Considering the ties each of them already have with one another, the new girls volleyball coaches at Westerville's three high schools agree that there is added excitement to having each team compete in the OCC-Cardinal Division.

Considering the ties each of them already have with one another, the new girls volleyball coaches at Westerville's three high schools agree that there is added excitement to having each team compete in the OCC-Cardinal Division.

There also seems to be no disagreement about what team is the favorite in the league -- Olentangy. The Braves, who went 17-8 a year ago, are led by 6-foot-2 senior Kristen Farris, who has signed with Kent State.

Although Westerville South earned a share of the OCC-Cardinal title with Worthington Kilbourne at 8-2 last year and Olentangy was 7-3, Westerville Central has the most returning experience of the area's three teams.

"Olentangy is the definitely the leader and Central has a good team," South coach Tim Caldwell said. "It'll definitely be interesting."

Caldwell was Central's coach for its first five seasons before stepping down last October. He took over at South in July when Bob Price -- who had headed the Wildcats' program since 1983 -- retired from coaching at the end of the 2007 season.

Shaun Servick took over for Caldwell at Central and Aaron Hastings is the new coach at North after Alisa Burdette resigned after her sixth season last November.

Hastings and Servick are among the coaching staff of the Mintonette Sports club volleyball program, which lists Caldwell and Hartley coach Max Miller as directors.

"It's going to be a fun league," Servick said. "Olentangy is a big front-runner in my mind. They're big and athletic. I think we can be in the top half and compete."

Central -- which opened last Tuesday at South and plays today at North, Saturday at the Madison Plains tournament and Tuesday at Marysville -- finished 13-10 overall last year.

The Warhawks tied Marysville, another new member of the OCC-Cardinal, for second behind Pickerington North (10-0) in the OCC-Central.

Dara Toman, a 5-foot-11 senior who has signed to play softball at Cleveland State, will lead an outside attack that also includes seniors Erica Dye and Rhayne Smitherman and junior Jamiee Neal. Senior Hannah Byers will split time between outside hitter and defensive specialist.

Kaela Mains is back at setter and is joined in the senior class by Colleen Leach (defensive specialist) and Nicole Lorenz (libero). Rounding out the roster are junior middle hitters Haley Agee and Molly Baatz.

Smitherman is out until mid-September with an ankle injury.

Central lost to Dublin Jerome 25-19, 25-16, 25-16 in the first round of the Division I tournament last season, the second consecutive year it failed to win a postseason match.

"Offensively I like a lot of balance," said Servick, who coached Bexley to a Division II regional runner-up finish and 25 wins a year ago. "You want people on the outside to put balls away. We're basically set up better to be more defensively strong. It's just much better to have your athletic kids play on the left side."

Caldwell takes over a program at South that won 16 OCC and 10 district titles and went 486-127 under Price.

The Wildcats went 20-5 overall last fall and were the ninth seed for the district tournament, where they lost to eventual district champion Dublin Scioto 25-18, 25-4, 25-23 in a semifinal. Scioto is another team which has joined the OCC-Cardinal, but the Irish have a new coach in Amber Brown.

South, which opened last Tuesday at home against Central and plays Tuesday at Jerome, returns three seniors in Leah Boatright (outside hitter), Katherine Calo (setter) and Dara Littig (middle hitter).

Also on the team are juniors Kaelyn Bildsten, Kaitlyn Boroff, Kaitlyn Frair, Hannah Grohoske, Mackenzie McDonald, Amanda Muth, Kara Raino, Jennifer Rockwood and Rachel Ross and sophomore Breona Colley. Boroff will join Littig at middle hitter, Colley, Grohoske, McDonald and Rockwood are other outside hitters and Bildsten and Frair are right-side hitters.

"Dara is nearly 6-0 and she's pretty strong. She's probably going to be one of the strongest middles around," Caldwell said. "We're in a transition year. For us to win ballgames, we have to work twice as hard as everybody else."

North won a district championship in 2003 in Burdette's second season, but that was its last winning season. The Warriors improved from 4-18 in 2006 to 9-14 last year, including 6-4 in the OCC-Buckeye to take third behind Dublin Coffman (9-1) and Hilliard Davidson (8-2).

North, which opened last Tuesday against Jerome and plays today at Central and Tuesday against visiting Scioto, has five returning players. Kelsey Bovenizer is back for her fourth season at setter and is joined in the senior class by Cameron Kahle (middle hitter), Meagen Lutz (middle hitter) and Emily Saunders (libero). Junior Caitie Kilbane (outside hitter) is another returnee.

New to the team are juniors Kelli Gongwer (right-side hitter) and Jenny Marrymen (outside hitter) and sophomores Alex Reed (defensive specialist) and Jordan Senner (outside hitter).

Senior outside-hitter Christine Frazier, who also was expected to be a key returnee, is out for the next four to six weeks with a broken hand.

"Practices have been going really well," said Hastings, a 2005 North graduate who was an assistant the last two years under Burdette. "Our chemistry has been great. Everybody is jelling well and contributing. The thing we've focused on since April when I first met with the kids is that we've got to play together. If we lose, we have to lose together. They're all really dedicated to making this program successful."

At a glance

CENTRAL

Coach: Shaun Servick, first season

Next match: Today vs. Westerville North

Key players: Hannah Byers, Kaela Mains, Rhayne Smitherman and Dara Toman

NORTH

Coach: Aaron Hastings, first season

Next match: Today at Westerville Central

Key players: Kelsei Bovenizer, Cameron Kahle, Meagen Lutz and Emily Saunders

SOUTH

Coach: Tim Caldwell, first season

Next match: Tuesday at Dublin Jerome

Key players: Leah Boatright, Katherine Calo and Dara Littig