The Worthington Kilbourne High School girls volleyball team was seeking to complete the first round of OCC-Cardinal Division play unbeaten.
The Wolves were 7-2 overall and 5-0 in the league before playing Thomas on Sept. 12, but their strong start hasn't been easy. In three of their league wins, they lost the first two games before rallying to win the final three.
"We have been going four or five sets almost the entire season," coach Meladee Hopkins said. "It is like a switch turns on and they decide that it's time to get serious. I think that we are gaining more confidence. We do not have a ton of varsity experience and they are still learning their strengths.
"The matches are probably exciting to watch, but they are very nerve-racking to coach. The important goal is that we do not get complacent and we continue to improve throughout the season."
Kilbourne rallied in league victories over Dublin Jerome (24-26, 25-27, 25-16, 25-10, 15-12 on Aug. 22), Hilliard Bradley (20-25, 20-25, 25-15, 25-19, 15-9 on Aug. 29) and Delaware (23-25, 14-25, 25-21, 25-21, 15-9 on Sept. 5).
The Wolves also showed that they have the ability to regain momentum after losing it when they beat Dublin Scioto 25-12, 25-21, 24-26, 20-25, 15-9 in a league match Aug. 31.
Kilbourne begins the second round of league play Thursday, Sept. 14, at Jerome.
"Every match is important in the conference this year," Hopkins said. "There is not a weak team in our division. Anyone can beat anyone. It is going to be a real battle all season."
Against Delaware, outside hitter Taylor Katz had 13 kills and 16 digs, right-side hitter/setter Maddie Reeve had 12 kills, 24 digs, 19 assists and two aces and sisters Lauren Bair and Lexi Bair both had seven kills at outside hitter. Middle hitter Sarah Baxter added five kills and five blocks, libero Amber Beals had 25 digs and two aces and setter Abby Nichter had 15 assists.
"As a team, our defense has been solid, led by Amber," Hopkins said. "Every player has stepped up when someone has needed to. Taylor has probably been the most consistent on offense. But when we have needed a key block or kill, Lauren Bair, Lexi Bair or Sarah Baxter have stepped up. We are starting to play as a team."
The Wolves will play host to the Kilbourne Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 16. Also expected to compete are Frankfort Adena, Grove City, Jerome, Mount Vernon, Olentangy Liberty, Teays Valley and Westerville Central.
Girls water polo team
The girls water polo team has already matched last year's win total as it prepares to compete in the Ohio Cup on Saturday, Sept. 16, and Sunday, Sept. 17, at Thomas.
The Wolves finished 3-19-1 last season and placed ninth at state. They are 3-8 entering the Ohio Cup.
Kilbourne had a difficult season emotionally last season after a deadly crash on its way to compete in the Sprint Off Classic at Napoleon. Volunteer assistant Courtney Fisher, a former team captain and a 2015 graduate, was killed in the crash. She was a passenger in a van driven by her mother, Vicki, who pulled into the path of a semi-truck at the intersection of Routes 281 and 65 in Henry County, west of Bowling Green.
Four players -- 2017 graduate Betsey Fisher, junior Sami Fink and sophomores Melanie Fisher and Sydney Zulich -- were seriously injured.
"(Betsey) graduated and is in college and the other three are still on the team," said Olivia Miranda, who is in her third season coaching Kilbourne and Thomas. "All are still dealing with significant injuries, but it's been amazing how much they have improved in one year. Melanie is a talented player and is improving her game every day due to her work ethic and her ability to implement feedback from coaches."
Kristen Wood and Olivia Yeager are the only seniors on the squad.
"Kilbourne is incredibly young, but has two amazing leaders in Kristen and Olivia," Miranda said. "We are still working hard to find the best combination of girls in the water to help them move in the right direction. Olivia has a great arm and is an excellent leader. Kristen specializes in defense, but is getting more involved in the offense this year. Both are encouraging their teammates to be the best they can be."
Miranda said Fisher, Wood and Yeager are regular starters, along with junior goalkeeper Emma Yeager.
Also on the roster are sophomores Izzy Tackett and Madeline Zwada and freshmen Kayla Balemian, Lauren Richner and Phoebe Saunders.
"Kilbourne has a lot of newer players working hard to fill important positions," Miranda said. "The goal is to improve every day and to place sixth or better in the state tournament."
Boys water polo team
The boys water polo team went 1-3 in the Ohio Cup held Sept. 9 and 10 at Thomas and was 4-11 before battling Upper Arlington on Sept. 13.
"Kilbourne is young and shorthanded," said Rick Yurich, who is in his third season coaching Kilbourne and Thomas. "They lost three graduates and had a handful of others not return this season for some reason. They have freshmen and sophomores who have never played before in the starting lineup."
Returning starters for the Wolves, who finished 11-20 last season and placed 10th at state, are seniors Quentin Bartram and Matthew Yap and junior Nicko Seculov. Also back are seniors Tyler Fickell and Juan Soto and sophomores Matt Gerold and Thomas Rzymek.
"Quentin and Tyler are both left-handed and can score," Yurich said. "Matthew is a strong defender in the middle and is the team's fast-break leader. Nico is like our center on offense."
Among the six players who did not return are seniors Jack Leftridge and Liam Neering, who were starters a year ago. Replacing Neering in goal is freshman Jake Tefend.
Completing the roster are senior Zaid Absahla, sophomore Mitchell Fisher and freshmen Drew Harvey and Andrew Winget.
"The boys are taking steps to getting better and the seniors are good leaders," Yurich said. "They're all showing improvement and the goal for them is to challenge and compete strong against the tougher teams on the schedule."
Aug. 11-12 -- Courtney Fisher Sprint Classic at Napoleon
Aug. 18-19 -- Boys: Early Bird Invitational at Ann Arbor (Mich.) Pioneer; Girls: Upper Arlington Invitational
Aug. 25 -- Boys: Mason Invitational
Sept. 1-2 -- Girls: Milford Invitational
Sept. 6 -- Girls: vs. Upper Arlington
Sept. 9-10 -- Boys: Ohio Cup at Thomas
Sept. 13 -- Boys: vs. Upper Arlington
Sept. 15 -- Boys: at Cincinnati St. Xavier
Sept. 16-17 -- Girls: Ohio Cup at Thomas
Sept. 22-23 -- Boys: Packer Classic at Cincinnati Princeton; Girls: Dave McClennon Invitational at Cincinnati Sycamore
Sept. 29-30 -- Boys: Upper Arlington Duals
Oct. 4 -- Boys: at St. Charles; Girls: vs. Hartley at St. Charles
Oct. 10 -- vs. Thomas
Below are the coming schedules for the Kilbourne cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept 16 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park
Sept. 16 -- At Dayton Oakwood with Kettering Fairmont
Sept. 20 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
Sept. 16 -- Howlett Invitational at Worthington Hills
Sept. 14 -- Licking Valley at Worthington Hills
Sept. 19 -- Big Walnut at Bent Tree
Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
*Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 14 -- At Westerville Central
Sept. 16 -- Home vs. Whitehouse Anthony Wayne
*Sept. 19 -- At Dublin Scioto
Sept. 14 -- At Grove City
Sept. 16 -- Wellington Cup
*Sept. 14 -- At Dublin Jerome
Sept. 16 -- Kilbourne Invitational
*Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby