The Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team is seeking its 18th consecutive league championship this season and is looking to advance to the Division I state tournament for the 13th time.
The Panthers have returned four starters from last season, when they finished 24-4 overall, went 10-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division and reached a state semifinal before losing to Cincinnati Moeller 22-25, 25-19, 24-26, 25-23, 15-11.
The returning starters are seniors Robert Bowling (right-side hitter), Brad Brinkerhoff (outside hitter) and Mason Moldovan (middle hitter) and junior Colin Buelow (outside hitter).
Moldovan was named honorable mention all-state, second-team all-region and first-team all-league last year, while Bowling and Brinkerhoff both were second-team all-league and honorable mention all-region.
"We have a lot of experience and return plenty of players who have big-match experience," eighth-year coach Bryan Webb said. "Our strength is the amount of experience and athleticism we possess."
Among the graduation losses were setter Ian Cowen, who was named first-team all-state, all-region and all-league a year ago.
Trying to fill the void left by Cowen at setter are senior Wyatt Lee and freshman Noah Platfoot. Also expected to play key roles are senior Alex Salmons (defensive specialist) and sophomore Dominic Melchoirre (defensive specialist).
Completing the roster are senior Logan Mills, juniors Trey Byrd and Caleb Hill, sophomores Drew Geise and Nick Hermosilla and freshman Adam Ansel.
Darby, which has moved to the OCC-Cardinal, improved to 7-3 overall and 5-0 in the league with a 25-10, 25-11, 25-11 win over Dublin Jerome on April 10. The Panthers went 2-3 in the Wheaton (Illinois) Warrenville Tiger Classic held March 31 and April 1, including a 25-19, 16-25, 25-23 loss to Moeller.
"We didn't get the results we were looking for in Illinois, but maybe we can use that for motivation again this year," Webb said. "For us to be better, we're going to have to control the amount of unforced errors we make."
Darby's other league wins have come against Thomas Worthington (25-2, 25-2, 25-12 on March 28), Delaware (25-6, 25-9, 25-11 on March 30), Worthington Kilbourne (25-7, 25-10, 25-9 on April 4) and Dublin Scioto (25-10, 25-23, 25-18 on April 6).
boys track team
Senior Cannon Riddle is back to lead the boys track and field team after placing fifth (6 feet, 7 inches) in the high jump in the Division I state meet last season.
"We should score very well in multiple events with returning athletes in distance, sprints and the field," fifth-year coach Matt Fox said. "Cannon and (senior) Andrew Black both qualified in multiple events for the indoor state championships and should be in the hunt to do the same for outdoor."
Riddle won the high jump in the indoor state meet March 4 at the University of Akron by clearing 6-6. Black finished seventh in the long jump (21 feet, 10 3/4 inches) and junior Dylan Litreal was seventh in the weight throw (59-3).
Last year in outdoor, Riddle was the Panthers' only state qualifier and was the regional runner-up in the high jump (6-7). Black placed eighth in the 110-meter hurdles (15.72 seconds) and 13th in the long jump (19-8 1/4) at regional.
Also back after competing at regional in the 800 last year are junior Josh Baldridge (14th, 2:00.72) and senior Eric Ingram (15th, 2:01.94).
"Last year we were led by a strong junior and senior class to win the OCC-Cardinal (title)," Fox said. "We look to continue to develop and push our team toward another successful season. The goals will be to develop together as a team, work toward team and individual goals, have fun and treat every day with a sense of purpose. We will be looking to make the next step, competing to win district and regional titles."
Fox said the strength of the team lies in the depth in the sprints and the throws. Leading the Panthers in the sprints are senior Jared Butler and Malcolm Mock and junior Clint Barnett, while Litreal, junior Paul Dillion and sophomores Chris Burkhart and Michael Cornathan are leading in the throws.
Leading in the distance events are seniors Ellis Farson and Matt Newman and junior Dylan Newport. Helping Baldridge and Ingram in the middle-distance events are senior Carter Williams and freshman Malachi McGill.
Black and Williams also are the team's top hurdlers, while senior Taryn Dixon and sophomore Solomon Toliver are aiding Riddle in the jumps and freshman Zach Vent is leading the team in the pole vault.
"We have five or six kids who can be interchanged for open events or relays," Fox said. "That allows us to fill every event with a competitive runner or relay. We should be able to put together four competitive relays that can be in the mix to qualify for state."
Darby had an impressive showing in its Panther Invitational on April 7. The Panthers won the nine-team meet with 138 points, finishing well ahead of runner-up Bradley (80) and third-place Davidson (76).
