Amber Bolinger had been trying to find a team she could build from scratch.
Instead, what she got was the chance to coach the Bexley High School girls volleyball team -- not much of a fixer-upper opportunity.
Bolinger inherits a team that finished 25-2 overall after losing to Hartley 25-23, 26-24, 25-18 in a Division II regional final under Shaun Servick last year. The Lions tied Heath for first place in the MSL-Ohio Division at 13-1, and for the first time since 2002 won a district title, beating Big Walnut 15-25, 25-18, 25-22, 15-25, 15-8.
"Everyone here knows how to be successful," said Bolinger, whose team opened with a 25-9, 25-16, 25-7 loss to Hartley last Saturday. "A lot of the girls know what it takes to get to the district final and want to get back to that spot. I have some big shoes to fill but I'm ready for the challenge."
Bexley, which beat Centennial 22-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-15, 15-9 last Monday, will play host to Licking Valley today, visit Columbus Academy on Tuesday and welcome Jonathan Alder on Wednesday.
Bolinger is a 2004 graduate of Muskingum College and was a four-year letterwinner. She is tied for fifth all-time in blocks (379). As a junior, she finished seventh all-time for kills in a season (449) and fourth all-time for blocks (178). Bolinger, a Reynoldsburg graduate, has been an assistant at Reynoldsburg, Watkins Memorial and Gahanna.
"I'm looking forward to having a chance to develop these girls into great volleyball players," said Bolinger, who is a teacher at Kirkersville Elementary School. "Give me anyone and I can teach them how to play in a year."
"It's definitely a different atmosphere," senior Leiah Groom said. "We have almost an entirely new coaching staff, but I love their style."
Bexley returns five seniors. Groom and Tracy Gundy will serve as outside hitters and setters in the 6-2 lineup. Gundy had 262 kills last year and was first-team all-league and all-district and honorable-mention all-state. Groom had 6.7 receptions per match and was honorable mention all-league.
Seniors Shaynah Blair and Etty Lux will be defensive specialists and liberos and sophomore Kylee Soga will be a libero. Senior Lauren Simmons and junior Lauren Howard will be middle blockers. Junior Beverly O'Chieng will be a setter and right-side hitter and juniors Sarah Kebe and Tess Roddy as right-side hitters.
Simmons led the team with 61 total blocks and 26 solo.
"We're a very good hitting team and serving is another strength," Bolinger said. "The girls are very hard workers and very eager to please. They pick up things very quickly; they're very fast learners. They play with great enthusiasm."
"There was nothing like the feeling of winning a district title," Gundy said. "One of the things we learned from last year was if we work together, we can do everything. If we don't, it's all going to fall apart."
At a glance
•Coach: Amber Bolinger, first season
•Next match: Today vs. Licking Valley
•Key players: Leiah Groom, Tracy Gundy, Lauren Howard, Beverly O'Chieng and Lauren Simmons