The first objective for this Newark Catholic High School girls volleyball team might be trying not to play like the last one.

The first objective for this Newark Catholic High School girls volleyball team might be trying not to play like the last one.

Outside hitter Jordan Stacey, who had 329 kills, graduated and has left to play basketball at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. Five others also graduated, including right-side hitter Mallory McKnight, whom coach Jeri Helfer said could be even harder to replace.

Both played pivotal roles a year ago as the Green Wave peaked at the right time, reaching a Division IV state semifinal and finishing 21-8 overall and third at 9-5 in the MSL-Ohio Division won by eventual Division III district-champion Heath and Division II regional finalist Bexley at 13-1 each. The Green Wave defeated Gilead Christian 25-11, 25-17, 25-12 to capture its fourth district championship in five years and Berlin Hiland 25-15, 25-14, 25-16 in the regional final.

"Every year is different. We have to keep that in mind," said Helfer, whose team will open Monday at Shekinah Christian and will open the league schedule Thursday at home against Lakewood, another defending Division III district champion. "But with so much back, well, it reflects the leadership we'll have. This is a fun group. I just want them to be their own team."

The Green Wave returns seven seniors. They include setter Laney Warthen, who totaled 803 assists, and libero Kenzie Egan, whose 421 digs were another key last season despite the attention the offense received. The others are defensive specialists Jenna Graves, Maria Campolo and Laura Gilmore, outside hitter Alyssa Frick and middle hitter Angela McNulty.

McNulty, who is 5-foot-10, and junior Erica Rath, who is 5-11, will play prominent roles as middle hitters. They totaled 39 and 40 blocks a year ago. Sophomore Abby Litts is a new right-side hitter for the Green Wave, which ended last season with a 25-9, 25-13, 25-14 loss to eventual champion Maria Stein Marion Local.

"We're more middle-oriented this year. Our focus has changed instead of going so much to the outside," said Helfer, who guided the Green Wave to the Division III state title in 2005 and another appearance in the final a year later. "We're hoping our middles set the tone early."

Helfer expects plenty of competition in the chase for the MSL-Ohio title.

"It's such a great league to be a part of; we love the atmosphere when you walk into the gym at Heath or Lakewood or Granville," Helfer said. "This league makes us better, no question. We saw that last year."