Eight players who started multiple matches last season have returned to lead the Dublin Scioto High School boys volleyball team.
The Irish, who finished 17-8 overall and tied for second in the OCC-Cardinal Division last year, opened March 30 with three losses, falling to West Chester Lakota West 25-14, 25-10, Pickerington North 26-24, 25-20 and Coffman in three games.
Scioto opened league play April 1 by defeating Westerville North 25-23, 23-25, 25-19, 25-21 and played Worthington Kilbourne in a league match April 2.
"We have almost the exact same team that we had last year, and that's led to a unique situation where our first day of practice felt like it was the next day of practice from the end of last season," ninth-year coach Doug Arden said. "We didn't have to spend a lot of time choosing who goes where on the court because most of our players already knew what to do. Instead of spending our first couple of weeks ironing simple things out, they have jumped right in and worked on further developing our offense and defense. That extra year of experience is something you just can't teach."
Scioto returns seniors Yoshi Akutsu (opposite hitter), Josh Ashwill (setter/outside hitter), Ryan Link (defensive specialist), Mason Matheny (libero), Michael Orender (middle hitter), Colin Pierce (setter/outside hitter), Noah Schuster (opposite hitter) and Travis Wehder (middle hitter).
Last year, Ashwill, who according to Arden led Scioto in kills, aces and assists, was named first-team all-state, all-region and all-league. Matheny was first-team all-region and second-team all-league, Pierce was second-team all-region and all-league, Orender was special mention all-league, Akutsu was honorable mention all-region and Wehder was honorable mention all-region and all-league.
Also on the team are seniors Nathan Esker (middle hitter) and Matt Latimer (setter/outside hitter) and sophomore Zach Spoelstra (setter/outside hitter).
"We have a lot of athletic, big guys with long arms, so we should be good at the net," Arden said.
Among the highlights for Scioto last season was winning the Battle of Dublin title, as the Irish beat Coffman 25-21, 32-20 and Jerome 25-17, 25-22. This year's event will be held May 3 at Jerome.
Scioto went 7-3 in the OCC-Cardinal a year ago to tie Westerville North, finishing behind Olentangy Liberty (10-0) and ahead of Jerome (3-7), Westerville South (3-7) and Westerville Central (0-10).
Kilbourne has moved from the OCC-Ohio to the OCC-Cardinal this season.
Seeded third, Scioto opened the Division II East Region tournament last spring with a 25-23, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21 win over fourth-seeded DeSales before losing to top-seeded Mount Vernon 25-18, 22-25, 25-16, 25-15 in a semifinal.
"Our goals are to be the best team in Dublin and to finish on top of the OCC," said Arden, whose team was a combined 5-0 against Coffman and Jerome last year. "Liberty and Westerville North are always tough, but they lost a lot of guys and we have almost everyone back, so I think we've got a good shot at it."
Shamrocks expect to be improved
Fifth-year Coffman coach Mark Saelzler believes that his team's height and athleticism will help it improve on last season, when it finished 5-19 overall, placed last in the OCC-Ohio and lost to sixth-seeded St. Charles 25-18, 25-14, 25-19 in its Division I East Region tournament opener.
The Shamrocks opened March 30, defeating Scioto in three games and losing to Pickerington North 25-23, 23-25, 25-16 and Lakota West 25-15, 25-23, and played Pickerington Central on April 1.
Coffman, which opened OCC-Ohio play April 2 against Hilliard Davidson, returns four starters in seniors Colin Hayes (middle hitter), Trent Rantala (outside hitter) and Kyle White (middle hitter) and junior Patrick Smith (libero).
Last season, Hayes was second-team all-league and Rantala was honorable mention all-league.
Also on the team are seniors Connor Patterson (libero) and Gus Williams (outside hitter), junior Jarrod Sotos (opposite hitter) and sophomores Michael Kim (setter), Evan Oates (opposite hitter) and Joel Sotos (setter).
Kim and Joel Sotos are expected to split the setting duties.
"This is one of the tallest and most athletic teams we've had," Saelzler said. "We have some big players in Hayes (6-foot-6), White (6-4) and Oates (6-3), so blocking will be a strength."
Last year, Coffman went 1-9 in the OCC-Ohio to finish sixth, behind Hilliard Darby (10-0), Davidson (8-2), Kilbourne (5-5), Thomas Worthington (4-6) and Upper Arlington (2-8).
Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Hilliard Bradley.
"We'd like to finish at least second or third in the OCC and make it to a regional semifinal this year because we've improved so much," Saelzler said.