Having returned most of its roster, the Delaware Hayes High School boys lacrosse team has its sights set on defending its state club championship later this spring.
Last season, the Pacers rallied from a 10-5, third-period deficit to beat Springboro 11-10 in overtime in the state final at Thomas Worthington to finish 18-2 overall. They had rolled into the championship game, beating Uniontown Lake 26-1 in the first round, Avon Lake 15-3 in a quarterfinal and Toledo Ottawa Hills 20-3 in a semifinal.
Delaware lost just three players from a year ago to graduation.
"We have a ton of seniors and a lot of depth all over the field," said coach Dick Sanfillipo, who was named state Coach of the Year in the club division. "We have balance and the toughness we need to take everybody's best shot. So obviously, our goal is to win a state championship."
Among the 17 seniors on the roster are Jordan Carlson (defender), Michael Duffy (goalkeeper), Griffin Kinney (attacker), Bryan Neitzelt (defender) and Andrew Ward (defender).
In the state final, Carlson was named Defensive Player of the Game and Kinney was named Offensive Player of the Game after scoring four goals, including the winner. Duffy, Carlson, Neitzelt and Ward were first team all-state.
Other key players include senior midfielders Paul Golden, Lane Kleilein, Phoenix Neitzelt and Jordan Zinader, senior attackers Kyle Gabbert and Dominic Sanfillipo and senior defender Anthony Sanfillipo.
Kleilein attends Buckeye Valley.
Last season, Phoenix Neitzelt (13 goals, 14 assists, 104 groundballs, 32 takeaways) was first-team all-OCC-Central Division, and Carlson (88 groundballs, 45 takeaways), Kinney (62 goals, 30 assists, team-high 92 points, 76 groundballs) and Bryan Neitzelt (74 groundballs, 52 takeaways) were second-team all-league. Duffy (197 saves, .654 save percentage) was honorable mention all-league.
Others expected to contribute include junior midfielders MacGregor Roberts, Ridge Snyder and Tyler Zinader and sophomore midfielder Joseph Sanfillipo.
"We basically have everyone back," coach Sanfillipo said. "The defense looks very good so far and, offensively, we are improving each week. We are pretty deep, especially at midfield. Many of our seniors are looking to play lacrosse at the next level. Kleilein signed to play football as a kicker at Findlay."
Delaware opened with a 12-6 loss to Mt. Lebanon (Pa.) on March 27, but bounced back to beat Wheeling (W.Va.) Jesuit University 9-7 on March 28 and defeat Westerville South 17-2 in its OCC-Central opener April 3.
The Pacers, who were 2-1 overall before playing Lebanon on April 5, went 5-1 in the OCC-Central last season, tying Pickerington Central and Westerville Central for the best record in the league. However, the OCC ruled that the Pacers were not allowed a share of the title because they were a club team that featured two players who did not attend Hayes.
Rounding out the league standings were Big Walnut (2-4), Pickerington North (2-4), Westerville North (1-5) and Westerville South (1-5).
Girls track team dealing with injuries
The girls track and field team returns of one of its two Division I regional qualifiers last season in Emily Richards, but the junior will not be able to compete early in the season because of an injury.
Richards placed eighth in the 800 meters (53.89 seconds) in the regional meet last spring at Pickerington North. She was joined at regional by 2012 graduate Rebekah Younkin, who placed seventh in the discus (117 feet, 10 inches).
The top four finishers in each event advanced to the state meet at Ohio State. The Pacers scored three points at regional to tie Zanesville for 36th behind champion Rey-noldsburg (77) as 43 teams scored.
"We've got a number of girls already battling bumps and bruises, plus Emily Richards and (senior) Tayler Reid don't look as if they'll be ready for the start of the season," coach Andy Graham said. "We've got a very good group of senior leaders, but I think how we fare this season will be based upon getting people healthy and keeping people healthy."
Richards and Younkin both placed second in the 17-team district 1 meet at Hilliard Darby, as the Pacers finished 11th (21) behind champion Dublin Coffman (141).
Reid, Richards, senior Emily Mengerink and sophomore Tiarra Avant placed fifth in the 1,600 relay (4:06.47) at district, falling one place shy of reaching regional.
"I think we have enough talent and depth to set school records in both the (1,600 relay and 3,200 relay) if we stay healthy," Graham said. "We've got to find the right combinations among eight girls for those relays."
Senior Taylor McGinnis and sophomores Sam Curtin and Sammi Piroska join Reid, Mengerink and Richards as candidates for both relays. Avant and junior Courtney White are candidates for the 1,600 relay.
Avant, White, senior Ally Davis and freshman Rylee Wright are expected to lead the team in sprints and sprint relays. McGinnis, Mengerink and Richards are expected to lead the team in the middle distance events and Curtin, Piroska and sophomore Alyssa Wheeler should be the team's leaders in the distance events.
Reid and Curtin also will compete in the high jump, but other than that, the Pacers have little experience in the field events.
Graham expects juniors Lexi Woda and Ali Smiley to contribute somewhere in the lineup.
"I think we'll score consistently in the 100, 200, 400 and the longer relays," he said. "Other than that, we're still trying to figure out what we have."
The Pacers finished seventh (44) in the OCC-Capital meet last year, behind New Albany (161.5), Watkins Memorial (109), Hilliard Bradley (85.25), Big Walnut (84), Olentangy Orange (76.75) and Franklin Heights (61) and ahead of Mount Vernon (40.5).
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy.
Boys track team seeking improvement
The boys track and field team is expected to be led by seniors Skyler Helmeci (200, 400, relays), Dorian Martin (long jump, 100, 200), Cole Millet (400, 200, relays) and Taylor Hatfield (throws) and juniors Brendan Conley (400, 200, high jump, relays), Caleb Howell (100, 200) and Collin Wittig (throws).
"Dorian had a great indoor season in the long jump," coach Jim Bibler said. "The sprinters also did well this winter. I think we should do well in the 200 and 400 as well as the (800 and 1,600 relays).
"We have a big freshman class, but I am not really sure how many of them will contribute in the big meets on Saturdays."
Others expected to be key contributors include seniors Adonis Martin (throws) and Anthony Williams (sprints) and juniors Keenan Kimbro (throws) and Tyler Treese (middle distance).
Last season, Dorian Martin scored the Pacers' only points in the 16-team district 1 meet by placing seventh (19-8 3/4) in the long jump, as they finished 15th (2) behind champion Davidson (104).
Delaware finished eighth (22) in the OCC-Capital meet a year ago, behind New Albany (186), Bradley (117.5), Watkins Memorial (117), Orange (69), Mount Vernon (54), Big Walnut (53.5) and Franklin Heights (43).
"We need to see a lot of hard work and see who is going to emerge out of a big group to be competitive," Bibler said. "The main goal is to improve and to encourage a bigger group to get serious about becoming committed competitive athletes."
Volleyball team expects better season
The boys volleyball team returns four letterwinners from last season, when it finished 5-20 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Capital and lost to fourth-seeded Bradley 25-12, 25-15, 25-17 in the first round of Division I East Region tournament.
All four of the returnees are seniors: 6-0 outside hitter/defen-sive specialist Dalton Burke, 6-2 middle blocker Tommy Gibbs, setter Austin McKenzie and 6-4 outside hitter Nathan Nelson.
Also expected to be key contributors are seniors Stone Banks-Herrell (opposite hitter) and Nick Queen (defensive specialist/setter) and sophomores Robbie Craun (libero) and Kyle Willis (6-3, middle blocker).
"Dalton Burke is a great leader on and off the court," second-year coach Josh Lee said. "He's the first kid in the gym and last one out, plus he has a powerful arm. Nathan Nelson is a great attacker and nice blocker with a dangerous serve, and Austin McKenzie has the perfect mentality for the setting position. He's a smart playmaker.
"The team this year is very intelligent. They all get along very well and I think that their chemistry is going to take them further than some would think."
Burke was honorable mention all-league last season, as the Pacers finished fifth in the OCC-Capital behind Gahanna (10-0), Bradley (8-2), Mount Vernon (6-4) and Pickerington North (4-6) and ahead of Pickerington Central (0-10).
Bradley, which was a state quarterfinalist last year, has moved to the OCC-Ohio and has been replaced by Olentangy, a first-year program.
Delaware opened with a 30-28, 25-17, 25-18 loss to Pickerington Central on April 2.
"We want to improve upon our weaknesses from last season, improve our record and finish at least .500," Lee said.
The Pacers lost six players from last season to graduation, including 6-6 middle hitter Alex Carpenter, who was first-team all-league and second-team all-region and now plays for Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.