DeSales High School girls volleyball coach Brenden Pence was more concerned during a practice last October with the Stallions' next Division I district tournament opponent than who his setter might be this season.
But coming out of a water break and before the next scheduled drill, a few players put together an informal four-on-four match. That gave Emma Brown, then a sophomore middle hitter, and her cousin, Diana Brown, now a freshman setter at Illinois, an idea.
"Emma said, 'Coach, we're going to switch up our lineup. Diana's going to hit and I'll be a setter,'" Pence said. "I just said, 'OK, guys, very funny.' And sure enough, Diana throws a ball to Emma, Emma sets her a 31, a more advanced set, and Diana goes up and just crushes it. I was wowed.
"Right then, the wheels started turning how I could make Bella (D'Amico) hit more and have Emma set. We just went with it. And she's done very well."
Unbeknownst to Pence, Emma Brown had previous experience as a setter in the Mintonette Sports club organization. But what he quickly found out was that a major question for this season was answered.
Brown and D'Amico, a Georgia Tech commit, have taken turns running DeSales' 6-2 offense as the Stallions replenish their hitting unit. DeSales was 4-4 overall and 2-1 in the CCL before playing Watterson on Sept. 11.
Brown, who also added outside hitting duties, has increased her stock to the point that she was one of 2,045 players named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association's Phenom List released Aug. 31.
"That's a great honor," said Brown, who also attended a setter's camp in July to better reacquaint herself with the position. "It's a big change. I haven't practiced (setting) in two or three years. Then being an outside hitter, I think I have adjusted. I've seen more touches and worked with Bella to get better sets. The more I worked on it, the better I got.
"I like (setting) more than I thought. I get to control the game more. I get to see the blockers more and I understand the game in a different way, better than I did as a middle blocker."
Brown and D'Amico also ran a 6-2 offense during their seventh- and eighth-grade seasons at St. Paul School.
"Both of us would set and hit outside, so it feels like we're going back to that," said D'Amico, who committed to Georgia Tech on Aug. 1 and also received offers from Dayton, James Madison, Kent State, Miami University, Rutgers and Virginia Commonwealth. "She's done great. She's had so many assists. Her locations and choices are really good."
D'Amico led the Stallions with 95 assists and had a team-high 64 kills though eight matches. Brown had 44 kills and nine assists.
Avery Boyd and Emily Schweitzer have taken over as middle hitters.
"(Brown) connects with our hitters well and does some advanced stuff I didn't expect," Pence said. "We have some things we are doing and areas where we're trying to grow. We have to be a little bit stronger mentally in responding to adversity. We have a lot of moving pieces getting used to each other and getting those things ironed out."
Boys golf team showing improvement
Despite his team's first few tournament scores and the averages of his top three golfers being a bit higher than he expected, boys golf coach Tony Pinson is thrilled not only at his team's improvement but also the competition within the lineup.
The Stallions shot a 386 in the season-opening Pickerington Central Invitational on Aug. 6 at Turnberry and a 359 four days later in the Bloom-Carroll Invitational at Pine Hill, but cut that score considerably over the next week.
DeSales finished fourth (339) in the CCL preseason tournament Aug. 15 at Darby Creek, behind St. Charles (293), Hartley (311) and Watterson (316) and ahead of Ready (540). On Aug. 18, the Stallions finished 17th (335) in the Kent Miller Colonial Fall Classic at Hiawatha.
"We're getting better every day ... but those first two scores surprised me because I know we are capable of posting better scores than that. Lately, we've seen those scores," Pinson said. "We have qualifiers every single week and our top six guys have to earn their spots. I'm a firm believer in creating competition, and I think that is why our scores are getting better. Our guys know their spots aren't safe."
Andrew Connell, Michael Cummins and Kyle Zevchik all are averaging in the low 80s. Cummins has been the Stallions' top golfer all season.
"All of them are capable of shooting in the low 70s, and they have," Pinson said. "Our junior class (Connell, Cummins, Ryan Ratchford and Zevchik) has really stepped up. We've counted their four scores in every single round. But our freshmen, Scott Armstrong and Will Jordan, and (sophomore) Jack Imlay are fighting for spots, too. They want to play. They want to make an impact."
The CCL postseason tournament will be Sept. 23 at Apple Valley, two days before a Division II sectional tournament at either Foxfire or Oakhaven. Sectional assignments will be determined Sunday, Sept. 16.
Boys soccer team playing stingy defense
The boys soccer team debuted atop the season's first Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association Division II state poll last week, but perhaps more importantly, the Stallions had yet to allow a goal through four games.
DeSales has outscored its first six opponents 24-0 and is 6-0 entering its home game against Covington (Kentucky) Catholic on Saturday, Sept. 15.
The Stallions opened with a 5-0 win over Olentangy Orange on Aug. 23 and followed with shutouts of Bay Village Bay (3-0 on Aug. 25), Grove City (3-0 on Aug. 30), Ready (9-0 on Sept. 4), Marysville (3-0 on Sept. 6) and Richfield Revere (1-0 on Sept. 8).
Goalkeeper Thomas Sauer made two saves in each of the season's first three games. Gabe Weikert stopped Ready's only shot on goal and made seven saves against Marysville.
"The guys know how much I love a clean sheet (shutout)," coach Domenic Romanelli said. "We go into every game wanting to give up zero goals. If we do that, we'll win. That's always our first priority."
Jack Francisco and Nick Fuchs both have five goals to lead the Stallions and Cristian Gomez has four.
Below are the coming schedules for the DeSales cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 15 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park
Sept. 15 -- Rodney Butt Classic at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 18 -- Westerville Central at Champions
Sept. 13 -- Delaware and Olentangy at Oakhaven
Sept. 17 -- Ready at NorthStar
Sept. 18 -- MOGGL at Village View
Sept. 19 -- Watterson at NorthStar
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Covington (Ky.) Catholic
*Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Watterson
Sept. 15 -- At Olentangy
Sept. 18 -- At Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 13 -- Watterson at Park of Roses
Sept. 15 -- Reynoldsburg Doubles Invitational
Sept. 18 -- At Grove City
*Sept. 13 -- At Columbus School for Girls. The Stallions defeated the Unicorns 25-15, 25-12, 25-5 on Sept. 6.
Sept. 15 -- Casstown Clash at Casstown Miami East
*Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Ready. The Stallions defeated the Silver Knights 25-15, 25-15, 25-18 on Sept. 4.