The Worthington Kilbourne High School boys volleyball team is seeking to fill the void left by four starters who graduated last spring.
The Wolves finished 11-14 overall last season, losing to top-seeded Watterson 25-11, 25-27, 25-14, 25-20 in the second round of the Division II East Region tournament after beating sixth-seeded Whetstone 25-10, 25-18, 25-11 in the first round as the fifth seed.
Among the players lost to graduation was opposite hitter Zach Tisdale, who was named second-team all-state, first-team all-region and first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division.
Key returnees include senior middle blockers Grant Hartman (6-foot-2) and Alex Rayis (6-3), senior setter Kyle Justus and sophomore outside hitter/libero Jacob Bloom. Hartman and Bloom both were honorable mention all-region last year.
"We will depend on Kyle Justus to run our offense," 20th-year coach Glynda Rice said. "He will be jumping from competing mostly at the junior varsity level to the varsity level. He will have to work very hard to improve his skills and knowledge of the game.
"Returning middle blockers Alex Rayis and Grant Hartman will be key experienced players. Jacob Bloom was a key part of our ball control last year as a freshman. He is currently injured from his club season. We hope that he (returns from the injury) quickly enough to contribute this season."
Others vying for playing time at outside hitter are seniors Austin Bollinger and Nathan Walters and junior Ray Gardner. Rounding out the team are senior Bryden Marvin and juniors Keegan Flaherty and Ian Redding.
Flaherty is a transfer from Watterson.
"We have several players that will make strong contributions, such as Gardner, Flaherty, Bollinger and Redding," Rice said.
Kilbourne opened April 2 with an OCC-Cardinal match against Dublin Scioto. The Wolves were in the OCC-Ohio last season, going 5-5 to place third behind Hilliard Darby (10-0) and Hilliard Davidson (8-2) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (3-7), Upper Arlington (2-8) and Dublin Coffman (1-9).
In addition to Scioto, the OCC-Cardinal includes Dublin Jerome, Olentangy Liberty, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South. Hilliard Bradley moved from the OCC-Cardinal to the OCC-Ohio.
"Our goals include a successful OCC season, performing well and winning some big matches and continuing our success in the postseason tournament," Rice said. "(The players) have also chosen some performance goals which will be measured in statistics. Generally, those goals will reflect consistently good play."
Cardinals want to keep improving
Thomas made a marked improvement last season, finishing 8-12 overall after going 3-13 in 2011.
"Last year, we had a solid record," fourth-year coach Todd Ebright said. "I would like to improve on that. We took fourth in the (OCC-Ohio) last year. I would like to be in the top three this year."
The Cardinals, who opened April 2 with an OCC-Ohio match against Bradley, return two key players in seniors Shane Barnovsky (libero) and Tyler Buckley (outside hitter).
"Tyler is a devoted player and was a lead hitter for us last year," Ebright said. "He is also a strong leader and definitely makes a difference on the court. Shane led the team in digs last year. His passing is spot-on, and he rarely lets a ball drop on defense."
Senior Jake Anderson (6-3, middle hitter) and Alex Murphy (6-3, middle hitter) also have returned and are expected to be key contributors along with seniors Charlie Roach (setter) and Dave Wallace (right-side hitter) and juniors Aidan Barnovsky (middle hitter) and Michael Bee (outside hitter).
"I think our strength will be our consistent passing," Ebright said. "This is the first year I have had a team which has played four years together. They've all been through this system now. That means we won't have to concentrate as much on fundamentals and we should be more flexible in terms of making adjustments during games and matches.
"Although we have a number of seniors, we have a lot of new players, like at setter. We lost a few players this year, so we are slim on options. There are lots of opportunities for the new varsity players."
Last season, Thomas placed fourth in the OCC-Ohio at 3-7 and lost to eighth-seeded Westerville South 25-17, 15-25, 25-16, 20-25, 15-6 in the first round of the Division I East Region tournament as the 10th seed.