Even with key returnees from its 2017 playoff roster scattered throughout the field, the Ready High School football team ultimately wasn’t able to successfully navigate a schedule that included seven programs that qualified for the postseason.

Considering they again will play against a deep MSL-Ohio Division slate next fall, it’s not likely to get much easier for the Silver Knights, although they won’t play Hartley after facing the Hawks each of the last 55 seasons.

Closing the gap, though, is something players like junior tight end and linebacker Thomas Stiltner believe is possible.

“The potential for the team next season is unbelievable, but to truly meet our potential as a team, we have to get into the weight room as soon as possible and immediately get back to work to prepare for next year,” Stiltner said. “Some offseason objectives for returning players, including myself, are that we must get stronger and faster, and to do this, we just have to work as a team and a family to push each other day in and day out.

“(This year’s seniors) taught me and the underclassmen what hard work and dedication is, and they taught us how to push each other to be the best we can. So going into next fall, we were granted the ability to know how to push each other and to always believe in each other.”

Ready closed the season with a 24-3 win over Bexley on Oct. 26 to finish 4-6.

The teams the Knights lost to went a combined 51-9. Ready beat Division V, Region 20 playoff qualifier West Jefferson (30-23 on Aug. 31) as well as Columbus Academy (56-42 on Oct. 5), which nearly made the Division V, Region 19 playoffs.

The Knights finished 10th in Region 19, only two spots out of the playoffs.

London will not be in the MSL-Ohio next season after going 9-1, but Harvest Prep and Buckeye Valley are expected to join. Harvest Prep went undefeated during this year’s regular season and made the Division VII, Region 27 playoffs and Buckeye Valley finished 5-5.

Replacing Hartley on the schedule after the Hawks earned the No. 1 seed for the Division III, Region 11 playoffs will be St. Charles, which went 4-6. The Knights are expected to face each of the other four CCL schools one time per year on a rotational basis.

It remains to be determined whether Ready will become an official member of the MSL-Ohio or whether it will remain an auxiliary member, but coach Brian Cross expects his program to play each of the teams from the league for the third year in a row next fall.

“We have a good nucleus coming back to work with,” Cross said. “The biggest issue I see is our schedule again is going to be very tough. This year seven of our 10 opponents made the playoffs. London is leaving, so we’d be replacing them with Buckeye Valley, which is a Division III school, and then Harvest Prep is coming into the MSL-Ohio, so they’re coming in and they’re a talented team.”

In Ready’s season finale, junior running back Jack Foley rushed for 256 yards and one touchdown on 35 carries to close his season as one of the leading rushers in central Ohio with 1,640 yards and 17 touchdowns on 265 carries.

He and Stiltner are part of a junior class that could have as many as a dozen returnees next season.

Juniors Josh Baum, Gabriel Hawkins, Billy Fannin, Nick Kamer and Jacob Robinson should provide options on the offensive line as well as the defensive front.

Junior kicker A.J. Craddock made 27 of 30 extra points and three field goals and also is among the team’s defensive backs.

Junior Donovan Sanders should return at fullback and sophomore Cole Canter could be the heir apparent at quarterback to replace senior Austin Aiello, a three-year starter who threw for 900 yards and seven touchdowns and also was among the team’s top defensive backs. Aiello also averaged 36.5 yards on 38 punts.

Other key seniors on offense included wide receiver Jaishan Norris and linemen Cade Canter and Sam Hardenbergh. Norris had 32 receptions for 612 yards and five touchdowns and added three interceptions on defense.

Cade Canter was a four-year starter on the defensive line who had 42 tackles. Hardenbergh also started on the defensive line and had two sacks and 85 tackles.

“Any time you can end the season with a win, it sends you into the winter weight-training program on a positive note,” Cross said. “We’ve got about nine guys back on offense who will be returning lettermen. Defensively, I think we’ll have about five or six lettermen back, so we’ll have a little work there.”

Most of volleyball team to return

The 12th-seeded girls volleyball team had its season end with a 19-25, 25-14, 25-21, 25-21 loss to fifth-seeded Fredericktown in a Division III district semifinal Oct. 25 at Mount Vernon Nazarene.

The Knights finished 11-14 overall and 2-6 in the CCL.

After upsetting top-seeded Fairbanks 17-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-22 on Oct. 16 in the first round, Ready beat 21st-seeded West Jefferson 25-16, 25-17, 25-16 on Oct. 20 in the second round.

The Knights made it to a district semifinal for the second consecutive season despite having just one senior in outside hitter Lauren Whitt. That’s because players such as freshmen Kaitlyn Lancia (middle hitter/right-side hitter) and Simone Daniel (middle hitter/right-side hitter) and sophomore Bella Illig (outside hitter) continued to grow.

“Simone and Kaitlyn both being freshmen (gave) us energy,” coach Mike Kusan said. Others eligible to return include juniors Bre Hejduk (setter), Kiley Gallagher (setter) and Lauren Schlosser (defensive specialist), sophomore Katie Gallagher (defensive specialist) and freshman Megan Chesser (middle hitter/right-side hitter).

“We are really young,” Hejduk said. “We knew we’d have to work hard to get what we want.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek