in which they went 111-42.

Over the past four seasons as an assistant coach for the Olentangy Liberty girls basketball team, Tom Waterwash helped the Patriots earn Division I district runner-up finishes in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and finish 17-8 last season.

In addition to a coaching change, with Waterwash replacing Sam Krafty, the Patriots lost four key players following a season in which they reached a district semifinal and tied for second (7-3) in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind Westerville South (9-1).

After going 111-42 in six seasons under Krafty, Liberty will be part of a realigned OCC-Central along with Orange, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Upper Arlington.

“We’ve got a young team,” Waterwash said. “We’re going to be OK. We’re young, but it’s going to be a big learning year for us. From start to finish, when it’s all done, it’s going to be fun to see the growth from day one to when it’s all over with.”

The top returnees are 5-foot-9 senior guard Caitlin Splain, who was second-team all-league last season, and 5-10 junior forward Jordan Rich, who was honorable mention all-league.

The other seniors are Sarah Balliett (5-4, guard), Charlotte Hummell (5-9, guard) and Sadie Lucas (5-9, forward).

Junior Taylor Redman (6-0, forward) and sophomores Addison Marston (6-2, forward) and Meredith Mrukowski (6-0, guard) are expected to take on bigger roles, while freshman Gigi Bower (5-9, guard) and sophomore Claire Mrukowski (6-0, forward) also should contribute.

Splitting time between varsity and junior varsity are juniors Elle Koch (5-11, forward) and Ellie VanEnglenhoven (5-10, guard), sophomore Ryan Chapman (5-10, guard) and freshmen Emma Karagheuzoff (5-3, guard) and Sarah Mitchell (5-7, guard).

In addition to losing college recruits Kelly Levering (Marietta) and Teegan Pifher (High Point) as well as Gina Santangelo to graduation, junior guard Trinity Ramos transferred to Reynoldsburg. Ramos and Levering were first-team all-league.

“We’ve got kids who know the game who are good players but without a lot of experience right now,” Waterwash said.

There are no OCC contests through Dec. 17, but practices and games against non-league opponents are allowed.

Forwards to lead 

younger Braves

Unlike in previous seasons, Olentangy has more depth inside than at its guard spots, partly because of its youth.

Four seniors, two juniors and six sophomores dot the roster for the Braves.

Among their top returnees are seniors Dani Beidelman (forward, 5-9), Kennedie Doup (forward, 5-8) and Meg Spohn (guard, 5-8) and sophomore Jonna Spohn (guard, 5-6).

Doup averaged 8.0 points last year as Olentangy went 11-12 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Buckeye. Meg Spohn averaged 7.2 points and will split point-guard duties with her sister.

“It’s a little unusual for us in that usually, we don’t have too many players who can truly post up. Now I’m trying to find exactly who is going to fill the (shooting guard) spot,” third-year coach Kate Cummings said. “We’re more athletic this year and we’re faster across the board. We might not be faster at every single position, but as a team we have more speed. We’re just young. The sophomore group is fairly skilled and they know how to make basketball plays. The flow of the game comes naturally.”

Other returning players are juniors Danielle Arhin (5-8, forward) and Isabelle Walters (5-6, guard) and sophomores Camryn Cummings (5-11, forward), Paige Pawlikowski (6-0, center) and Reagan Richeson (5-8, forward).

Rounding out the roster are senior Ellen Kinniard (6-0, forward) and sophomores Mallory Kolath (5-6, guard) and Kennady Wiley (5-8, forward).

Kinniard played as a freshman but concentrated on volleyball the past two seasons, helping the Braves capture the OCC-Cardinal championship this fall.

—Dave Purpura

Courtney Suchan is one of three seniors being asked to lead Berlin. “We’re going to have some growing pains with (our) younger players getting adjusted to the speed of varsity play,” coach Megan Phillips said.

Experienced senior

trio to lead Bears

Berlin has three seniors with significant varsity experience but a young group to accompany them on the court this season.

Guard Jenna Boucher and guard/forwards Maddie Goodman (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) and Courtney Suchan (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) have been leaders the past two years. 

The Bears finished 11-13 overall and 7-7 in the OCC-Cardinal last season.

“We’re going to have some growing pains with (our) younger players getting adjusted to the speed of varsity play,” said third-year coach Megan Phillips, whose surname was Beidelman before her offseason marriage. “I give a lot of credit to our seniors. They’ve been great leaders and have been working well with the younger kids. That’s been cool to watch.”

