The Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team learned from its mistakes April 20 in a loss at Cincinnati Moeller.
The Panthers, ranked second in last week's Division I state poll, lost to top-ranked Moeller 25-19, 22-25, 26-24, 15-25, 15-10. On April 27, the Panthers avenged the loss by beating the Crusaders 25-20, 21-25, 25-22, 25-14 in the championship match of the Centerville Elite Tournament.
"This was a great weekend for us," coach Bryan Webb said. "We played a lot better and we didn't make the same mistakes we did the last time."
Darby, which lost to Moeller 25-20, 25-10, 25-17 in the state final last season after losing to the Crusaders in four games in a state semifinal in 2011, was 15-2 overall and 8-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Davidson on April 30.
"We gave up big leads in the first game and third game (against Moeller on April 20)," Webb said. "It wasn't one particular area where we fell apart. It was a culmination of poor execution in hitting, blocking, serving and passing. We led 15-7 in the first game and 18-10 in the third. We won a clear-cut victory, 25-15, in the fourth game."
Webb made sure that Darby played a challenging schedule to prepare for the postseason, which begins May 10. The regional tournament draw will be held Monday, May 6. The Panthers are seeking their fourth consecutive state appearance.
"We wanted to play some of the top teams in the state and we got to play at (Moeller)," Webb said. "We wanted to go into their den and see how we'd perform. We did a lot of nice things. We just didn't execute down the stretch and put them away. But it was a great learning experience."
Also in the Centerville Elite Tournament, Darby beat 11th-ranked Cincinnati St. Xavier 25-15, 25-16, 25-19 to reach a semifinal, where it defeated fifth-ranked Lakewood St. Edward 25-22, 25-15, 25-16 to advance to the final.
The Panthers also beat St. Edward 25-21, 25-21, 25-15 on April 6. That same day, they defeated seventh-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-17, 25-12, 23-25, 25-14 and Akron Hoban 25-14, 25-9, 25-16.
Hoban was ranked fifth last week in Division II.
Darby's other loss came in the Wheaton (Ill.) Warrenville South Tiger Classic on March 30.
"What I like about this team is that we have nine guys competing for six spots on the floor and they're all pushing each other every day," Webb said. "We have depth and options. They're good athletes and play year-round. They're determined to win and they're focused. There's very little goofing around in practices."
According to Webb, senior setter Thane Fanfulik and senior middle hitter Jarrod Kelso have been leading the way for the Panthers.
"With eight seniors who have played together for six years, we think this is the year we'll break through," Kelso said. "We were a little immature last year and have grown up this year. We think we have a good chance to win it all. In fact, the way we think, it's our championship to lose."
Darby will play host to Bradley on Thursday, May 2, to close out OCC-Ohio play. It then will play host to fourth-ranked Cincinnati Elder on Saturday, May 4.
The Panthers, who beat Bradley 25-13, 25-11, 25-14 on April 16, lost only one game in their first eight league matches. That came in a 25-12, 19-25, 25-16, 26-24 win over Thomas Worthington on April 9.
Davidson looking to peak at 'right time'
Hovering around .500 wasn't the goal Davidson set before the start of the season.
The Wildcats were 10-8 overall and 6-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Darby on April 30, and coach Jay Cauley attributes their overall record to a challenging schedule.
"I think we've really grown by playing this schedule and with us being so young," he said. "Our first seven losses were all to teams who were in the state tournament last season, I believe. We keep competing and getting better and better, so the goal is to be peaking at the right time and that's coming up pretty quickly."
On April 6, Davidson lost to three state-ranked teams in St. Ignatius (25-15, 25-16, 24-11), Hoban (25-17, 25-18, 25-22) and St. Edward (25-21, 21-25, 25-22, 27-25).
The Wildcats' other losses came against Bradley (22-25, 25-21, 14-25, 25-22, 19-17 on April 9), Clayton Northmont (25-14, 25-17 on April 12), Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (21-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-22 on April 20) and Cincinnati Oak Hills (25-20, 25-19, 25-18 on April 26).
Oak Hills and Northmont were ranked sixth and eighth, respectively, in the Division I state poll last week. Walsh Jesuit was ranked third in Division II.
Davidson's league losses came against Bradley (22-25, 25-21, 14-25, 25-22, 19-17 on April 9) and Darby (25-21, 25-16, 25-9 on April 11). The Wildcats won the second meeting with the Jaguars, 26-24, 23-25, 25-21, 25-23 on April 25.
According to Cauley, senior middle hitters Cameron Hunt and Adam Mansour have been leading the way for the Wildcats.
"Both of those guys have played a lot of volleyball and are very dynamic in the middle," Cauley said. "They are more than capable, perhaps among the best in the region, when we can get them the ball. They also block well for us and that helps our back row tremendously."
Cauley also lauded the play of twins Jake Russell (setter) and Josh Russell (outside hitter). Both are sophomores.
"They're both good athletes and strong competitors," Cauley said. "Jake is really starting to get comfortable running the offense with three or four hitters around him. Josh, although undersized at 6-foot, has a lot of responsibility and is doing a good job outside for us. He's done very well in terms of passing."
Bradley gets another chance against Darby
Bradley will conclude OCC-Ohio play Thursday, May 2, at Darby.
The Jaguars, who were 7-5 overall and 6-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Dublin Coffman on April 30, lost in three games to the Panthers in the first round of league play.
"We struggled against Darby the first time because we don't have great matchups against them," coach Zach Franklin said. "We don't block a ton and we rely on our defense, but Darby has a lot more firepower and we couldn't do anything against their size.
"We're smaller than we usually are, but I still believe we have a chance to get to state. After Darby, three other teams go to state. Davidson, us, Gahanna, Olentangy Liberty and Pickerington North will be fighting for those spots, I think."
Bradley made its first state appearance last season, losing to Moeller 25-11, 25-15, 25-17 in a Division I state quarterfinal.
According to Franklin, senior twins Eric Bell (setter) and Elliott Bell (libero) have been leading the Jaguars.
"Those two have been consistent and outstanding," Franklin said.
"Elliott stepped up his offense and has been going and getting kills on his own when we've been struggling. Eric is one of the best liberos in the Columbus area because he can pass and dig. Many liberos are good at one or the other, but not both. Eric is. He has also really stepped up as a captain and is communicating very well."