Girls Golf: Olentangy Liberty aiming for another strong year

JARROD ULREY
julrey@thisweeknews.com
Junior Taya Buxton is the No. 2 player for the Liberty girls golf team after earning first-team all-league honors last season.

Being in a position to win titles is something the Olentangy Liberty girls golf team hopes to experience for years to come.

The Patriots went 20-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division last season to capture the first league championship in program history.

In addition to returning four of its top five players, Liberty has added what third-year coach Shayla Glover believes is a strong freshman class.

"It was the first time in school history that we won a league title last year so we're hoping to repeat that this year," Glover said. "On day two of our tryouts we had two major downpours so that kept some of the scores a little bit higher, but everybody pretty much improved from day one to day two. I'm really excited to see what the freshmen can do. We have a total of seven freshmen between our (junior varsity) and varsity, so we have a big freshman class."

Liberty opened league competition Aug. 12 at New Albany Links. It continues OCC-Buckeye play Wednesday, Aug. 19, at Mentel Memorial, competes in the third round Aug. 26 at Blacklick Woods and concludes the league tournament Sept. 2 at Royal American.

On Aug. 7 in the Pickerington North Panther Invitational at Turnberry, Liberty shot 331 to tie Massillon Jackson and Dublin Coffman but won a tiebreaker to finish third overall behind Mason (307) and Dublin Jerome (330).

A total of 17 players came out for the team, with senior Gracie Baun leading the returnees after finishing sixth (79) in a Division I sectional and tying for 24th (87) at district last season.

Junior Taya Buxton is the No. 2 player, with seniors Abigail Corbin and Juliana Renda and freshman Dakota Riley also filling key roles. Freshman Chuling Wang is another looking to contribute.

Last season, Baun averaged 84.5 in league play while Buxton averaged 85 as both earned first-team all-league honors. Renda and Sophie Dudon, a 2020 graduate, were second-team all-league and Corbin was honorable mention.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm for girls golf," Glover said. "I'm glad the kids are getting a chance to play."

Braves younger, more competitive

Senior Lauren Sommerfeld and sophomore Olivia Drankwalter are familiar faces atop the lineup for fourth-year Olentangy coach Micah Conley, although Conley said he notices several differences between this team and his previous three.

"In the past, no girl in the first through fifth spots had been truly pushed by the person behind them. It started happening a little bit last year with Olivia and Lauren," Conley said. "Now we have two more girls who make it so competitive for those top five spots that they're definitely pushing each other."

Freshmen Kimmy Archer and Elizabeth Wang expect to share the third and fourth spots, ahead of sophomore Claudia Novak.

Sophomores Gretchen Stoner and Tessa Baker also might challenge for the top five for the Braves, who were one place and eight shots shy of advancing to the Division I district tournament last year.

Olentangy has just one senior for the second consecutive season. Sam Horton was the Braves' only loss to graduation last year, and Sommerfeld is in her fourth year on varsity.

The Braves opened Aug. 7 with the Panther Invitational at Turnberry. Drankwalter shot an 81 and Sommerfeld had an 87 to lead Olentangy to a team score of 349 and ninth of 27 teams as Mason won (307).

They began OCC-Buckeye competition Aug. 12 with the first round of the four-round league tournament at New Albany Links.

Largely because of the team's youth and parity, Conley held a third day of tryouts last week for the first time in his tenure.

"This is shaping up to be the most competitive team I've had since I've been the head coach, based off what I've seen," Conley said. "The two freshmen have come in and been really close to each other (in scoring). They have the ability to go low for nine holes, into the low 40s. The girls at the middle school level have been getting better and better, so I knew we'd get to this point eventually.

"I'm really pleased with where we are. The lineup used to be clear-cut. This year, that isn't the case."

-- Dave Purpura

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Bears boom to nine players

Berlin had just two golfers in its inaugural season and grew to four last fall.

This season, third-year coach Bethany Dlesk has the luxury of nine players, giving her more options when filling out the lineup.

Junior Michele Starner has played all three seasons. Juniors Belle Hutton and Paige Kellner and sophomore Reagan Clifton also return.

However, the Bears expect to be led by freshman Mia Raines. She is the sister of 2020 graduate Leila Raines, who is playing at Michigan State.

