As Westerville South High School boys volleyball coach Chris Bielby reviewed his team's performance this season, one match stood out.
An 18-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-17, 15-10 victory over Watterson on April 22 gave the Wildcats some hope. South was 2-7 at the time, while the Eagles were 7-2.
"When we went into Watterson and beat them at their place, we thought there was going to be a big turnaround," Bielby said. "But we just couldn't stay with it or be a consistent team."
The Wildcats finished 8-16 overall with a 25-20, 16-25, 25-17, 25-19 loss to visiting Pickerington North in the first round of the Division I East Region tournament May 11.
It was a disappointing end for seven seniors who were intent on exceeding last year, when South earned its first postseason victory and went 11-13.
In the OCC-Cardinal Division, the Wildcats went 3-9 to finish sixth behind Dublin Scioto (11-1), Westerville North (9-3), Worthington Kilbourne (9-3), Olentangy Liberty (6-6) and Westerville Central (4-8) and ahead of Dublin Jerome (0-12).
"Our record didn't tell the whole story," Bielby said. "We fought hard, and those seniors provided some continuity. This was a senior class that stuck together."
Three of those seniors were honored by league coaches for their play.
Libero Adam Bielby was first-team all-league, outside hitter J.D. Coffey was on the second team and setter Scott Richard was honorable mention. Both Bielby and Coffey were honorable mention all-region.
Among those expected to return are junior outside hitters Bismark Akomeah (second-team all-league) and Jackson Roberts, sophomore setter Cameron Mickley and defensive specialists Adrian (sophomore) and Ansel (junior) Firmalan.
North relied on junior class
Without a standout performer this season, North relied on the group. Led by a strong junior class, the Warriors finished 16-7 overall with a 25-20, 25-23, 25-18 loss at Hilliard Bradley in the first round of the Division I East Region tournament May 11.
"We were up in the second game and came from behind in the first," coach Marlin Weisenbarger said. "When we didn't get that win in the second game, I think it played with our minds. We thought we matched up well with them, but the loss in the second game really hurt our confidence."
For the second consecutive season, the Warriors finished second in the league after winning three consecutive OCC-Cardinal titles.
North handed Scioto its only league loss (25-23, 16-25, 23-25, 25-14, 15-11 on April 19).
The roster should look much the same next spring with this year's squad having only two seniors in libero Drew Hollobaugh (first-team all-league) and middle hitter Markus Peterson.
"It's kind of exciting to look at next year knowing that we should have quite a few returnees back," Weisenbarger said. "Our opponents are graduating a lot of seniors this year."
Among the expected junior returnees are outside hitter Sam Richards (second-team all-league), setter Dominick Kocak (honorable mention all-league) and outside hitter Jarod Brown (special mention all-league).
Junior defensive specialist Lucas Weisenbarger should take over Hollobaugh's role, and junior middle hitter Alex Rhodes "really came on halfway through the season and is going to have to carry the load" next year, coach Weisenbarger said.
Central improved by four victories
After winning the first two games of its first-round Division I East Region tournament match, Central fell to Dublin Coffman 21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-6, 15-13 on May 11 at Hilliard Davidson. The Warhawks finished 6-18 overall after going 2-14 last year.
"That third game was so close, but we couldn't stay together," coach Jimmy Yu said. "Mentally, we gave up and it was really unfortunate because this team tried really hard and really came a long way compared to last year. In my six years affiliated with the team, this is the first year that I felt like we played together as a team."
Like North, the Warhawks have a number of juniors who are expected to return.
Outside hitter Jeffrey Cremeans, setter Matt Cisneros, libero Kevin Adik, middle blocker Corey Price, opposite hitter Matt Landig, outside hitter Lucas Curran and utility player Matt Bellini were mainstays in the lineup.
Cremeans was honorable mention all-region and first-team all-league. Curran was honorable mention all-league.
Yu must replace senior middle blockers Aaron Smith and Yousef Yacoub.
"My junior class is already talking about next year," Yu said. "Adik really embraced his role at libero this year after not playing the position and Bellini really improved a lot. I think the team just felt good about how much better it went this season and they could tell it when they shook hands with opponents. Coaches talked about how much we had improved."