Worthington Kilbourne High School girls volleyball coach Meladee Hopkins believes she could have a strong team this season even though the Wolves must make up for the loss of nine 2011 graduates.

Worthington Kilbourne High School girls volleyball coach Meladee Hopkins believes she could have a strong team this season even though the Wolves must make up for the loss of nine 2011 graduates.

Kilbourne finished 16-8 last year and tied Thomas Worthington for third (9-5) in the OCC-Central Division, behind Dublin Coffman (14-0) and Upper Arlington (12-2) and ahead of Central Crossing (6-8), Hilliard Davidson (4-10), Hilliard Darby (2-12) and Westland (0-14).

Seeded 11th, Kilbourne opened the Division I district tournament with a 25-17, 10-25, 25-19, 26-24 win over eighth-seeded New Albany, before losing 30-28, 25-18, 15-25, 25-16 to ninth-seeded Grove City in the second round.

"I am cautiously optimistic," said Hopkins, who is in her ninth season as the Wolves' coach. "We lost nine seniors last year and it's not easy to replace that, but I'm very happy with the progression of my girls, and if we can stay mentally tough and keep that progression, we will be a very competitive team."

Hopkins said seniors Mary Frances Gardner (middle hitter) and Brooke Barney (right-side hitter) are leading the way for the Wolves, who opened Aug. 27 with a 25-12, 25-18, 22-25, 25-14 win over Westerville South and beat Reynoldsburg 25-10, 25-11, 25-15 on Aug. 29.

"We don't have a lot of experience, but Mary Frances and Brooke have really stepped up so far this season," Hopkins said.

Gardner said the Wolves, who began league play Aug. 30 against Darby, still have plenty of talent.

"I hope that we play at least as well as we did last year and I'd like to make it further in the tournament," she said.

Barney, a co-captain with senior setter Meredith Schram, said she understands that her coach and teammates are counting on her to lead by example.

"I'm going to try and take up more of a leader role this season," she said. "If we keep improving we could make it further into the tournament than before."

The starting lineup features seniors Barney, Carly Cameron (outside hitter), Gardner, Abby Hackworth (middle hitter) and Brie Roberts (defensive specialist), juniors Maria Calvert (outsider hitter) and Maria Whitesel (defensive specialist) and sophomore Haley Defibaugh (setter/right-side hitter).

Rounding out the roster are juniors Sara Johnston (outside hitter), Alycia Kingcade (outside hitter), Morgan Lasley (outside hitter), Casey Marrell (right-side hitter), Abbey Nadolson (defensive specialist) and Leah Norman (middle hitter).

Thomas is in a similar position as Kilbourne.

Only seniors Sarah Smiley (outside hitter) and Natalie Radaci (defensive specialist) and junior Casey Swihart (setter) remain from last year's team that finished 20-6 overall and lost to second-seeded Pickerington North 25-18, 25-21, 25-20 in a Division I district final.

Seeded fifth, the Cardinals opened the district tournament with a 25-12, 25-13, 25-13 win over Watkins Memorial, before beat Teays Valley 25-10, 25-20, 25-16 and seventh-seeded Westerville North 26-24, 25-20, 25-21 in a district semifinal.

"We're young and we're new, but I have high expectations. Even though we graduated seven players from last season, I think we're going to be good," eighth-year coach Ed Marsman said.

Marsman believes his team has the ability to be competitive on both offense and defense.

"I know we are going to be an excellent offensive team this year," he said. "We have two really good setters (in Swihart and senior Riddhima Sharma). If we have the defensive mindset that nothing is going to fall then we are going to be a good defensive team. This is what we've been working on."

Smiley agrees with her coach.

"We have the potential to do well if we play our best," she said. "We still have a lot of work to do, but if we come together and play as a team anything is possible."

The roster also includes juniors Alyssa Blough (outside hitter), Hannah Berridge (outside hitter), Rylee Komminsk (middle hitter), Mazie Mandia (defensive specialist) and Kathryn Weinrich (outside hitter) and sophomore Lamija Alisic (middle hitter).

"Everyone has their great moments. We are a very balanced team. Sarah is a standout both offensively and defensively. Casey is a very good all-around player and Lamija is a quality player with a big upside," Marsman said.

Alisic said team chemistry is a strength.

"We talk on and off the court," she said. "If we stay drama free and play the way we do we're going to be good."