Emma Brown and Bella D'Amico were promoted to the DeSales High School girls volleyball team from junior varsity during last year's Division I district tournament, giving them a taste of what it took to succeed at the varsity level.
This year, the two sophomores have played instrumental roles -- perhaps even more than they expected -- as the Stallions prepare to compete in their seventh consecutive regional.
Brown has 192 kills at middle blocker, and D'Amico, a setter, has 344 assists, 197 digs and 100 kills to help DeSales to a 19-3 record entering its regional semifinal against Gahanna on Thursday, Nov. 2, at Worthington Kilbourne.
The third-seeded Stallions defeated eighth-seeded Olentangy 25-12, 25-16, 25-16 in a district final Oct. 28 at Franklin Heights.
Despite ending up in the same place, Brown and D'Amico took different paths to their current roles. Brown was promoted late last year when middle hitter Lexi Hall was hurt, and remained in the middle this year as Hall moved outside.
D'Amico became the Stallions' primary setter at the beginning of the season as senior Diana Brown recovered from a torn left labrum, and remained in the lineup once Brown -- who is Emma Brown's cousin -- returned as coach Brenden Pence tweaked a 5-1 offense into a 6-2.
"(Diana Brown and D'Amico) both set so well and hit so well and do so many great things that we had to find a way to keep them both on the floor," Pence said. "Emma has been a strong middle all along. I saw that right away in open gym. Plus, she's a versatile middle we can run a lot of different plays with. They worked themselves into the lineup right away."
Emma Brown's kills are second to Shayna Sarisky's 195, while D'Amico is second in assists behind Diana Brown's 446.
"Both of us have the capability to swing and set, so I think it helped the team in that we're both able to contribute like that," D'Amico said. "This has been the best season I've had yet. Last year really helped. (Emma Brown) and I have been together since seventh grade. We have great chemistry. The two of us being on the floor together really helps my confidence. We're able to be young leaders on the team."
Pence had no doubt the pair would be able to contribute immediately.
"They play rigorous club schedules as well, so both of them are very battle-tested at high stages," he said. "Having tournament exposure was great for them and they are definitely building blocks for the future, but they don't want to wait for next year. They want to do it right now. They are relentless, for sure."
DeSales advanced to the district final by defeating 23rd-seeded Westerville Central 25-16, 25-16, 25-10 in a semifinal Oct. 24 at Franklin Heights.
The regional semifinal winner will play Dublin Coffman or Olentangy Orange in the regional final Saturday, Nov. 4, at Kilbourne. The regional champion advances to a state semifinal Nov. 9 at Wright State University.
DeSales, which is seeking its eighth regional championship and first since 2014, lost to Orange 13-25, 8-25, 25-12, 25-18, 15-12 on Oct. 9.
Despite the team's seeding and pedigree, Emma Brown considered the Stallions an underdog in the district.
"We don't think anybody expected us to make a run this year because we lost three great seniors last year," she said. "(Another district championship) means the world to us."
Boys runner Towler headed to state
A season that began with Ben Towler of the boys cross country team barely finishing his first race will end with the sophomore competing in the Division II state meet Saturday, Nov. 4, at National Trail Raceway.
Towler finished 24th (16 minutes, 57.97 seconds) of 181 runners in the regional meet Oct. 28 at Pickerington North, earning an individual state berth. The top 28 individuals advanced.
"I knew it'd be close. I just had to run my race, know where my place was and make it far enough ahead," Towler said. "I picked out one person in my pack and stayed with them. I was really nervous coming in. Making state was one of my goals coming into this season."
Towler had two of his more memorable races this season at North. After a stomach illness hampered him in the season-opening New Albany Classic on Aug. 21, in which he finished 37th (19:33), he came back five days later during the Pickerington Classic and set a then-personal-best time of 17:26.32.
Towler is DeSales' first state qualifier since Pete Ryan placed 16th in 2011.
"It's so special. I'm so excited," Towler said. "Just making it to state is a dream come true."
Cammy Bury of the girls team competed as an individual in Division I, finishing 54th (20:16.49) of 129 runners. The top 20 individuals advanced to state.
Bury, a senior who was the girls' top runner all season, noted that the damp, 45-degree conditions affected breathing for her and other runners.
"You knew it would be way harder to breathe than it has been the whole season. That set me way back, but everybody was in the same circumstance as I was," Bury said. "It's been my best season. I am happy I got to lead my team and was healthy."
Boys soccer team wins district title
The boys soccer team completed a dominant three-game run through the Division II district tournament with a 7-0 win over 12th-seeded Jonathan Alder in a district final Oct. 28 at Dublin Jerome.
Cristian Gomez scored two goals to lead the top-seeded Stallions, who were 18-0-1 before playing Warsaw River View in a regional semifinal Nov. 1 at Lakewood. Chase Agin, Mike Cockerell, Hector Gomez, Jack Francisco and Dominic Julian each added one goal.
DeSales outscored its three district tournament opponents 21-0.
The Stallions advanced to the district final by defeating ninth-seeded Marion Pleasant 6-0 in a semifinal Oct. 25 at home. Cockerell and Cristian Gomez each had two goals as DeSales outshot Pleasant 23-1.
The Stallions outshot Jonathan Alder 17-2.
The DeSales-River View winner will play Albany Alex-ander or Athens in a regional final Saturday, Nov. 4, at a neutral site to be determined. The regional champion plays Cincinnati Wyoming, Columbus Academy, Kettering Alter or Tipp City Tippecanoe in a state semifinal Wednesday, Nov. 8, at a neutral site, and that winner advances to the state final Nov. 11 at Mapfre Stadium.
DeSales defeated Athens 5-1 on Oct. 7.
Football team earns win over Watterson
The football team closed its season with a 41-7 victory over Watterson on Oct. 27.
It marks the fifth consecutive win in the series for the Stallions, who finished 6-4 overall to secure their seventh consecutive non-losing season.
DeSales is now 26-35-1 all-time against the Eagles, which finished 2-8 overall and 1-2 in the CCL. The Stallions went 2-1 in the league to finish behind Hartley (3-0) and ahead of Watterson and St. Charles (0-3).
"It's always good to beat Watterson," coach Ryan Wiggins said. "It's a game we circle in the DeSales community and a game they circle in the Watterson community, and it's a game that's got a lot of history. From that standpoint, it's good to win."
Despite the victory, the Stallions settled for 10th in Division III, Region 11 to miss the playoffs for just the third time in 11 seasons under Wiggins. The top eight teams in each region made the postseason.
DeSales led Watterson 35-7 at halftime.
Senior quarterback Cole Silvestri scored on a 9-yard run with 8 minutes left in the first quarter and threw second-quarter touchdowns to Ty Van Fossen for 53 yards, Bobby Zendarsky for 11 yards and Carter Hilleary for 30 yards. Van Fossen also returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, Silvestri ran for an 18-yard touchdown to complete the scoring.
Silvestri finished 11-for-19 passing for 161 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 51 yards and two scores, Brian Asamoah had 99 yards rushing on 15 carries and Van Fossen (two catches for 60 yards), Hilleary (four catches for 54 yards) and Joey Velazquez (three receptions for 23 yards) were the top receivers.
DeSales limited Watterson to 150 yards of offense.
"We overcame a rough first quarter but kind of weathered the storm and had a great second quarter," Wiggins said.