Delaware Hayes High School girls volleyball coach Josh Lee believes his team could be significantly better by season's end.
The inexperienced Pacers lost their first two matches, falling 23-25, 25-9, 25-22, 25-21 to Westerville North in their opener Aug. 21 and 25-16, 25-17, 23-25, 25-11 to Worthington Kilbourne in their opening OCC-Capital Division match Aug. 27.
Lee saw improvement from his varsity newcomers from the first match to the second.
"We've got some great senior leadership and some good playing pieces, but until the young girls step in, stay focused on every ball and fight to the end of every point, it's not going to show," he said. "I think there is potential and, when the young girls contribute, we'll see a drastic change by the end of the season."
Last season, the Pacers finished 8-15 overall and 6-8 in the OCC-Capital to place fifth behind champion Big Walnut (13-1). They lost to Kilbourne 25-14, 25-22, 25-11 in the second round of the Division I district tournament after having a first-round bye.
Kilbourne has replaced Watkins Memorial in the OCC-Capital, having moved from the OCC-Cardinal. Watkins Memorial left the OCC to join the revived Licking County League.
"We're 0-2, but I like the scrappiness of this team," Lee said. "We're not a young team in terms of the girls' ages, but we're very young in experience. But they're working hard and I'm encouraged. Our goals are to finish in the top half of a tough league and win at least our first tournament match this year."
Delaware returns five players in seniors Jen Foreman (libero), Krysta Iwanek (outside hitter) and Kaitlyn Woerner (outside hitter) and juniors Hannah Cook (setter) and Mariah Swisher (opposite hitter).
Foreman was honorable mention all-league last season.
"Foreman and Iwanek are smart club players," Lee said. "Iwanek is an all-around player and is a smart outside attacker. Woerner brings life to the floor and knows success through softball.
"That attitude and fighting edge rubs off on her teammates. She energizes them."
Rounding out the team are juniors Tiarra Avant (middle hitter), Ciarah McAnelly (middle hitter) and Lillie Weber (outside hitter), sophomores Karli Reed (opposite hitter), Claire Turner (back-row specialist) and Macie Wright (back-row specialist) and freshman Kieona Houser (middle hitter).
"McAnelly is only 5-foot-9, but she jumps exceptionally," Lee said. "Houser stood out in preseason. She's a strong athlete with tons of potential."
Runners looking to improve steadily
The primary goal for the boys and girls cross country teams this season is to show continued improvement.
The boys team returns three runners who competed in the Division I, district 2 meet last year at Watkins Memorial in senior Jason Watkins (42nd, 18 minutes, 13 seconds) and juniors Drew Williams (76th, 19:35.43) and Sid Campbell (77th, 19:42.42).
The Pacers finished last (312) in the 12-team district and did not have any regional qualifiers.
Hilliard Davidson (39) won the district title and Hilliard Darby (136) secured the fifth and final regional-qualifying spot.
Freshman Justin Hernan is expected to join Watkins as a front-runner.
Sophomores Corbin Binkley, Weston Lingo and Sam White also began the season in the top seven.
"Jason Watkins and Justin Hernan had outstanding summers," coach Jim Bibler said. "They will be clearly ahead of the rest. We need others to try to close the gap behind them to be successful. Both Jason and Justin want to run in the 16s solidly this season."
Delaware opened Aug. 24 in the nine-team Lexington Invitational, placing third (121) behind Ashland (26) and Lexington (56). Watkins led the Pacers, placing eighth (17:48), with Hernan (19th, 18:57) and Williams (20th, 18:58) also finishing in the top 20.
The girls team also returns three runners who competed in the Division I, district 2 meet a year ago in senior Courtney White (68th, 23:38.31), junior Sammi Piroska (49th, 22:28.33) and sophomore Megan Swisher (70th, 23:41.92).
Emily Richards, who was the Pacers' top finisher at district last year, placing 25th (21:00.86), is serving as a captain this season despite the fact that she is not expected to compete this season because of a knee injury, Bibler said.
Delaware finished eighth (265) in the 15-team district behind champion Dublin Coffman (31). Olentangy Liberty (111) was the fifth and final regional qualifier.
"This will be Sammi Piroska's third season as a varsity runner," Bibler said.
"She had a great summer along with Courtney White."
Freshman Alicia Rittenour is expected to be the team's top runner, according to Bibler. Juniors Alyssa Wheeler and Natalie Martin and freshman Megan Rumbalski also are in the top seven to start the season.
"Alicia Rittenour is a freshman who had a great summer," Bibler said. "She also is playing soccer, but has had our best times thus far.
"Alyssa Wheeler has been dealing with an injury but could be right up there with (Rittenour, Piroska and White). The girls are a little more tightly packed time-wise than the boys."
Delaware finished fifth (153) in the nine-team Lexington Invitational behind champion Lexington (24). Rittenour led the Pacers, placing 11th (22:02), followed by Piroska (33rd, 23:42) and White (39th, 24:11).
Football team getting set for first road game
The football team travels to Canal Winchester on Friday, Sept. 6, for its first road game of the season.
Delaware, which opened against Buckeye Valley on Aug. 30, lost to the Indians 42-23 last season. Canal Winchester, which played Olentangy in its opener Aug. 30, went 9-3 last season, reaching the Division II playoffs.
The Indians won the MSL-Buckeye Division last season but have moved to the OCC-Cardinal this year. They return three starters from their spread offense in Zach Bontempo (QB), Jalen Smith (WR) and Skyler Scott (WR).
Bontempo had seven catches for 78 yards last year as a wide receiver but has moved under center to replace 2013 graduate Isaac Pifer. Last season, Scott had 31 receptions for 666 yards and six touchdowns and Smith had 14 catches for 132 yards.
Among the key players on the Indians' defense is safety Khari Golden, who had 100 tackles, eight interceptions and two forced fumbles last year.