Having a versatile roster is the biggest strength for the Olentangy Liberty boys volleyball team coming off its run to the Division I state tournament last season.
The Patriots lost seven seniors from a squad that went 20-4 overall and 9-3 in the OCC-Central Division. They reached state for the first time, falling 25-22, 19-25, 27-29, 25-18, 15-13 to Cleveland St. Ignatius in a quarterfinal.
“We actually have a decent amount (of experience) coming back,” 17th-year coach Dave Hale said. “We don’t have Cole (Young), who’s playing for Ohio State now, and we don’t have Parker (Budreau), who’s playing for Mount Union.
“But we still have our outside (hitter) Noah Koknat, who played outside last year, and David Jenkins, who last year played right side for us and this year, he’s playing some outside and some right side.”
That’s the case all over the lineup for the Patriots. They feature a team that’s adaptable, with athletes playing multiple positions.
“What I really like about this team is the versatility that they have,” Hale said. “As we were doing scrimmages this year, we tried putting guys in lots of different positions. We just have a lot of guys that are super flexible, which is great because if something should happen, we have someone who can fill in and we don’t miss a beat.”
Koknat and Jenkins are joined by fellow seniors Colby Whiteside (middle hitter) and Colin Brooks (right-side hitter).
Koknat (special mention all-league) can play all over and rarely comes off the court. He worked on his mental game during the offseason.
“A lot of my game was about keeping myself mentally strong and not letting bad plays affect me,” he said. “Fundamentally, I’ve been focused on passing and my decisions on the court.”
He led the Patriots with 180 kills last year and added 38 aces and 184 digs.
Jenkins, who is 6-foot-6, is one of several on the team playing a different position from last year. He had 104 kills, 100 digs and 64 blocks last season.
“I’ve played every position in club,” he said. “I feel like once you’ve played for a while, you get a sense of what you should be doing everywhere. It’s kind of fun playing the libero when you’re the tallest kid on the court. It’s fun to play where you’re needed.”
Whiteside moved from right side to middle, playing his club position, making it easy for Hale to slot him in.
Brooks, who has made the move from j.v. to varsity, is a lefty playing on the right side.
“He’s really improved his game from last year to this year,” Hale said. “As a lefty on the right side, he’s a real challenge for other teams.”
Sophomore Connor Severson and junior Wes Davis are Liberty’s two setters. Severson had 287 assists and 122 digs last season.
Junior Jack Sullenberger returns at libero after leading the Patriots with 343 digs and 42 aces a year ago.
“We have a lot of great potential,” Koknat said. “We have a relatively young team with four seniors on varsity and we have a ton of sophomores, too, (but) a lot of great talent. I’m really excited to see where we can go.”
•Coach: Jim Cornett, first season
•Top players: Mason Clark, Matt Mannino, Parker Van Horne and Mitch Zahner
•Key losses: Eli Gamble and Drew Granger
•Last season: 6-18 overall
•2021 OCC-Cardinal standings: Worthington Kilbourne (10-2), Hilliard Darby (9-3), Dublin Jerome (8-4), Thomas Worthington (7-5), Olentangy (6-6), Berlin (2-10), Dublin Scioto (0-12)
•2021 postseason: Def. Licking Heights 25-15, 25-21, 25-10; lost to Olentangy 25-20, 25-12, 25-13 in Division II, East Region quarterfinal
•Outlook: The Bears have had a different coach in each of their three seasons. New coach Jim Cornett, a 1999 Kilbourne graduate, was a first-team all-state performer as a senior and has been an assistant with his alma mater and Olentangy.
Berlin is coming off a season in which it won its first league matches. It returns seniors Mason Clark (outside hitter) and Matt Mannino (defensive specialist) and sophomores Parker Van Horne (setter) and Mitch Zahner (middle blocker).
Freshmen Hayden Van Horne (outside hitter) and Josh Weida (outside hitter) also are in the starting lineup. Junior middle blocker Aditya Arora also will play a key role.
•Quotable: “We’re young. We have two sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup, but all four have a lot of club experience. They play well together despite being young.” — Cornett
•Coach: Eric Whitaker, first season
•Top players: Grant Bardon, David Cauley, Connor Cottrill, Charlie Lagando, Jack Lenocker, Jacob Payne and Isaac Robinson
•Key losses: Mike Trippier and Yomar Rivera
•Last season: 2-17 overall
•2020-21 OCC-Ohio standings: Gahanna (14-0), New Albany (12-2), Pickerington Central (10-4), Pickerington North and Westerville Central (both 7-7), Reynoldsburg (3-11), Delaware (2-11), Westerville South (0-13)
•2021 postseason: Lost to Scioto 25-13, 25-17, 25-21 in first round of Division I, East Region tournament
•Outlook: Eric Whitaker began his second stint as coach looking to instill some confidence in his team. The Pacers return all but two off of last year’s squad.