Winning titles for the Panthers were McGill in the 400 (51.23), Williams in the 300 hurdles (41.24), the 400 relay (44.39), the 1,600 relay (3:28.97), the distance medley relay (10:50.89) and Burkhart in the discus (143-8).
Girls track coach
The girls track and field team captured its first league championship last season and has returned the bulk of its top scorers.
But seventh-year coach Don Seymour realizes winning back-to-back league titles won't be easy.
"We approach this season with cautious optimism," Seymour said. "With outstanding captains, upperclassmen and very talented freshmen, we hope to challenge for OCC and (Division I) district titles."
Last season, the Panthers scored 157.5 points in the OCC-Cardinal meet as Westerville Central (137.5) placed second, and finished fourth (74.5) in the 17-team district 1 meet at home behind champion Granville (97).
Among Darby's top athletes is senior Jillian Simpson, who placed sixth in the 400 (58.63) at regional last season.
Simpson is joined in the middle-distance events by seniors Abby Cannon, Abby Kunze and Tia McLaughlin and sophomore Syd Wyngarden and is joined in the sprints by senior Nedine Rasul, junior Regan Carsey, sophomores Maliyah Ellis and Haile Cruz and freshmen Zayna Hampton and Naomi Walters.
Leading the team in the distance events are seniors Katie Geers, Kayla Mayer and Lydia Rohrer and freshman Daniella Santos, while seniors Kiera Toliver and Tia McLaughlin and sophomore Stacia Rispress are leading the way in the hurdles.
"We seem to have a balance across the running events, as well as the field events," said Seymour, whose team did not have any state qualifiers last season. "I believe our strength this year will be our overall team balance."
In the field events, seniors Lauren Iosue and Shannon See, junior Eni Koye and freshman Emma Kowalski are competing in the throws, Ellis, Rispress, Toliver and Walters are competing in the jumps and junior Kaysi Morris is competing in the pole vault.
Kowalski placed fifth in the weight throw (41-11) in the indoor state meet.
Last year at regional, Iosue placed eighth in the discus (110-4), See finished 11th in the shot put (33-11 1/2) and Ellis was 13th in the long jump (15-5).
The 1,600 relay of Simpson, Hannah Knobloch, Kunze and McLaughlin (3:56.99) and the 3,200 relay of Cannon, Wyngarden, Knobloch and McLaughlin (9:34.25) both placed seventh, the 400 relay of 2016 graduate Sydney Phillips, Toliver, Cruz and Carsey was ninth (50.02) and the 800 relay of Phillips, Simpson, Knobloch and 2016 graduate Alyse Cory was 11th (1:45.32).
Knobloch did not return for her junior season.
Led by Kowalski, Darby won its nine-team Panther Invitational, scoring 135 points to hold off runner-up Olentangy Liberty (127). Davidson was third (86).
Kowalski won both the discus (128-5) and shot put (35-7). The Panthers also won the 400 (51.23) and 1,600 (4:07.1) relays.
TRACK & FIELD
March 28 -- at Upper Arlington with Worthington Kilbourne
April 7 -- Panther Invitational at home
April 11 -- at Olentangy Liberty with Dublin Scioto
April 14 -- Elk Relays at Centerville
April 21 -- Fulton Relays at Lancaster
April 25 -- at Grove City
April 28 -- Olentangy Invitational
May 2 -- vs. Bradley and Davidson
May 6 -- Bradley Invitational
May 11, 13 -- OCC-Cardinal meet at Dublin Coffman
*March 28 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
*March 30 -- vs. Delaware
March 31-April 1 -- Wheaton (Ill.) Warrenville Tiger Classic
*April 4 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
*April 6 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
*April 10 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
*April 18 -- at Bradley
*April 20 -- at Delaware
April 22 -- vs. Cincinnati Moller and Westerville South
*April 24 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*April 27 -- at Dublin Jerome
April 29 -- at Centerville Elite Tournament
*May 4 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
May 6 -- vs. Cincinnati Elder
*May 9 -- at Bradley
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby baseball, softball, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
April 14 -- At Davidson
April 15 -- At Findlay; Holland Springfield at Bowling Green
*April 17 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
*April 19 -- At Dublin Jerome
*April 13 -- At Delaware
April 15 -- At Columbus Academy
*April 13 -- Home vs. Delaware
*April 13 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
*April 17 -- At Bradley
*April 19 -- At Delaware
April 13 -- Home vs. Jonathan Alder
*April 18 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
April 19 -- Home vs. Watterson