There are a lot of new faces on the Big Walnut High School girls volleyball team this season, but expectations haven't changed.

There are a lot of new faces on the Big Walnut High School girls volleyball team this season, but expectations haven't changed.

At least, not completely.

"At this point, we're not thinking about winning the state championship," 22nd-year coach Ron Lehman said. "But we certainly think we can win (the OCC-Capital Division), and we feel we have a good shot at winning a district championship. After that, we're not sure. We'll see how we develop."

Big Walnut, which opened Aug. 27 against Hartley and begins OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Watkins Memorial, is coming off one of its best seasons. Last year, the Golden Eagles finished 23-6 overall and reached the Division II state final, where they lost to Mentor Lake Catholic 25-18, 22-25, 26-24, 25-23.

It was their first state appearance since 2006 and sixth overall. The only other time they reached a state final was 1991, when they lost to Akron Hoban 15-11, 15-4.

Big Walnut, which was fifth in the final state poll last season behind Chagrin Falls Kenston, Lake Catholic, Mansfield Madison and Cortland Lakeview, returns only two players from a year ago in seniors Sierra Blase (defensive specialist) and Sammie Ebright (opposite hitter). Ebright was first-team all-state and all-league.

The Eagles lost seven players to graduation, including middle hitter Eleni Lourgos, setter Tabatha Piper and outside hitter Jazmine Reed. Piper was named OCC-Capital Player of the Year and first-team all-state, while Reed was second-team all-league and Lourgos was honorable mention all-league.

Big Walnut also lost middle hitter Emma Swysgood, who opted not to return for her senior season. Swysgood was honorable mention all-league last year.

The Eagles will be counting on seven players who played junior varsity last season - juniors Natalie Chatterton (middle hitter), Alexis Newman (defensive specialist), Abby Painter (outside hitter) and Kylee Williams (outside hitter) and sophomores Morgan Alley (setter), Kalynn Bowmar (middle hitter) and Kayla Walaszek (middle hitter) - and freshman Claire Chatterton (outside hitter) to fill the void.

"Our j.v. team had a good season last year and now those kids are getting the chance to step in and contribute," Lehman said. "With the tradition we have, they expect (to be successful). They don't want to let the program slide. It's their turn to step up, but they're stepping up to a higher level (of competition), so I think it may take some time to adjust."

Making the situation more challenging are injuries to Ebright - the team's most experienced player - and Bowmar. Ebright is sidelined with an ankle injury and Bowmar is out with a back injury.

Lehman said Ebright will miss "two or three matches, not sure after that," and that Bowmar is out indefinitely.

Big Walnut went 14-0 in the OCC-Capital last year to finish ahead of New Albany (11-3), Hilliard Bradley (10-4), Olentangy Orange (8-6), Mount Vernon (6-8), Delaware Hayes (5-9), Franklin Heights (1-13) and Watkins Memorial (1-13). It was the Eagles' third consecutive league title and 10th in 11 seasons.

Big Walnut also won its third consecutive district title, beating DeSales 25-15, 26-24, 25-16 in a final.

The Eagles then beat Dover 25-18, 25-12, 25-15 in a regional semifinal, Millersburg West Holmes 25-15, 25-16, 26-24 in a regional final and Madison 25-23, 25-13, 25-12 in a state semifinal before losing to Lake Catholic.

•When sixth-year cross country coach Gary Brandon reflects on last season, he can't help but think about his team's injuries.

"We had more injuries than I've ever had as a coach," Brandon said. "It's just one of those things. We have some injuries now, but nothing major so far."

The boys team lost five runners from a year ago to graduation, including its top two in Micah Armbrust and Nolan Leber.

Armbrust, who was slowed in the second half of last season by a sprained right ankle, finished his prep career as the first four-time state qualifier in program history. He finished 49th (16 minutes, 12.4 seconds) in the Division I state meet last year after placing 13th (16:13.17) in 2009 to earn all-state honors. His state appearances in 2007 (45th, 16:46.5) and 2008 (30th, 16:31.26) were in Division II.

Armbrust qualified for state last year by placing 13th (16:26.9) at regional. The only other regional qualifier for the boys team was Leber, who finished 19th (16:45.3). The top 16 advanced to state.

