Gymnastics: Olentangy Berlin Bears set bar higher after first state berth

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Sophomore Stephanie Balthaser and Berlin hope to earn their second consecutive state berth this season. Coach Jen Hedrick said the Bears also have set a goal of winning the district championship.

The Olentangy Berlin gymnastics team qualified for the state meet in just its second season, and coach Jen Hedrick believes her athletes could be even better in season No. 3.

The Bears have seven returning gymnasts along with some newcomers who should provide the depth necessary to back up that optimism.

Seniors Kennedy Jesenovec, Abby Marks and Madison Nietfeld, juniors Paige Dargatz, Elise Hedrick and Alex Hinton and sophomore Stephanie Balthaser return from a team that qualified for state by finishing second (139.275) behind Thornville Sheridan (144.55) in the district meet.

Then at state, the Bears were seventh (140.0) of 12 teams as Brecksville-Broadview Heights (148.35) captured the title.

“For the ones that went to state, knowing that they made it will give them that motivation to make it back this year,” said coach Hedrick, who is in her third season. “One of our goals is not only to make state but to win district, but we’re not sure what other teams have. We just hope to put it all together when it counts.”

Balthaser returns after also competing as an individual at state, where she tied for 18th of 36 competitors on uneven bars (8.775).

“I feel like as long as you have fun you’ll be better,” Balthaser said. “The joy of it is what makes you succeed. We’re focused on getting to be one team. We’re figuring out what each individual person will do for us and what makes the team better.”

Freshmen expected to contribute include Isabelle Borgstrom, Molly Chisholm, Dia Durrett and Alora Schrieber.

“We have a lot of skills on the team this year and a lot of depth,” coach Hedrick said. “We have to see what the new girls can do and how they can perform in the meets. We have a lot of ability, so it might be hard to pick who goes in the lineup.”

The Bears tied Dublin Jerome for the OCC-Cardinal Division title last season. It was Berlin’s first league championship in any sport since the school opened in August 2018.

Berlin is scheduled to open its season Jan. 4 at Hilliard Darby in a meet that also includes Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Orange.

After the latest OCC realignment, Berlin is in the OCC-Cardinal with Central Crossing, Darby, Jerome, Marysville, Olentangy and Thomas Worthington.

“I’m hoping we can make it back (to state),” coach Hedrick said. “We lost (Olivia Boone) to graduation and (senior) Megan (McGuire) didn’t come back because of recurring injuries. Despite that, I’m pretty sure that we can perform as well if not better. That’s our goal.”

Hise returns to 

lead young Braves

Thanks to an influx of freshmen, Olentangy’s roster nearly doubled to 12 from seven a year ago.

The Braves return seniors Caroline Hise and sophomores Emilee Baumann, Jordan Dorst, Maria Triplett and Courtney Wells from a team that went 6-2 with 16 points in the OCC-Buckeye, almost winning its fourth consecutive league championship but ultimately finishing second behind Orange (20, 8-0).

Hise is in her fourth season on varsity and is Olentangy’s top returning postseason competitor, as she finished 18th on vault at the district meet. The Braves finished fifth (133.325) at district, falling two spots shy of a fifth consecutive state team meet appearance. 

Hise also was third on vault at the league meet.

“We’ll have a strong leader in Caroline Hise,” 20th-year coach Misty Lloyd-Matthews said. “Many strong sophomores returning and the new freshman will help add a lot of depth.”

Rounding out the roster are sophomores Anna McCrea and Genevieve Shemanski and freshmen Kristen Haas, Isabella Hansen, Kaitlynn Prindle, Melayna Prindle and Lisa-Marie Schwingshandl.

“I feel we’ll be solid equally on every event,” Lloyd-Matthews said. “Our goal is to stay safe and healthy and keep spirits up despite any setbacks.”

—Dave Purpura

Pioneers coach 

has lineup options

Orange won the OCC-Buckeye championship last winter in coach Amanda Gaylor’s first season.

Gaylor believes the Pioneers have the depth and talent necessary to compete for the title in their new division, the OCC-Central, which also includes Bradley, Dublin Coffman, Grove City, Upper Arlington, Westerville Central and Westland.

“We’re pretty good depth-wise, and sometimes it might be difficult to make up the lineup,” said Gaylor, whose program won its first league title since 2011. “I have a lot of options because if there are injuries, we have a lot of girls who can pick up the slack.

“We have a pretty consistent group of girls who are so close to doing good things. If they get some skills down, they’re a force to be reckoned with.”

Junior Molly Wheeler returns after leading the Pioneers last season at district, where she placed 21st in the all-around (33.625) and 16th on vault (8.475). Orange finished 10th with 130.0 points. 

Other returnees are senior Emma Wood and junior Riley Rankin, and senior Grace Ritterspach also is back after missing her junior season with an ankle injury.

“I think winning the league really helped because the girls learned what they’re able to do when they put the time in and dedicate themselves,” Gaylor said. “Sometimes they psych themselves out, and they don’t think of themselves as a top school. Hard work pays off when you dedicate yourself to something.”

Gaylor believes junior Tatum Lather could have a strong season if she remains healthy after battling an ankle injury a year ago, and freshmen Saniyah Nino and Amira Welch also have looked strong in the preseason.

“Everything seems to be up in the air at the moment (because of the pandemic), so I honestly hope we can have a season,” Gaylor said. “Last year we had some pivotal moments that led to us winning OCC. There is a lot of promise for this year, and they’re working hard at it.”

—Scott Hennen

Junior Alana Willett and Liberty will be looking to make another leap at the district meet. The Patriots finished sixth last season after placing 16th in 2019.

Patriots out to build

on strong season

With a strong freshman class boosting its roster last winter, Liberty improved from finishing 16th at district in 2019 to a sixth-place performance (132.775) a year ago.

There are six returnees from that team, including sophomore Hailee Cobb, who finished 11th in the all-around (35.1) at district to miss advancing to state by three spots and just 0.725 of a point.

“My hope is we can build from last season and continue to grow and have success as a program,” fourth-year coach Tara Mays said. “I just want our athletes to feel success in their accomplishments and continue to feel as though they’re getting better every day.”

Senior Katie DiSalle, junior Kenna Henry and sophomores Sam Penzone and Camryn Thompson also competed in the all-around at district for the Patriots, who finished third at 4-4 (12 points) in the OCC-Buckeye.

Junior Alana Willett is another returnee.

Liberty is now in a realigned OCC-Buckeye with Big Walnut, Davidson, Delaware, Dublin Scioto, Franklin Heights, Lancaster and Worthington Kilbourne.

“I have a wonderful group of girls,” Mays said. “They’re so respectful and willing to accept any change that’s needed to be able to stay safe and healthy.”

—Jarrod Ulrey

sports@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSports

BERLIN

Coach: Jen Hedrick, third season

Top athletes: Stephanie Balthaser, Paige Dargatz, Elise Hedrick, Alex Hinton, Kennedy Jesenovec, Abby Marks and Madison Nietfeld

Key losses: Olivia Boone, Demera Harrison and Megan McGuire

2019-20 OCC-Cardinal standings: Berlin and Dublin Jerome (30, 13-1), Worthington Kilbourne (24, 10-4), Hilliard Bradley (20, 8-6), Hilliard Darby (16, 6-8), Dublin Scioto (10, 3-11), Delaware (8, 2-12), Thomas Worthington (5, 1-13)

2020 postseason: Second at district, seventh at state

LIBERTY

Coach: Tara Mays, fourth season

Top athletes: Hailee Cobb, Katie DiSalle, Kenna Henry, Samantha Penzone, Camryn Thompson and Alana Willett

Key losses: Kathryn Edwards and Courtney Street

2019-20 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (20, 8-0), Olentangy (16, 6-2), Liberty (12, 4-4), Westerville Central (8, 2-6), Big Walnut (4, 0-8)

2020 postseason: Sixth at district

OLENTANGY

Coach: Misty Lloyd-Matthews, 20th season

Top athletes: Emilee Baumann, Jordan Dorst and Caroline Hise

Key losses: Ellie McIntyre and Meg Morgan

2020 postseason: Fifth at district

ORANGE

Coach: Amanda Gaylor, second season

Top athletes: Riley Rankin, Grace Ritterspach, Molly Wheeler and Emma Wood

Key losses: Olivia Dieckmann and Holly Schutte

2020 postseason: 10th at district