The Westerville Central High School girls volleyball team is doing its best to handle expectations as it tries to wrap up the OCC-Cardinal Division championship and make a long run in the Division I postseason.
Enduring that pressure has seemed easier to players like senior outside hitter and three-year regular Adrienne Agee because of a pair of off-the-court situations that have brought the Warhawks together.
Central won 15-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23 on Sept. 24 over Pickerington North, which was seventh in last week's Division I state poll, and had won 11 in a row before playing Westerville North on Oct. 2.
The Warhawks were 14-2 overall and 10-0 in the league before Oct. 2 and expect to be a high seed in the district tournament. The draw is Sunday, Oct. 7.
"We're all pretty good friends and we're all like a family," Agee said.
Barb Mustard, who was the team's statistician in past years, is serving as a defensive specialist this fall.
Last January, after she broke her right femur in a car accident, members of Central's volleyball program visited her during a two-week hospital stay.
Mustard made the volleyball team for the first time this fall after getting cut the last three years.
"My family, friends and volleyball have all helped me, just having them be there," Mustard said. "Volleyball is kind of an outlet for me. It means a lot when they've put me in. I'm probably not one of the best players, but it gives me a chance to feel like I'm part of the team. I was in a car accident in January and one night the whole volleyball team visited me."
Another bonding experience within the program occurred early in the season.
On Sept. 8, Darrell Freeman, the father of Central freshman Acacia Freeman, died of cancer. Acacia plays mostly junior varsity but dresses for varsity.
Many members of the team attended the calling hours, according to coach Shaun Servick.
"Her letting us come and support her, it was like she let us into her heart," Mustard said.
The situations involving Mustard and Freeman were events the team has "rallied around," Servick said.
"We're having a good year and we've had some great senior leadership," he said. "They compete with each other in every drill and when you combine that with the experience and the camaraderie, those are the biggest intangibles. Everybody trains and watches film, but a lot of things have brought our girls together."
North, South making strides
Both North and South have improved after rough starts.
The Warriors lost six of their first seven matches but had won seven of their next nine before playing Westerville Central on Oct. 2.
According to North coach Aaron Hastings, seniors Samantha Aronhalt (outside hitter), Brynne Culver (setter) and Jenna Nichols (right-side hitter) have been standouts.
Nichols began the season at middle hitter, where sophomore Rebecca Skidmore and freshman Hope Bruce are key players.
Senior Lindsay Miller, who was a key player last year and early this season, could be out for the remainder of the season because of an injury.
"We got off to a very slow start," Hastings said. "We're trying to make it work. Of the eight seniors we have only three had varsity experience, so that's been hurting us a little bit, but we've picked it up. We keep fighting."
While Hastings is back from a one-year hiatus as North's coach, John Nguyen has helped South have a turnaround season.
The Wildcats lost six of their first seven but were 7-10 overall before playing Hilliard Darby on Oct. 2.
South had won 13 matches over the last four seasons combined.
On Sept. 27, South rallied to beat Dublin Scioto 25-27, 23-25, 25-21, 26-24, 15-10.
Madison Russell and Chenelle Moore, who are middle hitters, and Jenna Rano, Abbey Sadler and Taylor Smith, who are playing defense, have been among the standouts, according to Nguyen.
He also has been pleased with the improvement of setters Leah Ross and Carlie Freeman.
"Every week we have a certain goal," Nguyen said. "I'm looking for my girls to become very mentally tough. There have been some growing pains, but we've gotten really strong. (The win over Scioto) was a good breakthrough."