Whitehall-Yearling High School football coach Jake Kuhner hopes his team gets out to a good start when it opens at home Friday, Aug. 29, against Ready, a Division VI state semifinalist last season.
The Silver Knights defeated the host Rams 49-19 in week four last season on their way to a 12-2 overall record. Playing in its first state semifinal since 2007, Ready lost to Kirtland 10-7.
"I don't talk about too much what happened last year, but we do talk about coming out and starting off well," Kuhner said. "Last year we had a tough time getting games started and usually we were coming back from behind."
The Knights were hit hard by graduation, losing 18 players.
"Ready is a totally different team graduating that many seniors," Kuhner said. "It's going to be tough to come back and be as dominant as they were. They were pretty hefty last year all around the board."
Ready is under new leadership as Brian Cross has replaced Joel Cutler as coach. Cutler now is the coach at Upper Arlington.
Cross has a career record of 218-124 and is beginning his 33rd season as a head coach. He spent the past six seasons at Olentangy Orange.
In last season's meeting, Ready led 28-0 in the second quarter and got a dominating performance from 2014 graduate Akili Taylor, who rushed for 276 yards on 23 carries. Taylor finished the season with 1,992 yards and 27 touchdowns and was named district Offensive Player of the Year and state co-Offensive Player of the Year in Division VI.
Junior Dominic Lombardi (5-foot-10, 160 pounds) is replacing 2014 graduate Matt Yoho at quarterback in the team's wing-T offense.
Senior Seth Stock (5-10, 155), who played linebacker last season, is expected to be the starting tailback, with sophomore Brenden Knox (6-1, 190) at fullback.
Senior Tre Windham (6-1, 260) is the Knights' top returnee on the offensive line.
Senior linebacker Alvin Knox (5-10, 215) led Ready in tackles last season with 113 and was first-team all-state.
Lombardi also is expected to start in the secondary.
Whitehall finished 5-5 last season and also was hurt by graduation, but Kuhner believes the Rams have a solid core to build around.
Senior Tristen Ritchie (6-5, 205) will replace 2014 graduate Cody Koons at quarterback and direct the team's new pro-style offense. Ritchie, who played quarterback as a sophomore and wide receiver last season, missed the final six games a year ago because of a knee injury.
Junior Kaelan Portis (6-0, 190), a transfer from Africentric, and junior Davon Moore (6-2, 240), a transfer from Franklin Heights, should be the top threats in the backfield. However, as of Aug. 22, Kuhner said Portis' status for the opener was unclear as he recovers from a knee injury sustained during the preseason.
When healthy, Portis also will play a key role in the secondary.
Senior J.D. Hornberger (5-10, 230) should lead the offensive line at center.
"We have to keep control of the ball and let our guys fire out," Kuhner said. "We're a lot faster than what we were last year. We were a pretty quick team last year, but this year the guys put in a lot of work doing plyometrics and getting in the weight room this summer. They're fired up pretty well right now."
Girls volleyball team looks for improvement
The girls volleyball team hopes to improve on last season's 5-19 overall record and eighth-place finish (0-14) in the MSL-Ohio Division behind champion West Jefferson (14-0).
"I'm hoping we'll be a little bit better record-wise in the sense that we changed some of our non-league schedule to match schools that are a little bit more at our level of competition," coach Danielle Smith said. "Also, this will be year two in the league and the girls know that they can beat these teams now that they've seen them."
Whitehall opened Aug. 16 by splitting a tri-match at home against Briggs and Franklin Heights. The Rams defeated Briggs 26-24, 23-25, 26-24 and lost to Franklin Heights 25-14, 22-25, 25-12.
Whitehall also won at Millersport 25-21, 23-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-7 on Aug. 21 to improve to 2-1 before playing Reynoldsburg on Aug. 25. The Rams open league play Thursday, Aug. 28, at home against Columbus Academy.
The top returnees are senior utility player Sammy Day (79 kills, 68 digs last season), senior middle hitter Tyra James (61 kills, 42 blocks) and senior defensive specialist Madison Schmidt (51 digs).
Also back are juniors Bridget Gallagher (defensive specialist), Mykela Hollinshead (outside hitter, 88 kills) and Austi Spaulding (middle hitter, 39 blocks).
Sophomore Tia Sanders and freshman Sarah Seberig will help direct the team's 6-2 attack as setters.
Sophomore Rebecca Max-stead is a defensive specialist.
Whitehall lost four players to graduation, including setter and outside hitter Tierra Copley, who was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season. She finished with 234 assists, 229 digs, 145 kills and 74 aces.
"I have a good core coming back that played last year on varsity, so I look for them to step up and be leaders," Smith said.
"It's always tough to replace a senior class because you're always making the adjustments, getting everybody used to their new position, but this year's group will step up."
Girls tennis team opens with win
The girls tennis team was 1-2 overall before playing Eastmoor Academy on Aug. 26.
The Rams opened by winning at Central Crossing 3-2 on Aug. 18.
Winners were Claudia Fuentes 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 at first singles, Taylor Marshall 6-3, 6-0 at second singles and Angela Li and Zi Wong 6-4, 6-3 at first doubles.
Whitehall lost to Westerville North on Aug. 20 and league-foe Columbus Academy on Aug. 19 by 5-0 scores.
"We had a good win in our opening match versus Central Crossing. Our veteran players pulled through and helped us win the match," coach Ben White said.
Aug. 16 -- vs. Briggs and Franklin Heights
Aug. 21 -- at Millersport
Aug. 25 -- at Reynoldsburg
Aug. 26 -- vs. Teays Valley
*Aug. 28 -- vs. Columbus Academy
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Madison Plains
*Sept. 4 -- vs. London
Sept. 6 -- Warrior Classic at Worthington Christian
*Sept. 9 -- at West Jefferson
*Sept. 11 -- at Bexley
*Sept. 16 -- vs. Worthington Christian
*Sept. 18 -- at Grandview
*Sept. 23 -- at Columbus Academy
*Sept. 25 -- at Madison Plains
*Sept. 30 -- at London
*Oct. 1 -- vs. West Jefferson
*Oct. 6 -- vs. Bexley
*Oct. 7 -- at Worthington Christian
*Oct. 9 -- vs. Grandview