When Nicole Baka responded to a job posting and agreed to become an assistant coach with the Watterson High School boys volleyball team, she was under the impression that she was being hired to work with a girls team.
Baka was somewhat reluctant to work with a boys team for the first time. But after talking with coach Ed Cruz, she decided to give it a shot and helped guide the Eagles to a 20-6 overall record last season.
When Cruz stepped down last summer, Baka was asked by school officials to become the head coach. She agonized over the decision in July while vacationing at Virginia Beach before accepting the offer.
"I remember walking along a boardwalk one morning, praying to God to help me make my decision because I was still new to coaching boys," Baka said. "Then I went to a dentist appointment and it turned out that my dentist (Peter Adams) was a Watterson graduate, and I saw that as a sign that I was meant to coach this team.
"It's funny because I never intended on coaching a boys team at all and everything just fell into place for me. I couldn't have ended up at a better place to coach volleyball because the boys are great to work with and I think we've got a great shot at having another good season."
Watterson lost to DeSales 25-18, 25-18, 25-18 on April 9 to drop to 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the CCL. The Eagles are competing in the newly-formed CCL against DeSales and St. Charles this season after having competed in the now-defunct Central Ohio Volleyball League.
Last season, the Eagles won the COVL at 8-0 and were the top seed in the Division II East Region tournament. They opened the postseason with a 25-17, 25-12, 25-17 win over Dublin Jerome and defeated fifth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 25-11, 25-27, 25-14, 25-20 in a semifinal before losing to second-seeded Mount Vernon 25-18, 25-18, 25-27, 18-25, 15-10 in the final.
"We'd really like to win our conference and get to the state tournament," Baka said. "We have an experienced team and we've already won big (matches), so our guys have a lot of confidence right now."
The Eagles lost Division II East Region and COVL Player of the Year Cory Randolph to graduation but have returned six starters in seniors Cameron Golamb (libero), Michael Liston (opposite hitter) and Chris McManamon (libero) and juniors Matt Hughes (middle hitter), Matthew Randolph (setter) and Zackary Storc (outside hitter).
Matthew Randolph led the team in assists last season and Storc led in kills. Both players were second-team all-region and first-team all-league.
Hughes was honorable mention all-region and second-team all-league and Golamb was honorable mention all-league.
Also on the team are senior Trevor James (defensive specialist), juniors Parker Costello (outside hitter), Danny Lucia (outside hitter) and Adam Schnitkey (middle hitter) and sophomores Chuck Eberhart (middle hitter) and Elliot Taylor (opposite hitter).
"Our players are talented and experienced," Baka said. "Our junior class is extremely strong and our team got even stronger (last week) when Matt Hughes returned after missing our first four matches while he was taking a break (after helping the basketball team win the Division II state title). We just need to make sure we keep getting better and we could have a really good season."
Tennis team aiming for winning season
Experience should help the boys tennis team in its quest to improve on last season, when it finished 5-17 overall.
Watterson, which opened April 9 with a 5-0 win over Ready in a CCL match, has returned its top two players from a year ago in senior Ryan Bibo (first singles) and sophomore Kevin Beattie (second singles).
Freshman Ryan Maur is playing third singles, junior twins Mark and Michael Guza are playing first doubles and juniors Jae Suk Dae and Stev Gregory are playing second doubles.
Bibo (singles) and the Guza brothers (doubles) advanced to the Division II district tournament last year at Columbus Academy, where they lost in the first round.
"This is the second year of varsity tennis for all but one of our players, so we have some experience," 21st-year coach Barb Woods said. "All of our returning players have worked on their games and Ryan has a ton of potential, so we're looking for a better season. We have 12 boys in our program, so we have enough for a (junior varsity) team again this year."
Watterson went 2-2 in the CCL last season to finish third, behind DeSales (4-0) and St. Charles (3-1) and ahead of Ready (1-3) and Hartley (0-4).
"Our No. 1 goal is to win the CCL," Woods said. "St. Charles will be our toughest competition and DeSales is good, too. Our second goal is to have a winning record because we didn't have one last year."
Miller named girls volleyball coach
Max Miller has been hired as coach of the girls volleyball team after spending the past 13 seasons coaching Hartley.
Miller compiled a 250-104 record with the Hawks, guiding them to the Division II state title in 2011 and five CCL championships in the past eight seasons. Hartley was state runner-up in 2007 and a state semifinalist in 2008 and 2009.
"It was a very difficult decision to leave Hartley and it's going to be an interesting transition," Miller said. "My wife and I recently moved to the Worthington area, about four minutes from Watterson, and we have a son who is close to 8-months-old. We used to live on the east side of Westerville, much closer to Hartley, but now we're a 30-minute drive from Hartley.
"I was already thinking about doing something new. Like most coaches, you're always looking to stay emotionally charged and excited about your job, and that was getting more difficult to do every year. But I'm really excited about this new challenge."
Miller replaces Chuck Gleich, who stepped down after spending more than three decades on the Eagles' coaching staff, including the past 18 years as head coach.
"I did what I could and gave the program everything I had for 31 seasons," Gleich said. "I got to work with so many great student-athletes and had great support from their families and Watterson's administration. I just felt like it was time to move on and let someone have a shot at it.
"I'm very happy to have coach Miller come in because he has the passion you need to lead this team. The cupboard isn't bare at Watterson and it never will be. I'm sure coach Miller will do a great job."
Last fall, Watterson finished 12-11 overall and placed third in the CCL at 4-4, behind DeSales (7-1) and Hartley (6-2) and ahead of Ready (3-5) and Columbus School for Girls (0-8).
The Eagles lost to Gahanna 25-20, 25-17, 14-25, 25-11 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
"I definitely think this team should be a district contender every year," Miller said. "My three-to-five-year goal is to get this team in a position to play for a state final-four spot. Beyond that, I want to contend for a state title in the next seven to eight years. I'm already beefing up the schedule for next season to help prepare our team to be ready to make a long run in the tournament."