Kevin Gallagher has high expectations for the St. Charles Preparatory School volleyball team, and the Cardinals may have the talent to live up to the senior libero's standards.

St. Charles returns four starters from last season, when it finished 16-10 overall and tied DeSales for the CCL title at 3-1.

Gallagher believes the Cardinals are poised to contend for their first Division II state championship since 2009.

"It's my last year, and I want to finish strong," he said. "We have to push as much as we can in the (postseason) tournament. We have to get better every game and keep working toward our goal of reaching state."

The other returning starters are senior middle hitter Andrew Dilley and junior outside hitters Alex McLane and Nathan Lancia.

"I think we have one of the best teams we have had in the last five years," Dilley said. "We're excited about that."

Fifth-year coach Ned Gruber also believes his team should excel.

"We lost two (players to graduation), but most of our starting lineup is back," he said. "We have good leadership, but we have to make sure we play well together as a team. Most of the kids have played together since they were freshmen so they know one another."

Juniors Michael Jimenez and Jose Segura-Bermudez and sophomore Ted Hofmeister are outside hitters. Junior Matthew Sheridan is a defensive specialist, junior Jack Schumacher is a middle hitter and junior Jake Franz is in his first season at setter.

"Jake Franz is playing really well at setter, and he has played way better than we expected early in the year," Gruber said. "We need to be a little more balanced on offense. ... We have good outside hitters, but we have to spread the ball around to keep the other teams honest."

Gallagher believes the early play of Franz has been a difference-maker for the Cardinals.

"Jake Franz has been great as our setter," Gallagher said. "I think our in-system balls are one of our strengths. We have been getting them to our two strong (outside hitters) Alex McLane and Nathan Lancia. They have been doing a good job of putting balls away."

The Cardinals are 4-2 overall and 1-0 in the CCL. They defeated Olentangy 23-25, 26-24, 15-25, 25-23, 15-13 on March 23 before dropping two of three matches March 24, beating Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit 25-21, 25-23 but losing to Mount Vernon 25-20, 25-23 and Kettering Alter 25-22, 19-25, 25-18.

St. Charles defeated Watterson 25-19, 23-25, 26-24, 25-15 in its league opener March 27 and beat Hilliard Bradley 25-14 25-15, 25-12 on March 28.

"I like the camaraderie of the team," Gruber said. "We all like coming to practice because we have a great working environment."

New track coach likes team's depth

First-year coach John Leskovich has a lot of young athletes on a deep track and field team, which has won four CCL titles in the past five seasons.

Leskovich was the coach at Lexington for three seasons before moving to central Ohio and coaching sprinters at Dublin Jerome last spring. He replaced Zach Wright after two seasons.

The Cardinals opened March 26 with a second-place finish (71.93 points) behind Gahanna (99.96) in the seven-team Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central.

"I really think depth will be big for us," Leskovich said. "I've been to a lot of meets where teams win a lot of events but don't win the meet. We had a lot of kids with seconds, thirds and fourths, which is how you do well at meets. It was a pretty tough field (at the Hammond Relays) and we held our own."

Despite the loss of the team's lone state qualifier from a year ago, 2017 graduate Kevin Hennessey, the distance corps should be strong. Hennessey finished ninth in the 3,200 meters (9 minutes, 26.65 seconds) at state after setting the program record of 9:13.38 while placing third at regional.

The distance medley of juniors Iain Karas, Cameron DeShelter and Liam O'Reilly and sophomore Ethan Encarnacion finished first (11:30.4) in the Hammond Relays.

Senior Grant Shepardson had the top performance in the long jump with an effort of 19 feet, 1 3/4 inches.

Leskovich said seniors Joseph Rivera and Nick Schuler, junior Nicholas Welch and freshman Liam Quinlan will be strong in middle distance and jumps. Senior Anthony Aikins and junior Justin Efebera are the top hurdlers.

Seniors Nick Teague and Luke Voegele lead the throwers. Sophomores Donavon Allen, Nick Rivera and Kaleb Simpson and freshman Isaiah Yarngo lead the sprint corps.

