Hartley High School girls volleyball coach Mike Rahe is convinced that one of the Central District's Division II teams could land the state championship trophy a little more than a week from now.
His team took a big step toward that goal by knocking off last year's state runner-up, second-seeded Big Walnut, 23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 15-8 in a district final Oct. 27 at Licking Heights.
The Hawks improved to 19-6 and will play Jonathan Alder in a regional semifinal Thursday, Nov. 1, at Heath.
The Pioneers are 22-4 after beating Sparta Highland 13-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-23 in a district final Oct. 27 at Licking Heights.
"(Big Walnut was an) unbelievable match," Rahe said. "Two talented teams who left everything on the court. Ashley Tipton anchored our defense and served the final four points. Chiamaka (Nwokolo) and Kayla Malone found holes and put the ball away. (Colleen) Sweeney set a great game and had them on their heels."
Hartley was seeded fifth in the district tournament but pulled off back-to-back upsets to advance to regional, as the Hawks beat fourth-seeded Granville 25-16, 25-15, 16-25, 26-24 in a district semifinal Oct. 25 at Licking Heights.
The Hartley-Jonathan Alder winner plays Thornville Sheridan or Gnadenhutten Indian Valley in a regional final Saturday, Nov. 3, at Heath.
The regional champion faces Gates Mills Gilmour Academy, Richfield Revere, Mentor Lake Catholic or Beloit in a state semifinal Nov. 9 at Wright State. The state final is Nov. 10 at the same site.
"We definitely grew from our experience last year and have been relentlessly preparing for what's ahead in tournament play," said Malone, whose team lost in a Division I district semifinal last season. "Some big keys going forward include continuing to improve on our current abilities, continuous communication and passionate hard work every single point. We win only when we come together as a team, and it's very crucial that we keep that up for the rest of this tournament run.
"I'm very confident in my teammates and believe that if we perform at a high level for the rest of this tournament run, we have really great things ahead of us."
Season ends for boys soccer season
The eighth-seeded boys soccer team lost to top-seeded DeSales 7-0 in a Division II district semifinal Oct. 24 to finish 8-11 overall.
The Hawks, who also fell to the Stallions 3-0 on Oct. 2, had underclassmen such as sophomore Declan O'Brien (defender/midfielder) and freshmen Gabe Donaghy (midfielder/forward) and Sam Roehrenbeck (forward/midfielder) playing key roles.
Hartley won five of its first seven games, including beating Watterson 1-0 on Sept. 4 and Ready 5-0 on Sept. 11 in CCL play. The Hawks went 2-2 in the league to place third behind St. Charles (4-0) and DeSales (3-1).
The biggest losses to graduation, according to coach Chris Kowalski, likely will be seniors Matteo Agriesti (midfielder/forward) and Diego Pena (defender). Agriesti was the team's leading scorer.
"Matteo Agriesti (was) willing to play any position on the field to assist the development of both individuals and our team as a whole," Kowalski said. "Diego Pena (was) a rock in the back line for us throughout the season. He also (played) an intricate role in our attack. Declan O'Brien has been an excellent center defensive midfielder for us in terms of distribution and organization."
Others eligible to return include juniors Carter Bjornson (defender), Caleb Franz (goalkeeper), Matthew Nash (midfielder), Sean Price (defender) and Aaron Vina (defender) and sophomores Nahom Chegen (midfielder), Ryan Hawk (midfielder), Ako Nwokolo (forward/midfielder) and Riley Sheehan (midfielder).