The Olentangy Liberty girls basketball team was young last season.
Young … and good. The Patriots finished 16-8 overall and won the OCC-Buckeye Division crown with an 8-2 mark punctuated by a thrilling one-point win over Westerville North in the second to last game of the regular season.
This season, youth won’t be as much of a problem and, well, who knows how high Liberty will fly.
The Patriots have five starters back in the fold. Seniors Kennedy Kashmiry, Sydney Englehart and Emma Humenay, who started the last eight games after starting point guard Bre Yashko got hurt, are all ready to roll. Sophomores Teegan Pifher and Kelly Levering are also back after posting solid seasons as freshmen.
A common theme among the group, according to Liberty coach Sam Krafty, is improvement. All five were good last year … and all five got better.
“Teegan led the team in scoring and rebounding last season and is much improved, especially on the perimeter,” Krafty said. “She’s stronger physically and ready for a huge year.
“Kelly has really had an impressive offseason, can play four positions, score inside or from deep and she’s stronger, quicker and really coming on strong.
“Kennedy is a great leader and has shot the ball very well this fall. Sydney is our best athlete and defender and has improved her shooting and scoring and Emma is one of the best shooters in Central Ohio (made 48 of 99 three-point attempts last season) and has gotten quicker and improved defensively.”
Others contending for starting spots and big roles include sophomore Gina Santangelo and juniors Abigail Erikson, Jess Barna and Betsey Merritt.
“Gina had a key role last year in our last eight games,” Krafty said. “She’s probably our truest point guard, can score, is the best rebounding guard I’ve coached and has a knack for making plays.
“Erickson gives us an additional athletic presence inside — she’s capable of putting up some big numbers for us scoring and rebounding — and Jess and Betsey are both high energy, defensive minded and tough kids.”
Junior guard Kierra McCloskey and seniors Lauren Spicer, Jessica Thomas and McKenna Bay will also chip in.
Krafty said his team is as close as it is talented.
“It can be the best overall shooting team we’ve had and we can play with a lot of size and athleticism inside and out,” he said. “And so far this team has had exceptional chemistry, which is huge.”
Shooting is a strength, but success will stem from what the team gets done on the other end of the floor.
“Our keys to success are pretty simple: turnovers and rebounding,” Krafty said. “We will hit some dry spells offensively, but our kids always play hard and play good defense.”
Liberty opened the season with Tuesday’s 51-43 win over Hilliard Bradley and returns to action Friday against visiting Dublin Jerome.