"Mia led us in tryouts and has been playing super-strong," Dlesk said. "We expect her to win a lot because she is so very consistent. She shot 5-over (par) in our first tryout, and she was so frustrated because she knew she could be doing better."

Raines started her prep career by earning medalist honors with a 37 as the Bears defeated Westerville South 200-223 on Aug. 5 at Bent Tree. Starner (49), Clifton (52) and Kellner (62) rounded out the scoring.

"It was nice to get that first win of the year," Dlesk said. "They were cheering at the end, and I'm sure this will help team morale.

"This group is very positive. They genuinely like the game of golf and they want to get better. They have been able to shake off mistakes and go to the next hole."

Senior Ari Cleveland, junior Carrie Barnett and freshmen Izzy Borgstrom and Iva Horman round out the roster.

Last fall, the Bears tied Worthington Kilbourne for sixth (5-21) in the OCC-Cardinal behind champion Jerome (26-0). They opened league play Aug. 12 at Mentel Memorial and compete in the second round of the four-round league tournament Wednesday, Aug. 19, at Blacklick Woods.

-- Scott Hennen

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Au to again lead Pioneers

Back for her third season with Orange, Natalie Au hopes to pick up from where she left off last fall.

The junior finished second overall (83.0) in the four-round OCC-Buckeye tournament behind Westerville Central's Grace Welty (80.3). She will lead the Pioneers along with senior Lauren Muffley.

"Natalie will be our No. 1, and she can hang with anyone," first-year coach Todd Helline said. "Lauren can shoot in the mid-40s for us (for nine holes), so she's a pretty solid No. 2."

Seniors Emma Burnett, Mimi Russell and Emma Wood and freshman Leila Bass round out the roster.

"Mimi and Emma Wood are in their second season, and Emma Burnett and Leila are new to golf," Helline said. "Our approach is to talk to them and stay positive so they don't get down on themselves. When you play in an 18-hole, 32-team tournament for the first time you play, it can be tough.

"You have to have the mindset of getting better every day. You have to keep trying and stay positive. You have to remain upbeat."

Helline was a middle school coach at Hyatts and Liberty for the past seven years. Before that, he was the j.v. coach at Liberty for a season.

"The key to building a high-school program is having middle-school golf," he said. "Liberty and Hyatts were sending kids to Liberty and Olentangy (high schools). I want to get that started for Orange because the key is building the lower levels."

The Pioneers finished sixth (2-18) in the OCC-Buckeye last fall behind champion Liberty (20-0). They began league competition Aug. 12 at New Albany Links and play in the second round Wednesday, Aug. 19, at Mentel Memorial.

-- Scott Hennen

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At a glance

BERLIN

*Coach: Bethany Dlesk, third season

*Top players: Reagan Clifton, Mia Raines and Michele Starner

*Key losses: None

*2019 OCC-Cardinal standings: Dublin Jerome (26-0), Hilliard Darby and Delaware (both 20-6), Hillard Bradley (14-12), Dublin Scioto (8-18), Berlin and Worthington Kilbourne (both 5-21), Thomas Worthington (0-14)

*2019 postseason: Did not compete as a team at sectional

LIBERTY

*Coach: Shayla Glover, third season

*Top players: Gracie Baun, Taya Buxton, Abigail Corbin, Juliana Renda and Dakota Riley

*Key loss: Sophie Dudon

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Liberty (20-0), Westerville Central (15-5), Olentangy (13-7), Westerville South (6-14), Westerville North (4-16), Orange (2-18)

*2019 postseason: Second at sectional, fifth at district

OLENTANGY

*Coach: Micah Conley, fourth season

*Top players: Olivia Drankwalter, Claudia Novak, Lauren Sommerfeld and Gretchen Stone

*Key loss: Sam Horton

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Liberty (20-0), Central (15-5), Olentangy (13-7), South (6-14), North (4-16), Orange (2-18)

*2019 postseason: Fourth at sectional

ORANGE

*Coach: Todd Helline, first season

*Top players: Natalie Au and Lauren Muffley

*Key losses: None

*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Liberty (20-0), Central (15-5), Olentangy (13-7), South (6-14), North (4-16), Orange (2-18)

*2019 postseason: Eighth at sectional

Sophomore Reagan Clifton is among the top returnees for the Berlin girls golf team, which features nine players after having just four last season.