The challenge for this year's Upper Arlington High School girls volleyball team is to improve on 19 victories, a second-place finish in the OCC-Central Division and a postseason loss to an old nemesis.

The challenge for this year's Upper Arlington High School girls volleyball team is to improve on 19 victories, a second-place finish in the OCC-Central Division and a postseason loss to an old nemesis.

So how much will losing five players from a year ago, including one who now is playing at the Division I level in college, disturb that progression?

Second-year coach Matt Wion has reason to think the effect will be minimal.

The Golden Bears have two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, but Wion isn't dealing with as many unknowns as he otherwise might. As the eighth-grade coach at Hastings Middle School before taking the varsity job last year, Wion has up-close knowledge of the program at various levels - something he felt responsible for continuing after he changed levels.

"I worked as hard as I could last year to set the groundwork from the freshman team all the way up to the varsity," he said. "I had an opportunity to work with a lot of these girls last year, and a lot of them I coached in eighth grade. The groundwork is laid. Young players will make young mistakes, but the job is just getting past those mental errors and youthful mistakes."

UA went 19-5 overall last season, marking the most wins the program has had in the past 15 years. The Bears were 12-2 in the OCC-Central, two games behind undefeated league champion Dublin Coffman, and they advanced to a Division I district semifinal before losing 25-19, 25-15, 25-17 to Watterson, the second consecutive year the Eagles eliminated the Bears.

Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne tied for third in the OCC-Central at 9-5, ahead of Central Crossing (6-8), Hilliard Davidson (4-10), Hilliard Darby (2-12) and Westland (0-14).

The Bears lost middle hitters Ava Cramp and Sarah Allaire, outside hitters Madi Bernhardt and Katie Jones and libero Molly Lex to graduation. Cramp is playing at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

UA's two seniors are co-captain Kelly Hutchison, a 6-foot middle hitter who verbally committed to Kent State in June, and setter Kate Quinn, a two-year starter.

The other captain is defensive specialist Sydney Farwick, one of three juniors on the team. The others are her sister, Samantha, who also is a defensive specialist, and German exchange student Laura Hillebrand, an outside hitter.

Sophomores are middle hitter Ashley Murray, outside hitter Bailey Goins, opposite hitter Melanie McMillan and defensive specialist/setter Maria Grund. Rounding out the team is freshman outside hitter Brigid McKee.

"(The underclassmen) all have a lot of talent and are already good at listening," Hutchison said. "The big thing is confidence, getting them to believe in themselves and making sure they believe they've earned a spot on this team. They're all very capable of being just as great as anyone else here."

The Bears opened Aug. 30 at Thomas Worthington. Their home opener is Thursday, Sept. 1, against Kilbourne. Matches against Coffman loom Sept. 20 at home and Oct. 13 on the road, with the latter being the league finale for both teams.

How much those matter depends on how quickly the Bears jell.

"Our biggest focus is the team, being one unit on the court," Wion said. "With so many new faces mixed in with returning players, that's going to be our most difficult task is becoming that one unit out there, moving together, communicating together (and) knowing what everyone else is doing on the court and thinking. We had that jell last year because we had five seniors who had been together since middle school. That will be our toughest task, but that's what the program is focused on."