The Worthington Kilbourne High School girls volleyball team had one of its most successful seasons in program history and should return a lot of experience next season.
But that doesn't mean coach Meladee Hopkins will be changing her expectations.
"I hope that the team's expectations will just continue to revolve around having fun and growing as young ladies," she said. "We don't want to put too much pressure on ourselves because we seem to do better if we just go out and play for each other."
The Wolves' season ended Oct. 25 with a 27-25, 25-19, 25-20 loss to eighth-seeded Olentangy in a Division I district semifinal. Kilbourne finished 21-4 overall, including 12-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division.
Hilliard Darby (9-3) finished second in the league, followed by Delaware (7-5), Dublin Scioto (6-6), Dublin Jerome and Hilliard Bradley (both 3-9) and Thomas (2-10).
"I am incredibly proud of this program, from varsity to freshmen," Hopkins said. "We finished with the most wins in the history of the program and won our fourth (league) championship. Our (junior varsity) team started 0-6 and finished 11-11, and the freshman team finished 20-2 and was 11-1 in the (league)."
Kilbourne thrived this season despite losing five senior starters from a year ago, when it went 18-8 overall, 8-4 in the league and reached a district final.
"I really think that taking the pressure off of (the players) and embracing the spoiler role was a key to our success," Hopkins said. "The girls were told constantly to not worry about the outcome and just go out and have fun. So that's the approach we want to take again next season."
The Wolves are losing four seniors in Alyssa Jozefowicz (setter), Abby Kelly (right-side hitter), Kasey Trout (right-side hitter/outside hitter) and Tanya Yeauger (middle hitter).
"We will have a great group of girls returning and some of our freshmen will be challenging our upperclassmen for playing time," Hopkins said. "The only player with significant playing time that has to be replaced is Tanya Yeauger."
Key players expected to return are juniors Lexi Bair (outside hitter), Sarah Baxter (middle hitter), Amber Beals (libero), Taylor Katz (outside hitter) and Maddie Reeve (right-side hitter/setter).
Beals, a University of Michigan commit, was named league Player of the Year. She was joined on first-team all-league by Reeve. Katz was second-team all-league and Baxter was special mention all-league.
Beals also was first-team all-district and Reeve was second-team all-district.
Also expected back are juniors Abby Nichter (right-side hitter/setter), Dana Dickerson (defensive specialist) and Casey Knuth (middle hitter), sophomore Olivia Karhoff (defensive specialist) and freshman Lauren Bair (outside hitter).
Bair was honorable mention all-league.
"I am very pleased with the way the players worked hard and accepted their roles," Hopkins said. "I feel like that there was not only volleyball growth, but some personal character growth as well. That is the real reason I coach."
Boys soccer team peaked at key time
The boys soccer team had a strong finish to its season.
The Wolves beat Thomas 5-1 in their regular-season finale Oct. 10 and then won three road games in the Division I district tournament before losing to second-seeded Dublin Coffman 4-1 in a district final Oct. 28 at Westerville South to finish 7-9-4 overall.
Coffman went on to win a regional title to advance to the state tournament.
"We had a great run at the end of the season," coach Jon Sprunger said. "I always tell my players that the regular-season games are preparation for the tournament. We fight hard and focus on the (OCC-Cardinal) games and the remaining games are to experiment and perfect our game.
"What really counts is where you are as a team in October. Based on our tournament, we peaked at the right time."
The 27th-seeded Wolves defeated 17th-seeded Delaware 2-1 in the first round Oct. 18, fifth-seeded New Albany 2-1 in the second round Oct. 21 and 18th-seeded Gahanna 2-1 in overtime in a district semifinal Oct. 25.
"Beating Thomas Worthington in the final game of the (regular) season is always a goal," Sprunger said. "Thomas is a good team that is well-coached and being the crosstown rival always makes for a game that is important for both teams.
"Being seeded 27th was disappointing because I knew we were much more talented than the seeding represented. Making it to a district championship game means we were one of only 32 Division I teams left in the state out of 200."
Kilbourne went 3-1-2 in the OCC-Cardinal to place second, behind Jerome (5-0-1) and ahead of Bradley and Thomas (both 3-3), Darby (2-2-2), Delaware (2-3-1) and Scioto (0-6).
The Wolves are losing eight seniors in Jason Bowen (goalkeeper), Deane Elliott (forward), Christian Hernandez (goalie), Lucas Hershberger (midfielder), Jacob Hoeft (defender), Derek Justus (defender), Palmer Moats (defender) and Jacob Roberts (midfielder).
Moats and Roberts were named first-team all-league. Justus was on the second team and Bowen was special mention.
Roberts, who also was second-team all-district, and Elliott both finished with three goals and two assists. Justus had one goal and five assists and Hershberger had two goals and an assist. Bowen made 90 saves and Hernandez had 29 saves.
"We are losing two very talented goalkeepers in Jason Bowen and Christian Hernandez, and our two most accomplished center backs, Derek Justus and Palmer Moats, will be leaving us," Sprunger said. "They also represent the core of our leadership.
"Jacob Roberts was our most dynamic playmaker. Without him, we would have struggled. Deane Elliott was our speedy forward. So we're losing some talented players."
Expected to return are juniors Josh Blankenship (midfielder), Wyatt Hackathorne (defender), Jack Smullen (forward) and William Wiet (midfielder), sophomore Jimmy Sauder (midfielder) and freshmen Chris Guerra (forward) and Brandon Kim (forward).
Guerra led the team with 11 goals and had four assists. Blankenship and Sauder both had three goals and Smullen scored two.
Guerra and Sauder were second-team all-league and Wiet was honorable mention.
"I am very optimistic about next year," Sprunger said. "Many of our returning varsity players are quite talented. Our j.v. 'A' team had one of the best seasons in years. The competition for starting positions is going to be very fierce."