"We have a lot of young guys, so we have a lot of teaching to do," Leskovich said. "We don't have a lot of seniors, but we have a bunch of good sophomores and juniors who know what to do. We have to get the younger guys to follow the lead of the guys who know what they are doing."

St. Charles won the CCL meet last spring with 173 points, ahead of runner-up DeSales (153).

Singles players leading tennis team

The tennis team figures to have a strong presence on the singles courts as the doubles teams develop chemistry.

Senior Jack Dabek returns after playing doubles in the postseason with 2017 graduate Evan Yakubov. The two went 1-1 in the Division I state tournament.

Dabek will play first singles with freshman Reese Yakubov at second singles and senior Matt Morrison at third singles.

"We won't have Reese Yakubov until April 8 because he is playing USTA events," said third-year coach Max Quinton, whose team finished 10-6 overall last season. "Once he's back, we should be pretty strong at singles."

Seniors Patrick O'Neil and Quyen Thai are at first doubles, and juniors Will Prophater and Ben Wolfe are at second doubles.

"Our singles courts are definitely our strength, but we are very questionable at doubles right now," Quinton said. "The party's at the net (in doubles) and they are resisting the trip."

Also expected to see time in doubles are senior Brendan Finn, junior Dylan Forche and sophomore Evan Porshinsky.

St. Charles opened with a 4-1 win over Thomas Worthington on March 26 before losing to Massillon Jackson 3-2 on March 28.

The Cardinals won their sixth consecutive CCL title a year ago, going 4-0 to finish ahead of runner-up Watterson (3-1). They open league action April 17 against Ready.

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen

Schedules

TENNIS

March 26 – at Thomas Worthington

March 28 – vs. Massillon Jackson

April 13 – at Westerville North

April 16 – at Hilliard Davidson

*April 17 – at Ready

April 18 – at Wellington

April 21 – Hilliard Davidson Doubles Classic

*April 24 – at Watterson

April 28 – New Albany Invitational

May 4 – vs. Bexley

May 8 – at Dublin Jerome

TRACK & FIELD

March 26 – Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central

March 27 – at Upper Arlington with Worthington Christian

April 7 – Lexington Invitational

April 10 – Circleville, Columbus Academy, Madison Christian and Ready at Columbus School for Girls

April 13 – Bexley Relays

April 20 – Fulton Relays at Lancaster

April 27 – Anthony Wilson Invitational at Franklin Heights

May 4 – Larkin Invitational at Upper Arlington

May 8, 10 – CCL meet at Hartley

VOLLEYBALL

March 23 – vs. Olentangy

March 24 – Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Kettering Alter and Mount Vernon at Mount Vernon Nazarene

*March 27 – at Watterson

March 28 – vs. Hilliard Bradley

April 3 – at Mount Vernon

April 4 – at Dublin Jerome

April 6 – vs. Olentangy Liberty

April 10 – at Worthington Kilbourne

*April 11 – vs. DeSales

April 13 – vs. Thomas Worthington

April 14 – Spikes for Tykes at Hiram College

*April 17 – vs. Watterson

April 18 – vs. Pickerington Central

*April 24 – at DeSales

May 4 – vs. Gahanna

May 5 – vs. Akron Hoban and Pickerington North

May 7 – vs. Reynoldsburg

May 10 – at Dublin Scioto

May 12 – Middletown Fenwick Division II tournament

May 17 – at Beavercreek

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the St. Charles baseball and lacrosse teams:

BASEBALL

April 5- Raleigh (N.C.) Grace Christian Day at ESPN-Disney spring training in Kissimmee, Fla.

April 6 – Bountiful (Utah) Viewmont at ESPN-Disney spring training in Kissimmee, Fla.

April 11 – At Dublin Jerome

LACROSSE

April 6 – Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy at Boca Raton (Fla.) St. Andrew’s

April 7 – At Boca Raton (Fla.) St. Andrew’s

April 10 – Home vs. Buckeye Valley