A familiar face is guiding the Thomas Worthington High School boys volleyball team this season.
Scott Ebright, who coached the Cardinals for 10 seasons from 1997-2006, has returned as coach. He replaces his son, Todd, who coached Thomas the past four seasons before an increasingly busy work schedule forced him to step down.
The Cardinals, who finished 7-15 overall and 1-9 in the OCC-Ohio Division last season, have returned only one starter in 5-foot-9 senior outside hitter and setter Michael Bee.
"Michael Bee is a three-year starter who is playing his eighth season of volleyball, but other than him, we have little varsity volleyball experience," said Ebright, whose team is 1-1 and begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, April 8, at defending Division I state and league champion Hilliard Darby. "Our other senior, (setter) Jacob Strohl, has been in the program for four years. He played in a few varsity matches last year."
The rest of the roster is comprised of sophomores, led by middle blockers Sam Blanke (6-1) and Liam O'Conor (5-11), outside hitter Lance Ward (5-9), opposite hitter Derek Wilson (5-9) and libero Max DeBord.
"Blanke has worked really hard in the offseason, playing club ball," Ebright said. "(Bee, Strohl and Blanke) are passionate about volleyball. We will see how far they can take this young team."
Four other sophomores are expected to contribute in Baine Essman (5-10, outside hitter/middle blocker), Michael Robinson (5-11, middle blocker/setter), Trent Sword (5-9, outside hitter) and Daniel Truesdale (5-8, opposite hitter).
"We are young, short and inexperienced -- not a good recipe for success in volleyball," Ebright said. "For such a young group, we are passing better than I expected. We only have 16 boys in the program, so it is hard to replicate the type of play we will face in the OCC.
"Most of the starters are playing their first or second season of high school volleyball. We have lots of teaching to do. Fortunately, the boys are pretty coachable."
The Cardinals opened March 25 by beating Licking Heights 22-25, 25-12, 18-25, 25-20, 15-12 before losing to Olentangy Liberty 25-8, 25-15, 25-10 on March 27.
Wolves return wealth of experience
Experience should help Kilbourne in its quest to improve on last season, when it finished 12-12 overall and 9-3 in the OCC-Cardinal.
The Wolves have returned five starters in seniors Tony Comas (6-0, outside hitter/ defensive specialist), Keegan Flaherty (6-4, middle hitter), Ray Gardner (6-1, setter/outside hitter) and Ian Redding (5-9, outside hitter/libero) and junior Jacob Bloom (6-1, setter/outside hitter). Bloom started as a freshman but missed last season with an injury.
Gardner was second-team all-region in Division II and first-team all-league and Redding was honorable mention all-region and all-league.
"We are counting on all our seniors and Jacob Bloom to be leaders," said 21st-year coach Glynda Rice, whose team is 1-3 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Cardinal. "We've got a good deal of experience returning and I think the strength of our team is that we have several players who can step up and make positive things happen on the court."
Other returning letterwinners are senior David Broker (6-0, middle hitter/outside hitter) and junior Alex Travick (6-6, middle hitter/outside hitter).
Rounding out the roster are seniors Dillon Castelli (defensive specialist), Riku Kaida (defensive specialist/outside hitter) and Josh Parise (setter), juniors Alec Hartman (middle hitter/outside hitter), Raff Herrera (middle hitter/outside hitter) and Heungyoung Lee (middle hitter/outside hitter), sophomores Conner Jordan (outside hitter), James Kleman (middle hitter), Ibriham Nader (outside hitter), Jack Nourse (outside hitter), Cam Redding (outside hitter), Grant Sugar (middle hitter) and Matthew Wiber (setter) and freshmen Griffen Grosh (outside hitter), Joe Ricci (middle hitter) and Joe Worster (middle hitter).
"In order for us to sustain success, we need to improve our ball control," Rice said. "We've got to do well receiving serve and digging attacks."
Kilbourne, which has an OCC-Cardinal match Thursday, April 3, at Westerville Central, opened March 22, losing to Mount Vernon 25-13, 25-15, 26-24 and falling to Lakewood St. Edward 25-22, 25-15, 25-18.
The Wolves then lost to St. Charles in five games March 26 before defeating Dublin Scioto 25-19, 25-17, 24-26, 25-18 in their league opener March 27.