But for Whitaker, who coached Delaware for two seasons in 2011-12, it’s about getting his players to believe in themselves.
The Pacers’ strength is in junior outside hitters David Cauley and Connor Cottrill and sophomore right-side hitter Jack Lenecker. All play club in the offseason.
Senior Isaac Robinson (libero) anchors the defense and junior Jacob Payne (setter) runs the offense with senior middle hitters Grant Barden and Charlie Lagando.
•Quotable: “They’re smart; they know the X’s and O’s. They’re still in that mindset that they are who they were last year and they’re not. They’ve got talent and so much experience. I think they need to believe – they need to see it. Once they do that, it’s going to be a very dangerous team.” — Whitaker
•Coach: Dave Hale, 17th season
•Top players: David Jenkins, Noah Koknat, Connor Severson, Jack Sullenberger and Colby Whiteside
•Key losses: Parker Budreau, Andrew Pugh, Nicholas Talbott and Cole Young
•Last season: 20-4 overall
•2021 OCC-Central standings: Orange (10-2), Liberty and Hilliard Bradley (both 9-3), Westerville North (7-5), Dublin Coffman (5-7), Hilliard Davidson (2-10), Upper Arlington (0-12)
•2021 postseason: Def. Mount Vernon 25-11, 25-12, 25-17; def. North 25-13, 25-16, 25-21; def. Thomas 25-20, 26-24, 25-18; lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-22, 19-25, 27-29, 25-18, 15-13 in Division I state quarterfinal
•Coach: Emi Holsclaw, second season
•Top players: Jack Barga, Gavin Grover and Max Gutierrez
•Key losses: Sam Irwin, Max Kaiser, Sam Kaylor and Jacob Nussdorfer
•Last season: 16-9 overall
•2021 postseason: Def. Berlin 25-20, 25-12, 25-13; def. DeSales 21-25, 25-19, 25-15, 25-16; def. St. Charles 25-23, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17; def. Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit 25-13, 25-18, 25-19; lost to Middletown Fenwick 25-22, 25-18, 25-16 in Division II state final
•Outlook: The Braves are coming off their first trip to the state championship match, but they lost five seniors off that squad.
Eight of the 11-athlete roster are sophomores and freshmen. Most of the lineup can play multiple positions, giving coach Emi Holsclaw the ability to try different rotations.
Sophomores Gavin Grover (outside hitter) and Max Gutierrez (libero) and senior Colin Barga (middle blocker) all played key roles last year.
Seniors Michael Condon (defensive specialist) and Sam Cory (outside/opposite hitter), sophomores Carter Shomock (outside/opposite hitter), Mitch Tracy (outside/opposite hitter), Charlie Berry (outside hitter/defensive specialist), Jack Barga (setter) and Nathan Morris (middle blocker/outside hitter) and freshman Jonathan Steele (libero/outside hitter) give Holsclaw flexibility.
•Quotable: “The majority of our team are underclassmen. We have a lot of athletic potential and I think we’re going to get better as the season goes along. We have a lot of different players that can contribute in different places. It’s going to be a matter of trying things and seeing who helps us where the best. I think it’s just a matter of getting us all to jell together on the same the page.” — Holsclaw
•Coach: Karlie Foy, fourth season
•Top players: Alan Deutschendorf, Connor Goudie, Evan Schultz, Drew Stein and Dylan Stewart
•Key losses: Brenden Borer, Owen Dickson, Alex Heffner, Lawton Hinley, Luke Little and Jake Smith
•Last season: 14-11 overall
•2021 postseason: Def. Coffman 25-22, 25-22, 25-16; lost to to Jerome 25-20, 25-18, 25-21 in Division I, East Region semifinal
•Outlook: The Pioneers graduated all of their starters from last season’s team, which reached a regional semifinal, won its first league championship and had its best record in the program’s three seasons.
Senior outside hitter Evan Schultz (honorable mention all-league; 27 blocks) is the only player back with much varsity experience. Sophomore setter Brenden Borer moved to Virginia.
Orange will utilize a two-setter scheme with junior Alan Deutschendorf and freshman Drew Stein. Senior Connor Goudie will be on the outside with Schultz. They are two of 15 seniors for the Pioneers, with nine playing varsity.
Senior Dylan Stewart (outside hitter/defensive specialist) moved in from California and can play any position. Seniors Mason Altman, Connor Churan and Tanner Martin and junior Aryan Bommena rotate in the middle.
•Quotable: “One unique thing about graduating your whole starting lineup is that you have a lot of open spots, and we have had good competition for those. I expect us to be really balanced. We are athletic, and we won’t have a huge lopsided stats board. They are all going to share the stats.” — coach Karlie Foy
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Boys Volleyball: Versatility serves as strength for Olentangy Liberty