"Both were four-time all-district and Micah was a four-time state qualifier," said Brandon, whose teams opened Aug. 27 in the Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North. "You just don't replace runners like that."

The boys team is comprised of 18 runners. Starting the season in the top seven are seniors Sean McVay and Nathan Randall, juniors Cameron Ahmed and A.J. Barber, sophomore Joe Croce and freshmen Bobby Bogantz and Jonathan Kahrmann.

Ahmed, Barber and Croce were in the top seven last year but were not able to complete the season because of injuries.

Also on the team are senior Jacob Times, juniors Jimmy Glaze and Colton Shidaker, sophomores Basil Eddy, Jacob Oppenheimer, Andrew Sparks and Kaden Thompson and freshmen Jared Boseker, Aaron Brown, Noah Miller and Graham Weaver.

"We're very young on the boys side," Brandon said. "More than half haven't run a cross country meet before. ... I think our (Nos.) 4, 5, 6 and 7 runners are faster than our (Nos.) 4, 5, 6 and 7 runners last year. But this year we don't have anybody who can crash the top 10, from what I've seen so far, and that's really going to hurt us. We're going to have to be more of a pack-running type of team."

Last season, the boys team finished ninth (206) in the 14-team Division I, district 2 meet at Watkins Memorial, behind champion New Albany (42), as the top five teams and the top 20 individuals advanced to regional. Leber placed seventh (16:17.66) at district and Armbrust finished eighth (16:28.26).

In the OCC-Capital meet at Newark, Big Walnut finished seventh (177), behind New Albany (43), Watkins Memorial (55), Bradley (79), Orange (103), Mount Vernon (131) and Delaware (139). Franklin Heights did not have enough runners for a team score.

Leber was the Eagles' top finisher, placing sixth (16:36) to earn first-team all-league. Armbrust missed the meet because of his ankle injury.

"On the boys side, I think we can be a middle-of-the-pack team wherever we go," Brandon said.

The girls team lost three of its top seven runners to graduation in Carrie Borchers, Lincoln Green and Lydia Seabrook.

Green was the Eagles' only state qualifier last year, finishing 34th in the Division II meet in a program-record 19:18.8. She broke her own record of 19:22.1, which she had set in the OCC-Capital meet last year.

Green advanced out of regional by placing 11th (19:56.9). Big Walnut narrowly missed making it to state for the second year in a row, as it finished fifth (161) with St. Clairsville (141) securing the fourth and final state berth.

In the district 2 meet last year, Big Walnut finish second (70) of 10 teams, behind Bexley (64). Green was second (19:41.02).

The Eagles placed sixth (132) in the OCC-Capital meet last season, behind Mount Vernon (57), New Albany (59), Watkins Memorial (67), Orange (77) and Delaware (130) and ahead of Bradley (148). Franklin Heights did not have enough runners for a team score.

"On the girls side, we got the triple whammy," Brandon said. "We graduated who I think are three of the best girls runners the school has ever had, we moved up to Division I, which I think is a lot tougher (than Division II), and over half the girls haven't run in a cross country meet before."

The girls team is comprised of 20 runners. Filling five of the top seven spots to start the season are juniors Lindsey Adams, Esther Armbrust, Bethany Bogantz and Morgan Dronsfield and sophomore Catie Craig-Bowden.

Armbrust and Bogantz are expected to be the top two runners. Last year, Armbrust was lost for the season in the second meet because of a hip injury.

"(Armbrust) wasn't medically cleared to start running until June and she was injured last August. That's how bad that injury was," Brandon said. "She looks like she's about 70 percent recovered. If she can come back and run the way she's capable of, we can have two girls who can be frontrunners."

The leading candidates to fill out the final two spots in the top seven were senior Brittany Evans and sophomore Stephanie Keller.

Also on the team are senior Devra Hoover, juniors Olivia Evans and Elizabeth Finnegan, sophomores Kelsey Keifer-Jones, Rebecca Ryan, Sarah Stefaniak and Mea Wank and freshmen Tera Blair, Samantha Godby, Makenna Hemming, Hannah Seabrook, Addison Shawer and Mikaela Smith.

"If we can stay healthy, this is the deepest girls team I've ever had," Brandon said. "I think 12 girls have a chance to be in the top seven at some point this year. ... I think the girls team has a chance to qualify for regional because of the depth."