Junior forward Deanara Mbouge (honorable mention all-league) has a knee injury, but Phillips hopes she can return later in the season.

Sophomores Abbie Bell (forward), Ella Bishop (guard) and Jocelyn Franz (guard) and freshmen guards Layla Merriweather and Mia Raines round out the roster.

“We’re basically just the three seniors, three sophomores and two freshmen on the varsity right now,” Phillips said. “We’re guard-oriented this year, but we can use our size to our advantage on the perimeter because our players have length. We’re definitely an up-tempo team.

“I think each year (at Berlin) has presented new challenges. Every time you have a new group of girls and it’s different. We expect to center things around Courtney, Maddie and Jenna, but we have good younger kids. Our freshmen have always played well and they don’t want to lose in anything, whether it’s 3-on-3 or rock, paper, scissors.”

—Scott Hennen

Pioneers coach likes

team’s work ethic

First-year Orange coach Brian Cromwell hopes his players’ hard work in the offseason will pay dividends this winter.

The Pioneers — led by junior Ellie Beck and sophomore twins Emma and Kayla Delmore — spent a lot of time in the gym looking to improve on last season’s 4-19 finish.

“Ellie Beck, the Delmores and some of the j.v. girls were getting in the gym and putting in a lot of work,” Cromwell said. “They’ve improved from what I saw in the summer until now. They’re young, so they have room for improvement but have great work ethics.”

Kayla Delmore (special mention all-league), Beck (honorable mention all-league) and Emma Delmore form a backcourt nucleus Cromwell plans to build around.

Sophomores Carley Phillips (post player) and Jordan Sullivan (guard) and freshman forwards Mairin O’Brien and Madison Yanka also have shown promise, according to Cromwell.

“The part I love the most is their energy and the way they enjoy being around each other,” said Cromwell, who coached the DeSales girls from 2010-19. “The amount of energy they have cheering on their teammates has been amazing. They attack each day with a lot of enthusiasm.”

Senior forward London Davis (special mention all-league) did not return, choosing to play club volleyball over the winter.

“The biggest thing is being competitive, whether it’s a shooting drill or rebounding drill or just working on basic fundamentals,” Cromwell said. “We have to control what we can control. You can’t always control wins and losses as much as our attitude and energy level.”

—Scott Hennen

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BERLIN

Coach: Megan Phillips, third season

Top players: Jenna Boucher, Maddie Goodman and Courtney Suchan

Key losses: Haley Cera, McKinley Hoffmann and Jess Nation

Last season: 11-13 overall

2019-20 OCC-Cardinal standings: Hilliard Bradley and Worthington Kilbourne (11-3), Dublin Scioto (10-4), Dublin Jerome (8-6), Berlin and Delaware (7-7) Hilliard Darby (2-12), Thomas Worthington (0-14)

2020 postseason: Defeated New Albany 48-40; lost to Watkins Memorial 45-30 in second round of Division I district tournament

LIBERTY

Coach: Tom Waterwash, first season

Top players: Sarah Balliett, Charlotte Hummell, Sadie Lucas, Addison Marston, Meredith Mrukowski, Taylor Redman, Jordan Rich and Caitlin Splain

Key losses: Kelly Levering, Teegan Pifher, Trinity Ramos and Gina Santangelo

Last season: 17-8 overall

2019-20 OCC-Buckeye standings: Westerville South (9-1), Liberty (7-3), Westerville North (7-3), Olentangy (5-5), Orange (1-9), Westerville Central (1-9)

2020 postseason: Def. Central Crossing 63-16; def. Independence 59-26; lost to Canal Winchester 48-43 in Division I district semifinal

OLENTANGY

Coach: Kate Cummings, third season

Top players: Dani Beidelman, Kennedie Doup, Jonna Spohn and Meg Spohn

Key loss: Bailey Cummings

Last season: 11-12 overall

2020 postseason: Lost to Scioto 42-32 in second round of Division I district tournament

ORANGE

Coach: Brian Cromwell, first season

Top players: Ellie Beck, Emma Delmore and Kayla Delmore

Key losses: London Davis and Joy Gimei

Last season: 4-19 overall

2020 postseason: Lost to Reynoldsburg 62-40 in first round of Division I district tournament