When describing last season's Hilliard Davidson High School boys volleyball team, setter Brian Lawless put it simply.
"We just threw a bunch of guys on the court and played volleyball," said Lawless, a senior who was honorable mention all-OCC-Cardinal Division a year ago.
"It was especially tough after we reached (a state quarterfinal) the year before."
But last season's finish at 10-15 overall under coach Jay Cauley, then in his first season, is merely a bad memory.
The Wildcats at 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before last Tuesday's showdown with Worthington Kilbourne have put their program back among the state's top teams.
Davidson in last week's state poll was eighth behind first-place Cincinnati Elder and fourth-place Hilliard Darby and ahead of ninth-place Kilbourne, which it defeated 20-25, 25-17, 25-8, 25-22 on April 3.
The turnaround can be credited to 10 returning starters.
"I think our senior leadership has really helped us," said Cauley, whose team faces Westerville South today in league play.
"Compared to last year, our outside hitters have been much more consistent and much more effective. We just seem to be extremely balanced at every position right now and we're very, very deep."
Along with the experience comes team chemistry, which Cauley admits he questioned before this season.
"I think a lot of guys playing club really helped us in the offseason," said Lawless, who is averaging 8.4 assists per match
"We all just connect on the floor and it's really helping us. I think any of us are capable of playing any position."
There have been different heroes every match.
"Jon Whitacre and Eric Knapp on the right side have both done good things for us at different times," Cauley said.
"Sophomore David Carraher had a huge match against Worthington Kilbourne (on April 3) and Brandon Bowers just keeps getting better and better every match."
Before last Tuesday, the Wildcats' loss was to Centerville (18-25, 20-25, 20-25 on April 12), which was sixth in last week's state poll.
•The schedule for Darby so far has been loaded with powerhouse programs and more await, including those at Saturday's Centerville Elite, which features Cincinnati Moeller, Cincinnati St. Xavier and Elder, the top three teams in Ohio.
Coach Shawn Parsell, whose team was 10-4 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio before last Tuesday's match against Upper Arlington, usually puts together a tough schedule, but this season, he admits, has been the most grueling.
All four losses were to ranked teams, including Elder twice (23-25, 21-25 on March 29; 19-25, 30-28, 17-25, 20-25 on April 19), Cleveland St. Ignatius (14-25, 25-21, 33-35 on April 5) and Moeller (25-9, 17-25, 21-25, 22-25 on April 11).
"The losses have been close and we've beaten some good teams, including (Akron Hoban)," Parsell said.
"We've tried to prepare ourselves for the next level and we've got to be challenged to do that.I know our kids haven'tbeen shaken one bit by those losses."
Moeller ended Darby's season a year ago at 22-5 overall with a win in a state semifinal before defeating Elder in the title match. Moeller won state championships in 2004 and 2005. St. Xavier won it in 2006.
On May 9, Darby plays host to Davidson.
At a glance
Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Darby and Davidson boys volleyball teams:
*April 15 -- Defeated Thomas Worthington 25-10, 25-14, 25-6
*April 17 -- Def. Dublin Coffman 25-11, 25-16, 25-16
Last Saturday -- Lost to Cincinnati Elder 19-25, 30-28, 17-25, 20-25
*Last Tuesday -- Played Upper Arlington
Saturday -- At Centerville Elite
*Tuesday -- At Gahanna. Darby won 25-23, 25-20, 25-11 on April 10.
Of note: The Panthers were 10-4 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio before last Tuesday. They were fourth behind No. 1 Elder in last week's state poll.
April 16 -- Def. UA 25-15, 25-13, 25-16
*April 17 -- Def. Dublin Scioto 25-6, 25-7, 25-14
*Last Tuesday -- Played Worthington Kilbourne
Last Wednesday -- Played Delaware
*Today -- At Westerville South. Davidson won 25-12, 25-9, 25-4 on April 8.
Saturday -- At tournament at Pickerington Central
*Tuesday -- At Pickerington North. Davidson won 25-12, 25-14, 25-17 on April 10.
Of note: The Wildcats were 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Tuesday. They were eighth in last week's state poll.