It’s a new era for the Olentangy Liberty softball team. Well … not entirely new for first-year coach Cari DeAngelis.
She spent the last seven seasons as an assistant – the first five with the junior varsity squad before moving up as assistant on varsity under former coach Bob Lee.
Being with the program is a benefit for the first-time head softball coach.
“Relationships between coaches and players are huge,” she said. “So, it’s nice coming in – I had relationships with some of these kids already. Just knowing their personality and — what they bring to the table as far as softball skills – just puts you ahead a little bit being a new coach.”
She’s no stranger to running a championship-level program. She’s been running the two-time defending state champion girls golf program at Olentangy Orange for the past four seasons.
Lee had 40 years of coaching experience, including the last seven at Liberty. He finished with a record of 135-59, four OCC titles, two district titles and a district runner-up skippering the Patriots.
“I got to play for him as a player (at Worthington Kilbourne),” DeAngelis said. “Getting to see how he did things and just being able to learn … was a great thing. He had lots of years under his belt and lots of different experiences that he could tell me about. It was really good to be able to learn from him.”
Experience is a key attribute for this year’s squad.
“We’ve got a lot of returners, so we should be good in terms of knowledge and skill-base,” DeAngelis said. “So far, I think the girls are coming together well. You don’t know until you get out there – but I’m really excited and I think this team can do good things.”
Katelyn Wilhelm (junior) and Kaitlyn Leary (sophomore) are more seasoned after pitching for Liberty last year. Wilhelm achieved legendary status with back-to-back no-hitters in the last campaign.
“We’re going to go with whoever is going strong at the time. So, if we need to switch somebody out – we will,” DeAngelis said. “I absolutely trust both of those pitchers. I think our pitching is definitely one of our strengths.”
Juniors Arica Flaugher and Lindsay Aninao will be Wilhelm and Leary’s battery-mates. Aninao moves back behind the plate after spending most of last year occupying third base.
Lexi Byrd (sophomore) will handle first base and Lauren Pomorski (junior) and Leary will each see time at second base.
Junior Sammy Leonhardt moves over to shortstop from second to replace Kennedy Kashmiry (senior), who will miss the season because of a knee injury suffered in basketball. Kashmiry was a three-year starter for the Patriots.
“(Kashmiry) is a huge loss. She’s still going to be with us … she’s still going to be helping the girls. She’s going to be that big leader for us in the dugout,” DeAngelis said. “That kind of stuff happens and we just have to fill in the pieces. So, we’re moving people around and finding out what best works for us.”
Sydney Lane (junior) will primarily be at third after playing mostly at first last season and Sinead Duffy (senior) provides depth at the corners.
The Patriots return three outfielders, too. Seniors Marissa McPhail and Lillee LaRosa will handle left and center and freshman Dani Schoenly will see team in right. Natalie Battaglia (senior) brings enough versatility to help out all over the outfield.
“We’ve got some power … we’ve got some kids that can get on base (in our lineup),” DeAngelis said. “I’m excited to see what that looks like once we get started.”
Liberty gets right after it in the first week with games against quality opponents like Pickerington Central (away Mar. 26), Jonathan Alder (away Mar. 28), Hilliard Davidson (away Mar. 29) and Mount Vernon (home Mar. 31).
The Patriots also have Central Crossing (home Apr. 6), Marysville (away Apr. 9) and North Union (home Apr. 27) to highlight the non-league slate as well as a balanced OCC-Buckeye race.
“I’m excited about our whole schedule to be honest,” DeAngelis said. “We’ve got a lot of really good teams on there that are going to challenge us and see what we have. I want to see that and I think it’s important for the girls to have that kind of challenge.”
Olentangy Liberty baseball coach Ty Brenning used two words to describe this year’s squad: caring and competitive.
“The only way you can have 12 seniors in a locker room where you can only play nine guys at a time is if they care about each other,” he said. “If we have a great year – I think those two things will be front and center.”
The Patriots look to improve on a 13-13 mark and a first-round exit in last spring’s district tournament.
“When I think about last year – there were days that we left the ballpark and we were super-excited and we felt like we could play with anybody,” Brenning said. “Then there were days we left the ballpark and … were just disappointed in our execution.”
Junior Mitchell Okuley has patrolled the outfield since his freshman season. But, this year – he may get to dust off his catcher’s gear. He’ll vie for time with returnee Pete Atkinson (senior) and Kyle O’Mery (senior).
They’ll be receiving the ball from Mitch Milheim (senior), who will anchor the pitching staff. Jack Metzger (junior), lefty Michael Osmond (senior), Beau Foster (senior) and Brennan Rowe (sophomore) will also toe the rubber.
Metzger, junior Justin Nelson and senior Corey Mayer will see time at first base. Rowe, Connor Osmond (senior) and Mayer will handle second.
Seniors Carson Comer and Foster will handle duties on the hot corner and Craig Lutwen (junior) and Brandon Brown (senior) will see time at shortstop.
Milheim (senior) returns to left field when he’s not pitching. Seniors Ryan Elgin and Michael Osmond will also see time.
Sophomore Corbin Parrish returns to center and will be spelled by Jake Miller (senior).
Okuley will be back in right when he’s not catching. A.J. Rausch (sophomore) and Blake Newberry (senior) will see time there as well.
Liberty hosts four tri-ways this season, beginning with its home-opener against Hilliard Darby Mar. 31 at 11 a.m. The Patriots face Findlay to cap the day at 3 p.m.
Others on the Saturday slate include Marysville, Medina, Mount Vernon, Big Walnut, Grove City, Cleveland St. Ignatius and Pickerington Central.
“Our schedule has been very competitive the last four or five years and this year may be the toughest schedule top-to-bottom that I can think of,” said Brenning, who added the OCC-Buckeye will be “wide open” as well.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.