The Newark High School girls volleyball team's undisputed star is 6-foot sophomore outside hitter Annie Thomasson. She who made quite a first impression last year when she earned Division I first-team all-district and honorable-mention all-state honors.

The Newark High School girls volleyball team's undisputed star is 6-foot sophomore outside hitter Annie Thomasson. She who made quite a first impression last year when she earned Division I first-team all-district and honorable-mention all-state honors.

That being said, individual awards are and always have been a secondary measure of success in coach Ruth Sunkle's system.

"The key for us is developing our chemistry," said Sunkle, whose team finished 13-11 overall a year ago following a 25-23, 25-18, 27-25 loss against fifth-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a district semifinal. "We can't play 12 girls at a time, obviously, but it's important they all realize their roles. We have to focus on the team goals."

Seeking their first district title since 2000, the Wildcats are switching from a 5-1 to a 6-2 offense behind senior setter McKenzie Wheeler and sophomore setter Rachel Carpenter. Two other sophomores, Brooke Paul and Crystal Kean, are expected to be the middle hitters.

"We're still pretty young," said Sunkle, who graduated only two players. "We've got potential, but we have four sophomores who are going to get a lot of playing time. The varsity kids need to play to that level."

Young or not, the Wildcats went 9-3 in the OCC-Ohio Division a year ago to place second behind four-time champion Pickerington North (12-0). Lancaster (8-4), Gahanna (6-6), Reynoldsburg (4-8), Groveport (1-11) and Pickerington Central (1-11) followed. Grove City rejoins the mix this fall.

"North is loaded again. Hopefully, we'll give them some better matches this year," Sunkle said. "We need to play good defense and run our offense around that, touch a lot of balls."

The defensive specialists are senior Jaynee Hiegel and junior Allie Kreager, who made second-team all-district but is just now working her way back from a wrist injury. Senior Alexa Hunt, who plays in the front row, likely will miss the first two weeks as she rehabs a heel injury. The other seniors are right-side hitter Courtni Barnhart, outside hitter Courtney Galligher and right-side hitter Emily Prescott, who played in the middle a year ago. Galligher transferred from Hillsdale. Junior Erica Spurgeon also is on the roster.

Still, everything revolves around Thomasson, who made the all-tournament team this summer playing with the Columbus Volleyball Academy club team out of Dublin as CVA placed third at the Junior Nationals in Reno, Nev.

"She's bigger, she's stronger and her vertical (jump) is better," Sunkle said. "She's just maturing. Last year was just a precursor to what she's capable of."

•Watkins Memorial has a new coach in Holly (Schetzsle) Owens, who replaced Tori Fedak.

Owens, a 2001 graduate who played as a freshman when the Warriors advanced to the state tournament in 1997, knows little else except success. She played on three league-championship teams at Watkins and later contributed on three MAC-winning teams at Ohio University.

Her immediate goals at Watkins are modest nonetheless.

"Right now we're just trying to get back to being competitive," said Owens, who served as an assistant under Fedak the past two seasons. "Eventually, though, we'd like to bring the program back to where it was when (current Hilliard Davidson) coach (Betty) Cameron was here."

Seniors Kayla Zellers, who plays the libero position, and Halle Cheplowitz, another defensive specialist, are the captains. The other seniors are outside hitter Mallory Warrington and setter Randi Casto. Another senior, Alisan Miller, will miss the season following shoulder surgery.

Others to look for include juniors Brittany Cook, Morgan Napier, Taylor Livingston and Erica Newsom and freshman Brianna Morris.

The Warriors managed only three victories a year ago and their last winning season was in 2003 (15-8). They were 0-12 in the OCC-Capital last year and finished behind Big Walnut (12-0), Hilliard Bradley (10-2), New Albany (7-5), Delaware (7-5), Mount Vernon (3-9) and Olentangy Orange (3-9). Franklin Heights rejoins the division this year.

"We've got a great group of girls who worked hard this summer getting ready," Owens said. "My definition of success, at least right now, is based on improvement and learning - not wins and losses."



Schedules
NEWARK
*Aug. 31 - at Gahanna *Sept. 2 - vs. Reynoldsburg Sept. 4 - at Hilliard Davidson *Sept. 7 - at Groveport *Sept. 9 - at Grove City Sept. 11 - at Westchester Lakota West *Sept. 14 - vs. Pickerington Central *Sept. 16 - at Pickerington North Sept. 18 - Newark Invitational *Sept. 21 - vs. Lancaster *Sept. 23 - vs. Gahanna *Sept. 28 - at Reynoldsburg *Sept. 30 - vs. Groveport *Oct. 5 - vs. Grove City *Oct. 7 - at Pickerington Central Oct. 9 - at Independence *Oct. 12 - vs. Pickerington North *Oct. 14 - at Lancaster *OCC-Ohio match

WATKINS MEMORIAL
*Aug. 31 - at Big Walnut *Sept. 2 - vs. New Albany Sept. 4 - vs. Johnstown with Heath *Sept. 7 - at Delaware *Sept. 9 - vs. Olentangy Orange Sept. 11 - at Licking Valley with Utica *Sept. 14 - vs. Mount Vernon *Sept. 16 - at Franklin Heights *Sept. 21 - vs. Hilliard Bradley *Sept. 23 - vs. Big Walnut Sept. 25 - vs. Pickerington Central with Whitehall Sept. 27 - at Amanda-Clearcreek *Sept. 28 - at New Albany *Sept. 30 - vs. Delaware Oct. 2 - at Lakewood *Oct. 5 - at Olentangy Orange *Oct. 7 - at Mount Vernon Oct. 9 - at Independence *Oct. 12 - vs. Franklin Heights *Oct. 14 - at Hilliard Bradley *OCC-Capital match