Olentangy Liberty High School girls volleyball coach Jen Chapman could tell that her team was somewhat intimidated during the first two games of its OCC-Central Division match Sept. 13 against Dublin Coffman.
The Patriots settled down and played well in the final two games of their 25-15, 25-15, 23-25, 25-19 loss to the Shamrocks. Chapman is hoping her team will get out to a much stronger start when it travels to Coffman on Tuesday, Oct. 9, for the second round of league play.
The Shamrocks, who defeated Liberty 25-21, 30-28, 25-15 in a Division I district final last season to capture their fifth consecutive district title, have won five consecutive OCC-Central championships and reached the state final in 2009 and 2010 before losing to Pickerington North 22-25, 16-25, 25-14, 26-24, 15-12 in a regional semifinal last season.
"Dublin Coffman's been one of the top teams in the state the past three years and I think our girls were caught up in playing their name the first two games," Chapman said. "We had a really slow start the first few games, but in game three, we realized that we not only can play with them, but we can beat them.
"If we play with that same kind of confidence from the beginning of our match at Coffman, I think we've got a shot at beating them."
The Shamrocks were 15-2 overall and 10-0 in the OCC-Central before playing Central Crossing on Oct. 2. They feature four third-year starters in seniors McKenzie Bailey (outside hitter), Cassie Hausfeld (middle hitter/outside hitter) and Jenn Vargo (setter) and junior Beatrice Hannan (middle hitter/outside hitter).
Last season, Hausfeld was named first-team all-district and OCC-Central Player of the Year. Vargo, a Duquesne University recruit, was second-team all-district and all-league last year.
"Coffman has everyone but their libero back and they have consistent players in every position, so it's hard to find what their weaknesses are," Chapman said. "We just have to focus on our own strengths because we've been playing well for most of the season. Our team chemistry is really strong and we've been successful when we get a lot of different players contributing."
Liberty went 3-0 in the Wolves Invitational on Sept. 15 at Worthington Kilbourne to win the event for the third consecutive year. The Patriots beat Dublin Jerome 25-13, 25-12, Grove City 20-25, 25-16, 25-20 in a semifinal and Kilbourne 25-19, 18-25, 25-22 in the final.
Liberty was 12-3 overall and 9-1 in the OCC-Central before playing Westland on Oct. 2.
"I wasn't sure what to expect because we lost five seniors (from last season) who were on the court most of the time, but I've been pleasantly surprised with how well we've played," said Chapman, whose team moved from the OCC-Cardinal to the OCC-Central this fall as part of OCC realignment. "Winning the Kilbourne tournament again was a big highlight for us, and I'm happy with how well we've played in our new conference."
According to Chapman, Stephanie Ruffing and Kayla Pfaff were leading the Patriots in kills through 15 matches, while Kelsi Robinson was the leader in assists, Kenna Koehler was the leader in digs and Pfaff led in blocks.
"Stephanie has been one of the best outside hitters in our conference and she's made a big difference for us," Chapman said. "Kenna Koehler and Alex Silvestri are doing a good job defensively, too."
Pioneers continue to show improvement
Orange won only four of its first 12 matches, but coach Jessica Timmons said the Pioneers have continued to make steady progress.
Timmons said the highlight of the season through 12 matches was how well the Pioneers played in a 21-25, 25-20, 25-23, 19-25, 15-5 loss to New Albany on Sept. 20 in an OCC-Capital match.
"You can't judge us only by our record because of where we started," Timmons said. "Our passing has gotten so much better, especially our serve reception and digging, and we're having moments of greatness.
"We played very well against a tough New Albany team until the fifth game. That's when our youth reared its ugly head and we played not to lose instead of playing to win."
Orange defeated Westerville South 22-25, 25-22, 26-24 on Sept. 29 at Centerburg. It was a special victory for Timmons, who played at South under her father, Bob Price, who coached the Wildcats for 24 years.
Price led the Wildcats to 16 league championships and 11 district titles before stepping down after the 2007 season.
"I just wish the match was at Westerville South because I was raised in that gym," Timmons said. "That program was such a dynasty under my dad and it was bittersweet to beat Westerville South because there's such a special history for my family at that school."
Through 10 matches, among the Pioneers' leaders were Abby Fordham (75 digs, 81 kills), Jordan Gels (62 kills), Mackenzie Gossard (13 aces, 13 solo blocks) and Tyler Folds (104 assists, 58 digs).
"Mackenzie has done a great job serving zones," Timmons said. "Our libero (Kerstin Vojacek) runs down balls all over the court and our middle hitter (Zahara Harrison) is jumping out of the gym. Abby Fordham and Jordan Gels have done a great job adjusting on the outside as our setters are learning to be generals on the court."