Despite making it to the state tournament for the first time a year ago, the Ready High School girls volleyball team rarely felt the weight of expectations this season.
That was the assessment of senior Karley Kusan after her team earned a Division III state runner-up finish for the first time.
In the state final Nov. 10 at Wright State, the Silver Knights lost 28-26, 25-15, 25-17 to Casstown Miami East, which won its second consecutive title.
"I never felt like we had pressure on us," Kusan said. "We were the underdogs a lot since we lost five seniors from last year. We got to the final four last year but people underestimated us all year."
The Silver Knights went 20-9 overall and 3-5 in the CCL to place behind DeSales (7-1), Hartley (6-2) and Watterson (4-4) and ahead of Columbus School for Girls (0-8).
Although Ready was a state semifinalist last season and beat eventual district runners-up Marion Pleasant (25-17, 29-27, 16-25, 25-20 on Aug. 25), Heath (16-25, 25-15, 25-27, 25-14, 15-4 on Sept. 8) and Gahanna (25-23, 22-25, 25-22 on Oct. 13) during the regular season, it was seeded just fifth for the district tournament.
The Silver Knights lost to eventual Division III state semifinalist Bloom-Carroll 23-25, 25-23, 25-20, 27-29, 20-18 on Sept. 17 and chose not to be in the same district bracket as the Bulldogs. Bloom-Carroll ended up losing to Miami East 27-25, 25-19, 25-15 in a state semifinal Nov. 9.
Ready opened the postseason with wins over Liberty Union (25-12, 25-18, 25-19 on Oct. 20) and North Union (25-17, 25-17, 25-14 on Oct. 23) before beating sixth-seeded Heath 25-20, 25-21, 25-14 on Oct. 27 to win its third consecutive district title.
The Silver Knights defeated Huron 25-22, 15-25, 25-21, 21-25, 15-13 in a regional semifinal Nov. 1 at Findlay and beat Coldwater 25-21, 25-18, 10-25, 25-23 in the regional final Nov. 3 at the same site to advance to state.
Ready then beat Orrville 25-23, 25-21, 25-21 in a state semifinal Nov. 9 at Wright State.
In the first game of the state final, there were 13 ties and four lead changes before Miami East won. The Silver Knights fell behind 14-4 in the second game.
Ready led 6-1 in the third game before Miami East again seized control.
It was the final match for a five-member senior class that included Kusan, who has verbally committed to Akron, as well as Ready's other starting outside hitter, Carly Culbertson. Senior Dani Mercer was the libero and classmate Miranda Ball was a starting middle hitter. Senior McKaylynn Fleshman also was a regular contributor.
"This senior class is the winningest four-year class in school history," said Mike Kusan, who earned his 100th career victory with the regular-season win over Heath and is 114-44 in six seasons as coach. "From their freshman through senior years, this class has 82 wins. All four years they got better, and that showed their leadership. We've set the bar really high for our program."
The top returnees next season should include junior setter Kaitlyn Keyes, junior defensive specialist Lauren Rivera and junior middle hitter Rose Thacker. Freshman Nicole Naporano saw action in both state tournament matches.
Junior Elisabeth Palazzo, sophomores Maggie Quinn and Meredith Rivers and freshman Morgan Ball are others who played in the state tournament.
Most of football team to return
Joel Cutler couldn't be happier with the improvement the football team made throughout his first season as coach this fall.
Ready, which went 4-6 in each of the previous two seasons, made the Division IV, Region 14 playoffs and finished 7-3 overall.
"If you'd have told me at the Jonathan Alder scrimmage (Aug. 8) that we'd be in the playoffs ... we left that scrimmage with a lot of work to do," Cutler said. "When you get a little confidence, things start to roll. We got off to a great start (in the regular season) and we didn't lose to any slouches."
Cutler, who took over in the offseason after being an assistant at Upper Arlington, got his first victory with a 34-20 win over Newark Catholic on Aug. 25.
Ready opened on a six-game winning streak before falling to Lima Central Catholic 31-13 on Oct. 6. The Silver Knights then beat Montpelier 45-0 on Oct. 13 before losing to Hartley 42-8 on Oct. 26 for the CCL-Gold Division title.
Ready earned the sixth seed for the playoffs and lost to Genoa Area 42-14 on Nov. 2 in a first-round game.
Hartley is playing for the Region 14 championship Friday, Nov. 16, and Lima Central Catholic and Genoa Area both lost in regional semifinals.
The only seniors were Luke Hackney (OL/DL), Michael Pozz (OL/DL) and Doug Strickler (RB/DB). Hackney and Strickler each made special mention all-district and Pozz was honorable mention.
Cutler was named district Coach of the Year.
Earning first-team all-district honors were juniors Brady Taylor (OL/DL) and Kelly Culbertson (WR/DB). Culbertson had 14 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns and was one of the area leaders in interceptions with nine.
Strickler rushed for 1,034 yards and 13 touchdowns and junior Akili Taylor, who also made special mention all-district, rushed for 1,125 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Matt Yoho, another special mention all-district honoree, was 69-for-133 passing for 1,085 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Sophomores Aiden Dulin (DB) and Connor Lancia (WR/DB) were honorable mention all-district. Lancia averaged 36.5 yards per punt and Dulin made 40 extra points and one field goal.
Junior Hunter Clanin was the leading receiver with 20 catches for 285 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore tight end Alex Eblin had 13 receptions for 251 yards and four scores.
Junior Austin Carnes (DB) had five interceptions and sophomore Alvin Knox (DL) had a team-best 74 tackles.
"I thought it was a really good year of improvement," Akili Taylor said. "We all made some personal decisions to work hard."