The Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team will be seeking its third consecutive trip to the state tournament and its 12th consecutive OCC championship.

The Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team will be seeking its third consecutive trip to the state tournament and its 12th consecutive OCC championship.

Third-year coach Bryan Webb said he and his players have no reason to think they cannot accomplish both.

"Quite honestly, we'd be absolutely devastated if we did not make it to state," said Webb, whose team opens in the St. Charles tournament Friday, March 23, and Saturday, March 24. "Our kids and coaches feel we have the talent. We just need to make sure we execute and improve daily in practice.

"We'll have our biggest or second-biggest team that Darby has ever had since the program began in 1998. We'll have much better ball control than we've had, perhaps the best we've ever had. Last year we had five sophomores contribute greatly and that experience will pay dividends this year."

Darby finished 24-4 overall last year, losing to Cincinnati Moeller 21-25, 25-17, 25-16, 25-21 in a Division I state semifinal. The Panthers won the OCC-Ohio Division at 10-0, ahead of Hilliard Davidson (8-2), Dublin Coffman (5-5), Worthington Kilbourne (5-5), Upper Arlington (2-8) and Thomas Worthington (0-10).

Returning starters include juniors Thane Fanfulik (6-foot-5 setter), Jarrod Kelso (6-6 middle hitter) and Zach Kuebler (5-11 outside hitter). Kelso was honorable mention all-league last season.

Other returning letterwinners include seniors Cory Fitzsimmons (5-9 libero) and Stephen Yeager (6-3 middle hitter) and juniors Nic Baker (6-4 right-side hitter) and J.B. Brinkerhoff (6-5 outside hitter).

"We've got the best setter in the state for the next two years and as long as we can play balls to him, we'll be in great shape," Webb said. "The key will be our four primary passers in Fitzsimmons, Baker, Brinkerhoff and Kuebler. If we can pass to the target, we'll run as quick of an offense as we can."

Others hoping to contribute are juniors Eric Bowman (6-5 middle hitter), Steven Prosser (6-0 libero) and Clay Schmidt (6-6 middle hitter) and sophomore Jesse Print (6-2 outside hitter).

"This is the deepest team we've ever had," Webb said. "I'd venture to say that our six backups could play together as one of the top five teams in the East Region. I also really like the fact that we won't rely on one or two guys. We'll spread it around because of our depth and balance, and that's very important at this level.

"Last year, Moeller beat us with better ball control and one or two athletes. To get over the hump at state and bring home a championship, we have to have better ball control, better balance and good height. We have all those things. I truly believe that the only way we'll get beat is if we beat ourselves."

Wildcats trying to build on 2011 season

Davidson returns five letterwinners from a team that finished 21-7 overall and reached a Division I state quarterfinal before losing to Lakewood St. Edward 25-17, 25-18, 17-25, 25-16.

It marked the Wildcats' best record since 1991 when they won a state championship.

"It will be a little different this season in terms of the way we do things, but our expectations will still be there," said sixth-year coach Jay Cauley, whose team opens Tuesday, March 27, at home against Dublin Coffman. "We lost six seniors, most of whom earned all-Ohio or all-East Region honors. But we've averaged 17 wins a season in my five years and the goals are to win the league and return to state. Those are what we're striving for. It's where the kids want to go."

Senior captains Matt Briskey (setter/opposite hitter), Matt Exterovich (libero) and Matt Snyder (outside hitter) are expected to lead the way.

Seniors Jeremy Creager (opposite hitter/middle hitter) and Josh Martin (outside hitter) are the other returning letterwinners.

Creager, who is 6-5, will rotate at middle hitter with juniors Cameron Hunt (6-2) and Adam Mansour (6-4).

"All of our size was outside last year when we had very quick middles," Cauley said. "This year, for the first time since I've been here, we'll have size in the middle. All three of those guys are athletic. Hunt and Creger have played basketball and Mansour can touch 11 feet with his jump. So, like usual, we'll want to establish the middle and work out."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Heath Flowers (outside hitter) and Tommy Shannon (opposite hitter) and juniors Joe Jackson (outside hitter/setter/opposite hitter) and Bailey Witt (libero).

"Jackson will be our jack of all trades," Cauley said. "The keys for us will be ball control because we lost a lot last year with all-Ohio players Jordan Zickafoose (first team) and Craig Lantz (honorable mention).

"We need to have Martin, Snyder and Exterovich be willing to do most of the passing and embrace that role, and Snyder and Martin have to adjust to having every serve come their way."

Cauley also said Briskey will play a vital role.

"He's going to be doing a lot of the distribution and he's a lefty with a great arm swing for a setter," Cauley said. "We're not going to scare anybody on paper, but I like our chemistry, our mix and the group leans on each other, so we're capable of big things."

Cauley said Darby is not only the league favorite, but the favorite in the East Region.

"I think Gahanna, Bradley and us will be the three others looking to earn that second state berth," Cauley said. "Obviously, others could step up, but with Mount Vernon moving to Division II and Bradley coming up to Division I, based on what I know is coming back, that's the way I see it now."

Jaguars aiming to take next step in move to Division I

Bradley returns four starters and six letterwinners from a team that finished 11-8 overall last season and is preparing to compete in the Division I postseason for the first time.

The Jaguars were one win shy of reaching last year's Division II state tournament, as they fell to St. Charles 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, 25-22 in an East Region final.

"We didn't win one (tournament match) the first season and we finished one win short of state last year," second-year coach Zach Franklin said. "The hard part was losing to a team we beat in the regular season. It also stung a little more because we played great against the (Division II) state Player of the Year (Andy Sellan). But the other St. Charles players stepped up to beat us.

"Our guys were also frustrated because they beat us with a lot of tips, which isn't a very macho thing for 17-year-olds to handle. But we're motivated by that and it helped us believe in ourselves and was just a great building block for us."

Senior Evan Donnelly, a 6-2 middle hitter, returns after being second team all-league and all-region.

Senior John Hess (6-8) is back at right-side hitter, senior Ben Taylor returns at outside hitter and junior libero Eric Bell also returns.

Other letterwinners back are senior Mason Entingh (defensive specialist) and junior Elliott Bell (setter), who is Eric Bell's twin.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Craig Shimer (middle hitter) and Alex Talbott (outside hitter).

"We're smaller than last year and we'll use a ball-control offense with a quicker tempo to keep blockers on their toes," Franklin said. "The kids are already starting to pick up the offensive changes."

Bradley finished fourth (5-5) in the OCC-Capital last year, behind champion Mount Vernon (10-0), Gahanna (7-3) and Pickerington North (6-4) and ahead of Delaware (2-8) and Pickerington Central (0-10).