Members of the Big Walnut High School girls volleyball team might be experiencing déjà vu after losing three of their first four matches.
A year ago, the Golden Eagles started 1-2 before reaching the Division II state final, where they lost to Parma Padua Franciscan 25-20, 25-14, 25-10 to finish 25-4 overall.
With several returning starters, 29th-year coach Ron Lehman isn’t overly concerned about the slow start and fully expects more success this season.
“We’re really optimistic with this group,” said Lehman, whose team was 1-3 before playing Marysville on Aug. 30. “We want to peak in October and not in August and September. Our goal is to go further, and we believe we have the talent to do that.”
The Golden Eagles are led by a strong senior class consisting of outside hitter Kelsie Imertreijs (honorable mention all-state, first-team all-district and all-league), setter/outside hitter Machaela Podraza (second-team all-district, first-team all-league), setter Sammi Bickley (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league), middle hitter Kaley Rammelsberg, defensive specialist Lauren Speelman and outside hitter/defensive specialist Emily Vance.
Speelman is rehabbing from an offseason injury.
Also contributing are junior middle and outside hitters Kassie Bowmar and Alex Billings and freshman outside hitter Caroline Speelman.
“We’re trying to get everybody to understand their roles and responsibilities,” Lehman said. “Early (in the season), we were struggling with our passing, but it’s getting better. There are just little details that we need to get cleaned up and get collected.”
Big Walnut’s only victory through four matches came against Westerville Central, 25-18, 25-10, 25-21 on Aug. 23.
Last season, the Golden Eagles won their 17th district championship under Lehman and their 14th OCC-Capital Division title in 18 years. They went 10-0 in the league to finish ahead of Canal Winchester (8-2), New Albany and Newark (both 5-5), Groveport (2-8) and Franklin Heights (0-10).
Big Walnut opens league play Tuesday, Sept. 4, at home against Canal Winchester.
“Our schedule has been loaded heavy on the front end,” Lehman said. “Unfortunately, our league isn’t super strong in volleyball, so we try to get as many strong non-league opponents as we can.”
Big Walnut opened Aug. 21 with a 25-23, 17-25, 25-21, 25-22 loss to Olentangy Orange. After beating Central, the Golden Eagles lost to Sparta Highland 25-23, 27-25, 21-25, 18-25, 17-15 on Aug. 25 and Olentangy 25-21, 17-25, 25-23, 21-25, 16-14 on Aug. 28.
Girls runners aiming for OCC title
A year ago, the girls cross country team fell six points shy of the OCC-Capital title, placing second to New Albany in the league meet.
Fifth-year coach Kevin Lewis believes his group can close the gap this season.
“Our focus is to try and win the OCC,” Lewis said. “This team qualified for the regionals last year, and so we want to get back there and maybe move up in the pack a little bit.”
Big Walnut returns a Division I state qualifier in junior Colbi Borland, who finished 59th of 173 runners in 19 minutes, 14.5 seconds in her first state appearance last season.
Borland advanced to state by finishing 18th (19:07.1) of 129 runners in the regional meet at Pickerington North.
Big Walnut finished 16th (394 points) of 17 teams at regional, behind champion Granville (63).
Also back after competing at regional last year is junior Chloe McKenzie, who finished 124th (22:35.74).
Borland was runner-up (19:40) in Buckeye Valley’s Baron Bash on Aug. 25, as the Golden Eagles finished fourth (101) of 10 teams, behind Jonathan Alder (36), Buckeye Valley (47) and Centerburg (93).
Sophomore Grace Unger was next for Big Walnut, finishing 22nd (22:28), and senior Hannah Unger was 24th (22:44). Both are newcomers to the program.
“They’re really hard workers, and they’re a great addition to our team,” Lewis said.
Other runners include sophomores Mackenna Ames, Annika Anderson and Sierra Sanders and freshman Jaiden Hilton.
The boys team finished seventh (192) in the 10-team Baron Bash behind champion Olentangy Liberty (35).
