One of the things first-year Ready High School football coach Joel Cutler did after taking over the program in the offseason was mix up his players' conditioning partners.
With only three seniors and with players who live in various communities throughout central Ohio, Cutler believed it was important to get creative in terms of building camaraderie.
Having a junior class with players like Kelly Culbertson, whose family has long ties to Ready, helped to enhance those ideas in what has become a bounce-back season.
"I just think we've got good leadership," Culbertson said. "We're all just a big family and we all just try to pick each other up. It just proves that we have a really tight (junior) class and we don't need a lot of seniors to be a great team."
After going 4-6 in each of the last two seasons, Ready was ranked ninth in last week's Division IV state poll and was second in the Region 14 computer ratings.
Culbertson's brother, Cody, made ThisWeek Super 25 honorable mention as a senior in 2009 when Ready last made the playoffs and is a 2010 graduate now playing for Ohio Dominican University. Their sister, Carly, is a senior for the girls volleyball team, which advanced to the Division III state tournament for the first time last fall.
Their parents also attended Ready.
Ready, which defeated Wheeling (W.Va.) Linsly 32-0 on Sept. 29 to improve to 6-0, plays Saturday, Oct. 6, at Lima Central Catholic, which was third in last week's Division V state poll.
Kelly Culbertson's skills on both sides of the ball haven't hurt.
In a 72-20 win Sept. 21 over Coal Grove Dawson-Bryant, he scored on a 12-yard pass from Matt Yoho and a 9-yard run, and added a pair of two-point conversions.
He also had two interceptions against Dawson-Bryant to give him an area-best seven through five games.
Culbertson played mostly on offense as a freshman and started last season at cornerback but had no interceptions.
He started at cornerback for Ready's first five games before moving to free safety against Linsly.
"He's a ball hawk," Cutler said. "He comes from a real strong family with his brother playing football here, and his older sister is a pretty darn good volleyball player. He's the next one in line. He's a competitor and truly leads by example. He goes as hard as he can every time he's in there."
Other standouts through the season's first five weeks were running backs Akili Taylor and Doug Strickler and Yoho at quarterback. Taylor had rushed for 632 yards and eight touchdowns and Strickler had 568 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Yoho had completed 37 of 55 yards for 695 yards.
"They're a special bunch," Cutler said. "They don't talk about the last win but just talk about the areas they need to improve on."
Girls volleyball team 'on track'
Carly Culbertson has joined classmate Karley Kusan in leading the girls volleyball team's strong start.
The Silver Knights lost to Hartley 22-25, 26-24, 24-26, 25-23, 15-7 on Sept. 25 but defeated Columbus School for Girls 25-10, 25-16, 25-8 on Sept. 27 to improve to 10-4 overall before playing DeSales on Oct. 2 in another CCL match.
Ready lost to Bloom-Carroll 23-25, 25-23, 25-20, 27-29, 20-18 on Sept. 17 but rallied from early deficits to beat Watterson 25-27, 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-9 on Sept. 20 and Hilliard Bradley 9-25, 25-16, 25-18 on Sept. 22.
Bloom-Carroll was fourth in last week's Division III state poll, and Ready also received votes. Hartley was eighth and Bradley was ninth in Division II.
"We are on track," said coach Mike Kusan, who picked up his 100th career victory in a 16-25, 25-15, 25-27, 25-14, 15-4 win over Heath on Sept. 8. "I'm very pleased with where we're at with the schedule we've had. We've gotten a lot of big wins over very good teams with very good records. (Five) of our matches (before Oct. 2) have already gone to a fifth game and we upset Watterson."
In addition to Culbertson and Karley Kusan, coach Kusan has been pleased with the play and serving of senior libero Dani Mercer and with the improvement of senior middle hitters Miranda Ball and Rose Thacker.
"We have a lot of confidence, and our seniors are a big part of that," coach Kusan said. "At Bloom-Carroll we had 20 missed serves, but we had 13 or 14 aces. Since we're undersized, we have to make the other team uncomfortable in their offense and serving is a way to do that. I've just said, 'Rip it and go for the ace.' "
Season ends for boys golf team
The boys golf team placed seventh (356) in the 11-team Division II sectional tournament Sept. 25 at Granville Golf Course behind district-qualifiers Bexley (320), Caledonia River Valley (332) and Lakewood (347).
Senior Kris Clarke shot 83 but missed advancing as an individual by one stroke. Also competing for the Silver Knights were senior Spencer Heselden (87), junior Nick Siepel (90) and sophomores Jason Horn (96) and Quentin Handley (104).
Junior Antonio Pulsinelli also was a key contributor this season.
The Silver Knights had five girls compete this fall, including senior Kelsey McFarland and freshman Alicia Lundy. Coach Don Worstell hopes there will be enough interest to have a separate girls team next fall.
"We played a practice round (earlier in the week) and played pretty well, although I thought we were going to have to play above our heads to make it (to district)," Worstell said. "Golf is such an individual game that requires so much work to be good at it, so hopefully they'll work hard in the offseason."