The Big Walnut High School girls volleyball team was young and inexperienced last season, having only one returnee from the 2010 season.
The Golden Eagles still managed to finish 16-8 overall but did not win the OCC-Capital Division championship or a Division II district title.
Comparing where the team is this season to where it was at this point last year, coach Ron Lehman sees much improvement.
The Golden Eagles were 10-3 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Capital before playing Delaware on Sept. 25.
"It's definitely better than last year," Lehman said. "We're still looking to be more consistent in what we're doing. We play really well at times. At other times, we slack off and lose our focus and don't play as well."
Senior middle hitter Natalie Chatterton, junior middle hitter Kalynn Bowmar and senior outside hitter Abbey Painter have been generating much of the offense for the Golden Eagles.
"Those three are doing most of our scoring," Lehman said.
Big Walnut is looking for its 11th league championship in 13 years. The Golden Eagles went 12-2 in the OCC-Capital last season to place second, behind Hilliard Bradley (13-1) and ahead of Mount Vernon (10-4), Olentangy Orange (7-7), Delaware Hayes (6-8), New Albany (6-8), Watkins Memorial (2-12) and Franklin Heights (0-14). Olentangy is now in the league and Bradley is in the OCC-Cardinal.
In 2010, Big Walnut was the Division II state runner-up and captured its 10th league title in 11 years.
"Our serving has been pretty strong," Lehman said. "We're passing the ball really well and our back-row defense is doing well."
Girls tennis team tops last year's win total
The girls tennis team was 11-5 overall before playing Franklin Heights on Sept. 25, marking the second time in the last five seasons that the Golden Eagles have had double digits in victories.
"We could get 13 wins," coach Ryan Balaz said. "That's a benchmark, a goal the girls have set for themselves."
Big Walnut finished 9-8 last fall in its first season under Balaz. The Golden Eagles went 12-5 in 2010 under then-coach Mike McDonough after going 8-11 in 2009 and 5-16 in 2008.
McDonough headed the program for five seasons.
"It's been great," Balaz said of his team's play so far this season. "I really feel like the girls have stepped it up. We've won the matches we were favored to win. We were competitive in the other matches.
"We've hung tough and the girls have grown across the course of the season. That's all you can ask for as a coach. It's been a collective effort to win matches this year. Every girl has stepped up and had their time."
Senior Grace Coffman is playing first singles and had a 9-6 record through 15 matches.
"She's really hung in there physically and mentally and has been a good leader on and off the court," Balaz said.
Senior Emily Balaz and junior Blake Stenger recently were paired at first doubles and were 3-2 through 15 matches, including a 5-7, 7-6, 7-5 loss to Orange's Karlee Greene and Kendra Hopeck in a three-hour match Sept. 18. The Pioneers won the OCC-Capital match 4-1.
"(Balaz and Stenger) were down 5-1 and came back and won the first set," said coach Balaz, who is Emily's brother. "Then they lost the second set in a tiebreaker and lost the third (set). It was a crazy match. But it was nice to see Emily and Blake play at that level."
Big Walnut is 3-3 in the OCC-Capital and concludes its league dual matches Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Franklin Heights. The Golden Eagles will compete in the league tournament Saturday, Sept. 29, at Olentangy.
Boys golf team concludes OCC play
The boys golf team shot a 340 in the fourth and final round of the OCC-Capital tournament Sept. 19 at Granville Golf Course, behind New Albany (313), Mount Vernon (333) and Olentangy (336) and ahead of Orange (344), Watkins Memorial (350) and Delaware (361).
Big Walnut finished 13-15 in the overall league standings, placing fifth behind New Albany (28-0), Mount Vernon (20-8), Olentangy (20-8) and Orange (18-10) and ahead of Watkins Memorial (9-19), Delaware (4-24) and Franklin Heights (0-28).
Sophomore Kyle Gose averaged 82.75 strokes over the four rounds to make third-team all-league. Senior T.J. Cowans (83.75) also made third team and sophomore Ryan Cunningham (86.33) was honorable mention all-league.
Football team preparing for Watkins Memorial
The football team travels to Watkins Memorial for an OCC-Capital contest on Friday, Sept. 28.
Big Walnut, which was 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Capital before playing Dela-ware on Sept. 21, is 13-2 against Watkins Memorial since joining the conference in 1997. The Golden Eagles won 21-14 last year and have won the past six matchups, with the Warriors' last win in the series coming in 2005 (17-16).
Watkins Memorial was 1-3 before playing Mount Vernon on Sept. 21.
Big Walnut opened OCC-Capital play with a 40-24 loss to visiting Olentangy on Sept. 14. The Braves got their first win over the Golden Eagles since 2009 and evened the all-time series at 24 wins apiece.
Senior quarterback Carson Chatterton was 19-for-32 passing for 259 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions and rushed for 27 yards on 18 carries and scored on a 1-yard run.
Chatterton threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Seth Myers and a 25-yard scoring pass to senior wide receiver Adam Shaheen.
The Golden Eagles led 21-20 after three quarters but were outscored 20-3 in the fourth quarter.