How inexperienced is the Newark Catholic High School girls volleyball team?

How inexperienced is the Newark Catholic High School girls volleyball team?

"Nobody we have has passed a ball during a varsity game," coach Jeri Helfer said. "That leaves us with a lot of work to do."

Last year's seniors included a bevy of defensive standouts, including setter Laney Warthen, who was named ThisWeek's Player of the Year. The Green Wave finished 26-2 overall, won the MSL-Ohio Division for the second time since joining the league in 2006 and advanced to the state tournament for the fourth time in five seasons. Warthen was the league and Division IV district Player of the Year and earned first-team all-state honors.

Other key losses included the graduation of libero Kenzie Egan and third-team all-state middle hitter Angela McNulty.

"Our kids just get so much better playing (junior-varsity) ball," said Helfer, whose team will open the season and MSL-Ohio schedule on Wednesday against visiting Columbus Academy. "So I feel we'll be OK."

The top returnees include seniors Courtney Lewis (right-side hitter), Averi Mason (outside hitter) and Erica Rath (middle hitter), junior Abby Litts (outside hitter) and sophomore Katie Harrington (outside hitter). Rath and Harrington lend size to the lineup at 5-foot-11 each.

Trouble is, none of those five played in the back row a year ago as the Green Wave saw a 15-match winning streak end with a 25-15, 14-25, 25-11, 25-27, 15-12 loss in a state semifinal against eventual-champion Maria Stein Marion Local. The Flyers also ousted Newark Catholic in straight sets in a state semifinal in 2007 en route to the championship.

"We're really working on our passing game," Helfer said. Her record entering her 10th season is 183-40 with a Division III state title in 2004. "We're young and not very experienced at some things, but we're talented. It's just going to take some time."

The setters in the new 6-2 formation are senior Emily Firich and junior Mia Carpenter. The six seniors also include defensive specialists Stephani Smith and Kelsey Schuler, and the revamped roster is rounded out by junior Abbi Morrow (middle/outside hitter) and sophomore Ali Scullion (outside hitter).

"These girls have worked hard and come up through our ranks," Helfer said. "It's the time now."

In the MSL-Ohio, Helfer said she thought Heath might be the team to beat again after the Bulldogs won the crown in 2007 and last year advanced to a Division III regional for a second consecutive season.

The Green Wave has returned to Division III for the first time since 2004, which makes the Bulldogs a possible postseason opponent as well.

"Heath is going to be very good," Helfer said. "Them and us and Lakewood, we should all be there battling to win the league, and then maybe we'll end up having to play Heath again. Division III is such a large district, though, so we'll see."