For the second season in a row, the Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team fell one victory short of winning its third Division I state championship.
The Panthers lost to top-ranked Cincinnati Moeller 25-22, 25-22, 25-18 in the state final June 3 at Capital University after rallying to defeat Clayton Northmont 25-20, 21-25, 21-25, 27-25, 15-13 in a semifinal earlier that day.
Darby, which won state championships in 2013 and 2015, lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-18, 26-24, 25-19 in last year's state final.
"This was a very good season that just ended up from being spectacular, but with most of the lineup coming back next year, I think we'll be even better," said coach Evan Bell, whose team finished 21-9. "I just feel for the seniors this year that we didn't quite accomplish our biggest goal."
Against Moeller, Collin Buelow had 14 kills and two blocks, Adam Ansel had 11 kills and three blocks and setter Noah Platfoot had two kills, four blocks and two aces.
"I thought Noah and Adam played very well, especially in the first two games," Bell said. "But we kept falling behind and spending a lot of time and energy trying to catch back up."
Moeller, which finished 26-1, led 20-13 in the first game before the Panthers pulled within 23-21, only to have a service error halt their rally. Darby trailed 19-15 in the second game but rallied to tie the score at 22 before the Crusaders scored the final three points. The Panthers trailed 10-5, 15-8 and 20-12 in the third game.
"We gave everything we had (against Northmont) to get into the championship (match) and Moeller had a great game plan and kept us out of system by routinely finding spots on the floor where we were struggling with our passing," Bell said. "That throws everything out of whack, makes the sets move and gives you trouble finding the hitters."
Darby, which was making its 13th consecutive state tournament appearance and 17th overall, watched a 20-15 lead in the second game against Northmont slip away, as the Thunderbolts scored 10 of the game's final 11 points.
The Panthers staved off elimination in the fourth game by rallying from a 20-15 deficit to force a fifth game, in which they broke an 11-all tie to advance to the championship match.
Darby overcame some early jitters and pulled out a 22-25, 25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 15-10 win over Cincinnati St. Xavier in a state quarterfinal June 2 at Capital.
In the fifth game, Darby broke a 6-all tie to take an 11-7 lead, as Buelow had a pair of his 18 kills in that stretch. Ansel added 12 kills and two blocks and Dominic Melchiorre had 10 kills.
Kowalski, McGill lead track teams at state
Sophomore Emma Kowalski of the girls track and field team stood on the podium at the Division I state meet held June 1 and 2 at Ohio State for the third time in her career.
Kowalski placed third in the discus (131 feet, 10 inches) and seventh in the shot put (39-7 1/2) on June 2 to reach the podium in both events. Last season as a freshman, she made the podium in the discus by placing eighth (126-1).
"I didn't throw my best today, but there are a lot of girls here who didn't throw their best, either," Kowalski said. "I'm pleased with getting on the podium twice. Earlier in the season, I wouldn't have given myself a chance to make it here in the shot put, so that was just extra special.
"To be able to be up there twice is a great feeling. I just want to follow that up next year and beat my school record (137-8) to get here and then throw my best when I'm here and see where that puts me. If I can improve my positioning in the shot put next year like I did in the discus, I can see myself being very happy next year."
Also competing for the girls team was sophomore Naomi Walters, who finished 10th in the long jump (17-4 1/4).
Kowalski scored eight points for the Panthers, who tied five teams for 29th behind champion Gahanna (51) as 64 teams scored.
Sophomore Malachi McGill of the boys team was happy to finish fifth in the 800 meters (1 minute, 53.75 seconds) even though he was the defending champion. He won last year's state title in 1:53.28.
"This was a stronger field and I didn't have much training because I pulled my hamstring in the second or third week of the season," McGill said. "I was aiming to finish fourth or fifth, so this is about where I should've finished this time. Next year I will be shooting for another state championship and I also want to add another event, maybe a throw or a jump."
McGill scored five points for the Panthers, who tied four teams for 38th behind champion Pickerington Central (58) as 69 teams scored.
"I thought Malachi ran a great race in effort and tactics," coach Matthew Fox said. "He put himself in it from the start, coming in from lane 9 and really competed until the end. It was a really great field of runners."
On June 1, the 3,200 relay of McGill, seniors Josh Baldridge and Jason Fleishman and freshman Sean Carney finished 11th (7:57.14) and senior Clint Barnett finished 13th in the 100 (10.96).
"Clint's season may not have ended how he wanted, but I was really impressed with his demeanor and effort and approach," Fox said. "The 100 comes down to tenths of a second and he was right there with some of the fastest guys in the state."
Also competing at state was junior Chris Burkhart, who finished 16th in the discus (144-5).
"Chris would tell you he didn't have his best meet, but he gained valuable experience for next year," Fox said. "I think you will see the value of that experience as he will compete to be on the podium next year."