The Westerville Central High School boys volleyball team had all the traits of a junior varsity club last season and its record reflected it.
With a roster dominated by seven sophomores, the War-hawks were short on experience and focused on fundamentals, but finished 2-14 overall.
"Last year's team wasn't quite ready for varsity," said coach Jimmy Yu, who is leading the program for the first time after spending five seasons in a supporting role. "We had a lot of young guys who were thrown into that position, but we're seeing growth this year and I'm pretty excited to see how they do."
The returnees are led by junior setter Matt Cisneros (second-team all-league) and junior outside hitter Jeff Cremeans (second-team all-league). Senior middle hitter Yousef Yacoub (honorable mention all-league) also returns.
Yu wants to take the pressure off Cremeans as the main scorer.
He's looking to junior outside hitters Lucas Curran and Matt Bellini, junior middle blocker Corey Price and junior opposite hitter Matt Landig to produce on the offensive attack.
Senior middle blocker Aaron Smith and senior opposite hitter Matt Hughes are first-year players.
Junior Kevin Adik is a defensive specialist.
"We're looking to score and not to kill," said Yu, whose team opened April 2 with an OCC-Cardinal Division contest against Olentangy Liberty. "We're going to play smarter and, hopefully, be a more versatile team this year. For me, I need them to learn how to adjust when something bad happens."
Central lost to Liberty 25-11, 25-15, 25-14 in the first round of the Division I East Region tournament a year ago.
In the OCC-Cardinal, the Warhawks went 0-10 to finish behind Liberty (10-0), Westerville North (7-3), Dublin Scioto (7-3), Dublin Jerome (3-7) and Westerville South (3-7). Worthington Kilbourne has joined the league after previously competing in the OCC-Ohio.
South features experienced group
South, which opened April 1 with a 25-20, 25-23, 25-23 loss to Liberty, has an unfamiliar asset on its side -- experience.
Under sixth-year coach Chris Bielby, the roster features seven seniors and two juniors.
"Almost all of them have been playing together since they were freshmen, so we've got high expectations this season," Bielby said. "I know the guys believe they can compete for a league championship this year and they think they've got a shot at getting to state."
South earned its first postseason victory a year ago when it defeated Thomas Worthington 25-17, 15-25, 26-16, 20-25, 15-6 in the first round of the Division I East Region tournament. It then lost to top-seeded Hilliard Darby 25-12, 25-7, 25-9 in a regional semifinal to finish 11-13 overall.
Lost to graduation were setter Tyler Ott (honorable mention all-region, first-team all-league) and outside hitter Sean Carpenter.
To help fill the leadership role, senior Adam Bielby will play setter as well as libero, where he was second-team all-league last season.
Also back are senior middle blocker J.D. Coffey (honorable mention all-league) and senior setter/opposite hitter Scott Richard.
The other seniors are middle blockers Trae Jones and Peter Rideout, opposite hitter/defensive specialist Steve Mensah and outside hitter Nick Flood. Junior Bismark Akomeah will play outside hitter and junior Dylan Chewning will be at setter.
"This is really a unified group," coach Bielby said. "The one thing we're going to have to be is more consistent this year. We had guys who could make plays last season, but they couldn't do it enough. We would get to 23 points and not be able to finish it off."
Young Warriors hope to grow
After winning three league championships in the last four seasons, North will be working to rebuild that success following the loss of six 2012 graduates who helped the Warriors finish 13-8 overall a year ago.
North opened April 1 with a 25-23, 23-25, 25-19, 25-21 loss to Scioto.
"We have guys with experience, but not many of them at the varsity level," second-year coach Marlin Weisenbarger said. "Three of the guys played club volleyball. I think the one nice thing about this group is that it has a lot of athletic ability and, hopefully, that translates into good volleyball skills."
Those who played club include freshman defensive specialist/setter Wessley Morning, junior outside hitter Sam Richards and junior defensive specialist/outside hitter Lucas Weisenbarger.
Also back is libero Drew Hollobaugh, who was special mention all-league last season. He and middle hitter Markus Peterson, a first-year player, are the only seniors.
The other juniors expected to contribute are middle hitter Alex Rhodes, setter Dominick Kocak, outside hitter Mulai Kamara, defensive specialist Tyler Zimmerman, outside hitter/setter Jarod Brown and outside hitter Andrew Kenreigh.
"We don't have that go-to guy like we did last year, so we're going to have to do it a little bit different," coach Weisenbarger said. "It's really going to have to be a team effort. You look at our numbers and everybody is going to have to play."
Last season's go-to player was 2012 graduate Evan McCoy, an outside hitter who was first-team all-region and all-league. North also must replace setter Zach McKelvey (honorable mention all-region, first-team all-league), middle hitter Zach Nickels (second-team all-league) and middle hitter Eric Nufer (honorable mention all-league).
Last season, North reached a Division I East Region semifinal, where it fell to Liberty 25-21, 25-19, 25-16 after beating Pickerington North 25-17, 25-7, 25-14 in its tournament opener.