With eight seniors on its roster, the Worthington Kilbourne High School girls volleyball team expected to contend for the OCC-Cardinal Division championship and hoped to make a postseason run.
The Wolves accomplished their top goals only in part, but they also -- to their surprise -- became one of the best teams in program history.
Kilbourne went 18-7 overall, one win short of the program record, and finished third in the league before losing in a Division I district semifinal 25-21, 25-14, 25-17 to Pickerington North on Oct. 23 at Big Walnut.
"They were the second seed and we were 10th. I'm proud of us for how we played. We played our hearts out and that's all we could ask for," senior outside hitter Sara Johnston said. "The first and third games, we hung with them. The second game, we let it slip away."
The Wolves opened the postseason with a 25-23, 25-16, 25-21 win over Upper Arlington on Oct. 15 and swept Delaware 25-14, 25-22, 25-11 in the second round Oct. 17. But Pickerington North proved too much for Kilbourne, breaking away after a handful of lead changes in the first and third games and taking control of the second game with a 7-2 run that made it 17-7.
"I have two 6-footers in my entire program and they have four over there," Wolves coach Meladee Hopkins said. "One of them is a freshman who didn't dress. The kids played hard. None of us had any expectations that we were going to win 18 (matches) this year. It was a nice surprise. The kids came together and played well. Things jelled."
Kilbourne went 9-5 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish behind champion Westerville Central (14-0) and Hilliard Bradley (11-3) and ahead of Dublin Jerome (5-9), Hilliard Darby (5-9), Westerville North (5-9), Dublin Scioto (4-10) and Westerville South (3-11).
The 18 wins were one off the program record set in 2007, when the Wolves went 19-6, tied Westerville South for the OCC-Cardinal championship and lost 25-16, 25-23, 25-13 to Watterson in a Division I district final.
Kilbourne also won 18 matches in 2005 and 2006.
"We had great chemistry this year and the better that is, the better your team is," Johnston said. "It's been a great season and we all didn't want it to end."
The Wolves lose seniors Maria Calvert (outside hitter), Johnston, Alycia Kingcade (outside hitter), Morgan Lasley (outside hitter), Casey Marrell (middle hitter/right-side hitter), Abbey Nadolson (libero), Leah Norman (middle hitter/right-side hitter) and Maria Whitesel (libero).
Expected returnees include juniors Haley Defibaugh (setter), Lydia DeWeese (middle hitter), Sarah Freiheit (middle hitter), Kristen Rossi (defensive specialist), Megan Thompson (defensive specialist) and Laurel Tisdale (right-side hitter).
Defibaugh was first-team all-league and all-district, Calvert was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district and DeWeese was honorable mention all-league.
Cardinals fall in second round
Thomas fell short of a district final appearance for the first time in three seasons, going 11-9 overall and losing at 12th-seeded Mount Vernon 25-22, 27-25, 25-19 in the second round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 17.
The Cardinals advanced by beating visiting Jerome 24-26, 25-14, 25-17, 26-28, 15-12 in a first-round match Oct. 15.
In 2010 and 2011, the Cardinals lost to Pickerington North in district finals -- 25-18, 25-21, 25-20 in 2010 and 25-15, 25-23, 25-15 last year.
Thomas finished 8-6 in the OCC-Central, behind champion Dublin Coffman (14-0), Olentangy Liberty (12-2) and Hilliard Davidson (9-5) and ahead of Upper Arlington (6-8), Marysville (4-10), Westland (2-12) and Central Crossing (1-13).
The Cardinals lose five seniors in Hannah Berridge (right-side hitter), Alyssa Blough (right-side hitter), Mazie Mandia (defensive specialist), Casey Swihart (setter) and Kathryn Weinrich (outside hitter).
Expected returnees include juniors Lamija Alisic (outside hitter), Alex Emrick (defensive specialist), Hannah Greene (middle hitter) and Ellen Hawkins (middle hitter).
Alisic was first-team all-league and second-team all-district. Swihart was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Weinrich was honorable mention all-league.