Junior Jacob Krous was the Golden Eagles’ top finisher, placing 24th (18:50). He was followed by freshman Christopher Lee (19:15), senior Drew Armstrong (19:47), junior Austin Stewart (20:32) and senior Leif Anderson (20:33).
Stewart and junior Jackson Podraza are newcomers who competed on the boys track and field team’s 3,200-meter relay last spring.
“(Stewart and Podraza) are really making a big impact, and I think we just have to get some more miles in them and I think they’re going to join that lead pack,” Lewis said.
Football team getting set for Irish
Football coach Joe Weaver knows his team will be well-tested when it begins OCC-Capital play later this month.
Not only does the non-league schedule feature three teams that reached the postseason a year ago, but Big Walnut also plays host to a Dublin Scioto team on Friday, Sept. 7, that returns a lot of experience after going 5-5 last season.
“Dublin football is Dublin football, whether you’re talking about Scioto, Coffman or Jerome,” Weaver said. “They take pride in their football throughout that community.”
Big Walnut opened Aug. 24 with a 43-38 loss to Johnstown, which made the Division V playoffs a year ago, and played host to Buckeye Valley, which made the Division III playoffs last season, on Aug. 31.
The Golden Eagles face Olentangy Orange, a Division I playoff qualifier last season, on Sept. 14.
Leading Scioto’s spread offense is quarterback Kyron Rogers, who completed six of 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-7 victory over St. Charles on Aug. 24.
Tobias Thomas had two catches for 60 yards and a touchdown and added a 3-yard touchdown run and a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown to help lead the Irish, who played New Albany on Aug. 31.
Key players on defense for Scioto include end Cayson Pfeiffer and linebacker Logan Williams, while Griffin Crosa, a North Dakota State recruit, returns as place-kicker and punter.
Jagger Barnett made his first varsity start at quarterback for Big Walnut against Johnstown and completed 13 of 16 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 13 times for 63 yards.
Nathan Lawyer had a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs for the Golden Eagles, who trailed 21-7 after the first quarter and 28-14 at halftime. His second score cut Johnstown’s lead to 31-29 late in the third quarter.
Aug. 18 – OHSAA Early Season Invitational at National Trail Raceway
Aug. 25 – Baron Bash at Buckeye Valley
Sept. 1 – Granville Invitational at Bryn Du Mansion
Sept. 4 – at Licking Heights
Sept. 8 – McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 15 – Otterbein Invitational
Sept. 22 – at Dublin Jerome
Oct. 3 – at Hilliard Darby
Oct. 6 – Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 13 – OCC-Capital meet at Lancaster
Aug. 21 – at Olentangy Orange
Aug. 23 – vs. Westerville Central
Aug. 25 – vs. Sparta Highland
Aug. 28 – vs. Olentangy
Aug. 30 – at Marysville
*Sept. 4 – vs. Canal Winchester
*Sept. 6 – at New Albany
Sept. 11 – vs. Upper Arlington
*Sept. 13 – vs. Newark
Sept. 15 – at Pickerington North
Sept. 18 – vs. Olentangy Liberty
*Sept. 20 – vs. Franklin Heights
*Sept. 25 – at Groveport
*Sept. 27 – at Canal Winchester
Sept. 29 – at Gahanna with Hilliard Davidson
*Oct. 2 – vs. New Albany
*Oct. 4 – at Newark
*Oct. 9 – at Franklin Heights
*Oct. 11 – vs. Groveport
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls tennis teams:
Sept. 4 – Columbus Academy at Clover Valley
Sept. 6 – Grandview at Royal American
Sept. 4 – Johnstown and Upper Arlington at Bent Tree
Sept. 5 – Pickerington Central at Turnberry
Sept. 4 – At Marysville
Sept. 6 – At Dublin Scioto
Sept. 6 – At Bellville Clear Fork
Sept. 8 – Home vs. Central Crossing
*Sept. 4 – Home vs. Franklin Heights
Sept. 5 – At DeSales
*Sept. 6 – At Groveport