After losing almost all of the lineup from last season to graduation, the Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team knew reaching the Division I state tournament would be a challenge.

After losing almost all of the lineup from last season to graduation, the Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team knew reaching the Division I state tournament would be a challenge.

A coaching change during the season did nothing to improve its odds, and even after winning two postseason games, the East Region final last Saturday against Worthington Kilbourne wasn't a great matchup for Darby. Kilbourne beat Darby twice during the regular season, most recently 25-23, 25-19, 27-25 on April 30.

Still, for a fifth consecutive season, the Panthers will travel to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit for the state tournament Saturday and Sunday, thanks to a 25-19, 16-25, 25-21, 25-21 win over Kilbourne in a regional final at Davidson.

"We've continued to talk more and more about how unique of a season this has been, as far as the circumstances and the way things have played out," coach Joe Ross said.

"But at the end of the day, everyone came together and earned their way to go up to Cleveland next week and play, just a couple matches away from the state championship."

The Panthers will open against Cincinnati Moeller in a quarterfinal. The winner will play Sunday against West Chester Lakota West or Lakewood St. Edward in a semifinal, and the winner of that will play Sunday against Mount Vernon, Cincinnati Elder, Cleveland St. Ignatius or Centerville.

Moeller, which was the top seed in the South Region, beat Cincinnati La Salle 25-16, 25-20, 25-16 in its regional final. Moeller is 21-3, with its two in-state losses coming against Cincinnati St. Xavier. Moeller beat Darby 25-19, 25-17, 25-15 at the Centerville Elite Tournament on April 25.

"It's not going to be easy, but that's the exciting part about it," Ross said. "We've earned our way to have a chance to do something special. We can't get caught up in it if we lose a game or the other team comes with a run of five points or something."

Ross said the Panthers had their most complete match against Kilbourne. They did have to make some adjustments, however, to negate Kilbourne's blockers, including 6-foot-8 Colin Hackworth.

"We tried to hold their middles a little bit longer, so when we flipped it to the outside, instead of having Hackworth and another middle setting up a double block on us, we were hoping we could just get it to a single on the outside," Ross said. "We were pretty confident with our outside hitters being able to hit around Hackworth if we just had him out there."

•Davidson improved on its postseason performance of last season but still came up one match short of reaching the state tournament.

The Wildcats beat Gahanna 25-18, 25-18, 25-10 in a regional semifinal May 20 but lost to Mount Vernon 25-17, 25-6, 22-25, 25-18 in a final last Saturday. Davidson had beaten Mount Vernon 25-21, 25-23, 25-22 on March 28, but coach Jay Cauley said a sluggish start last Saturday was too much to overcome.

"I don't know if some of the guys got caught up in the fact that it was a regional final," he said. "There were a little nerves, a little adrenaline. But we played pretty poor in games one and two. I thought we played pretty well in games three and four. I thought that was a true representation of how our team has been playing."

The Wildcats finished 17-9 overall. Of the eight teams that reached state, Davidson played six during the regular season.

In the OCC-Buckeye, Davidson was third at 6-4 behind Kilbourne (10-0) and Darby (8-2) and ahead of Dublin Coffman (4-6), Upper Arlington (2-8) and Thomas Worthington (0-10).

The Wildcats will lose five seniors, including all-state performers Brandon Bowers and Brian Lantz. Bowers, a three-year letterwinner at outside hitter, made second-team all-state, and Bowers, a three-year letterwinner at middle hitter, made honorable mention all-state. Both made first-team all-OCC and all-region.

Bowers was injured late in the season and was less than 100 percent for the regional final, his first match back.

Davidson also will lose setter Casey Null, middle-hitter Jordan Flowers and opposite Sam Hutter. Null, a three-year letterwinner, made second-team all-OCC and honorable mention all-region.

Junior outside hitter David Carraher leads a deep group of underclassmen. Also expected back next season are juniors Michael Mikola (libero), Andrew Faulkner (libero), Andrew Deas (middle hitter), Bobby Powell (opposite) and Cameron Brown (setter) and sophomore Jordan Zickafoose (outside hitter). All saw significant action this season.

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Darby boys volleyball team:

*April 28 -- Defeated Upper Arlington 25-13, 21-25, 25-22, 25-22

*April 28 -- Lost to Worthington Kilbourne 25-23, 25-19, 27-25

May 2 -- Lost to Cincinnati Elder 25-22, 25-14, 25-23

*May 5 -- Def. Davidson 25-15, 25-17,24-26, 18-25, 15-7

*May 7 -- Def. Thomas Worthington 25-6, 25-4, 25-19

May 9 -- Def. Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-21, 25-17; lost to Centerville 25-18, 25-15

May 12 -- Def. Olentangy Liberty 25-17, 25-18, 25-19

May 16 -- Def. Delaware 25-12, 25-13, 25-18 in first round of Division I East Region tournament

May 20 -- Def. Dublin Coffman 23-25, 25-10, 25-18, 20-25, 15-12 in regional semifinal

Last Saturday -- Def. Kilbourne 25-19, 16-25, 25-21, 25-21 in regional final

Saturday -- At Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit vs. Cincinnati Moeller in state quarterfinal. The winner will play West Chester Lakota West or Lakewood St. Edward in a semifinal Sunday. That winner will play in the final Sunday against Mount Vernon, Elder, St. Ignatius or Centerville.

Of note: The Panthers are 14-8 overall and finished 8-2 in the OCC-Buckeye.

*OCC-Buckeye match

At a glance

DAVIDSON

•Record: 17-9 overall, 6-4 (third) in OCC-Buckeye

•Seniors lost: Brandon Bowers, Jordan Flowers, Sam Hutter, Brian Lantz and Casey Null

•Key returnees: Cameron Brown and David Carraher