Notebook: Olentangy Orange Pioneers hockey team entered season ready to win

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Orange's Austin Knupp gets physical with Liberty's Isaac Moe during a game earlier this season. Knupp had a team-leading 23 goals and 23 assists through 17 games as the Pioneers rolled to a 13-3-0-1 start.

Offseason workouts set the tone for the Olentangy Orange hockey team.

A core group of seniors made sure the Pioneers worked out in the summer and fall to get physically and mentally prepared for the season.

Their initiative has paid dividends, as Orange improved to 13-3-0-1 overall by defeating sixth-ranked Oxford Talawanda 3-1 on Jan. 17 to win the Orange Division of the Pioneer Classic. The 10th-ranked Pioneers also led the CHC-Red Division at 7-1-0-1 with 15 points, ahead of second-place Upper Arlington (13, 6-2-0-1). They played the eighth-ranked Golden Bears on Jan. 22.

“I think our offseason has made the difference,” said senior forward Clayton Headlee, who had 17 goals and 21 assists through 17 games. “In the summer and all through the fall, we would meet three times a week, run the dam and then go work out. That brought us together and allowed us to know each other better and play better together.”

Austin Knupp had a team-leading 23 goals and 23 assists. The senior forward said the Pioneers started thinking about what they needed to do to improve after a 7-4 loss to Liberty in a district semifinal last year.

“It’s all about the team chemistry,” Knupp said. “That started in the offseason after we lost to Liberty. We had the mindset that we wanted to improve this year. ... All of this wouldn’t happen without the training we did and the team chemistry we built.”

Orange won the CHC-White last season at 11-5 with 22 points, ahead of runner-up Berlin (20, 10-6). That bumped the Pioneers up to the CHC-Red with the top teams in central Ohio.

“It’s so much fun because the competition is so much stronger (in the CHC-Red),” said senior forward Payton Muth, who had four goals and 17 assists through 17 games. “We’re going against stronger opponents and we work hard to play to their level.

“I think we’re all focused on having a positive attitude. We want to grind and get wins. We have had the same goals since the beginning of the season.”

Headlee said the Pioneers have a fast-paced style based on getting the puck up the ice as quickly as possible.

“We definitely had a game plan going into the season,” he said. “We wanted to get the puck up the ice quickly. Basically we just knew that we had the ability to get the goals on the board. It’s just clicking for us.

“We just try to get the pucks up along the boards, get going and get odd-man rushes. That gives us a lot of goal-scoring opportunities.”

Defenseman Ethan Muth, Payton’s twin brother, had 10 goals and 10 assists through 17 games. He said the Pioneers may have an offensive mindset, but the defense is where the offense begins.

“Defensemen have such a big role because we have to get the puck out of the zone to give it to the forwards,” he said. "When we chip it off the glass or make a direct pass up the ice, it plays such a big role. You can’t score goals in the defensive zone.”

Kyle Diehr and Luke Mercer have been strong in goal for Orange. 

The Pioneers play league games against Liberty on Jan. 29 at Chiller North and Dublin Coffman on Jan. 30 at Chiller Dublin.

“We’re such a close-knit team and we move the puck around,” Ethan Muth said. “We’re not a big hitting team. We just move the puck up the ice.”

Olentangy hockey coach Mike Ross sees several areas of progress as his team continues what he calls a maturation process that began last year considering the youth on the Braves’ roster.

Ross cited special teams play as one area of strength, as well as increased playing time for sophomore forward Tyler Pfister and freshman forward Ben Darbish and the goalie tandem of senior Angelo Carroll and sophomore Essence Wyse.

Olentangy has seven seniors on its 24-player roster, but the majority of contributors are underclassmen.

The Braves were 7-10-0-1 overall and 5-5 in the CHC-Blue before playing Worthington Kilbourne on Jan. 22.

“Like last year, we’re still very young. These kids are still getting used to the systems, used to playing at the (necessary) pace and speed against good teams and we have played a lot of good teams,” Ross said. “We want to be better on a Saturday than we were Friday night. We’re starting to score more on special teams. … They have to work hard and when they work hard, good things happen.”

Landon Johnson had a team-leading 17 goals through 18 games and was tied with Andrew Kieffer for the assists lead with 13. Kieffer and Kiernan Latshaw each had eight goals.

–Dave Purpura

Liberty's Jordan Rich (left) battles Hilliard Bradley's Tori McClelland during a game earlier this season. Rich was averaging 11 points through 13 games for the Patriots, who got out to an 8-5 start.

•After a slow start to its season, the Liberty girls basketball team seemed to hit its stride by mid-January. 

The Patriots beat Orange 69-43 on Jan. 15 for their fifth consecutive victory as they improved to 8-5 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Central. They opened by losing four of their first five games. 

One of the biggest reasons for the team’s surge was the hot hand of senior guard Caitlin Splain, who had 25 points in a 57-42 victory over Upper Arlington on Jan. 12 and then made a state-record 14 3-pointers while scoring 45 points against Orange. 

She was averaging 15 points through 13 games to lead an offense that also has featured junior forward Jordan Rich (11 points) and freshman guard Gigi Bower (9 points). 

“(It was an) unbelievable night (for Splain against Orange), it really was,” coach Tom Waterwash said. “It was just fun to watch her. Splain plays the game so hard, with such great passion. She’s a true competitor with a powerful work ethic. She just loves the game. You can see it when she plays. … (It was) a night none of us will ever forget.” 

The Division I district tournament drawing is Jan. 31, and the Patriots have been among the few teams from central Ohio that have had nearly full schedules. The postseason is set to begin Feb. 16. 

–Jarrod Ulrey 

•The Olentangy girls basketball team was halfway to its first league championship in five years when it played Berlin on Jan. 22, as the Braves were tied with Marysville atop the OCC-Cardinal at 4-1.

Olentangy was 6-2 overall, coming off a 60-44 win at Orange on Jan. 19. Kennedie Doup scored all of her game-high 21 points on a program-record seven 3-pointers.

The Braves defeated the Monarchs 44-37 on Jan. 15 and will travel to Marysville on Feb. 8.

–Dave Purpura

•The Orange boys and girls swimming and diving teams are now focusing on the Division I postseason, which begins Feb. 13 with all four Olentangy programs competing at the sectional level at Delaware YMCA.

Coach J.R. Fourqurean said his athletes have been making the most of the topsy-turvy season.

“At the start, there was a bit of anxiety about what the season was going to look like and what was going to be canceled due to (the) COVID(-19 coronavirus pandemic),” he said. “Collectively we made the decision to only focus on what was in our power to control. Everything picked up from there and we have been a better team because of that decision. We have a lot of work to do, but we are excited for the opportunities that are out there for us.”

The Pioneers, who have had a limited schedule, swept Westerville South on Jan. 9 at Westerville Community Center.

Graham Weidenhamer finished first in the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 2.04 seconds) and 200 freestyle (1:54.08) as the boys won 96-36. Tuckor Lambert was first in the 100 backstroke (58.93) and 100 free (50.88), and Brady Farren won the 100 butterfly (59.35) and 50 free (24.52).

 Alex Knodel was first in the 200 individual medley (2:12.9) and 100 breast (1:09.71) as the girls won 95-75.

–Scott Hennen

•Coach Glenn First said the Berlin boys and girls swimming teams are preparing for the Division I postseason.

The Bears have just one regular-season meet remaining, Jan. 30 at Delaware YMCA against Marysville, Pickerington Central and St. Clairsville.

The girls swept Buckeye Valley (125-6) and Pickerington North (87-51) in a double dual Jan. 16. Audrey Butcher won the 200 IM (2:19.02) and 100 free (57.79), and Brenna Mowery was first in the 100 fly (1:01.91) and 100 back (1:03.6).

Callista Rousher, Butcher, Mowery and Staci Nation were first in the 200 medley (1:57.65) and 200 free (1:47.63) relays.

The boys defeated Buckeye Valley 98-34 with North not participating. Brogan Robinson won the 200 IM (1:55.47) and 100 fly (52.47). He also joined Carson Reed, Ben Coverdale and Daniel Petrowsky on the first-place 200 medley relay (1:45.54) and Reed, Nathan Reynolds and Coverdale on the winning 400 free relay (3:33.04).

Reynolds, Mark Petrowsky, Max Hoover and Daniel Petrowsky won the 200 free relay (1:43.52).

–Scott Hennen

•The Liberty boys bowling team entered this season knowing it had one of central Ohio’s top competitors in junior Carter Street. 

Since that time, the Patriots have developed depth. 

With a 2,200-1,993 victory over Delaware on Jan. 20, Liberty was 5-1 overall and in the COHSBC-A.

Street was among the area leaders in average at 229.3 through 11 games. Junior David Hart was averaging 189.2, followed by junior Ethan Shek (165.0) and senior Nick Bateson (153.7). 

The girls team was 2-4 overall and in the COHSBC-A after losing to Delaware 1,758-1,488. 

Senior Emily Williams was averaging 129.1 through 15 games. Juniors Caroline Smith and Audrey Morris and freshmen Carley Budreau and Sam Yates also have been among the key contributors. 

–Jarrod Ulrey

•Balance has helped the Berlin girls bowling team find success this season.

Bella Bland had a 163.0 average to lead the Bears, who were 9-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Hilliard Darby on Jan. 21 and 7-1 in the COHSBC-A before facing New Albany on Jan. 22. Michele Starner was averaging 161.4 and Megan Roubinek was at 148.8.

Aaron Shoaf (186.4) led the boys team, which was 3-7 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Darby and 2-6 in the COHSBC-A before facing New Albany. Shoaf was followed by  Jacoby Oliverio (174.8), Andrew Sherman (168.5) and Mason D’Amore (166.7).

Berlin faces Hilliard Bradley on Jan. 29 at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl in the OCC-Cardinal and Westerville Central on Feb. 3 at Columbus Square Bowling Palace in the COHSBC-A.

–Scott Hennen

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