Having returned almost its entire roster, the Big Walnut High School girls volleyball team is looking to make bigger strides than it did a year ago.

Having returned almost its entire roster, the Big Walnut High School girls volleyball team is looking to make bigger strides than it did a year ago.

Last season, the Golden Eagles finished 16-8 overall and went 12-2 in the OCC-Capital Division to place second, behind Hilliard Bradley (13-1) and ahead of Mount Vernon (10-4), Olentangy Orange (7-7), Delaware Hayes (6-8), New Albany (6-8), Watkins Memorial (2-12) and Franklin Heights (0-14).

Seeded third in the Division II district tournament, Big Walnut had a first-round bye and defeated London 25-19, 28-26, 25-19 in the second round before losing to fourth-seeded Jonathan Alder 25-14, 23-25, 25-23, 25-21 in a district semifinal.

In 2010, the Golden Eagles were the state runners-up and won their third consecutive OCC-Capital title and their 10th league championship in 11 years.

"We expect to be a lot better," said coach Ron Lehman, who is in his 23rd season leading the program. "We've got almost everybody back. They're all improved and working well as a team. I'm pleased with where we are at this point in the season."

Big Walnut, which opened with a 18-25, 23-25, 25-18, 25-15, 15-5 loss to Hartley on Aug. 25 before beginning league play with a 25-18, 28-26, 25-21 victory over Olentangy on Aug. 28, lost only one player from a year ago to graduation in outside hitter Sammie Ebright.

Last season, Ebright was named OCC-Capital Player of the Year and shared district Player of the Year honors with DeSales' Tyler Craig and Hartley's Brooke Betts. She now is playing for Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

"Replacing Sammie, it's a group thing," Lehman said. "We're looking for everybody to pick it up. I don't have one player who can do what Sammie did."

The Golden Eagles returned eight letterwinners in seniors Natalie Chatterton (middle hitter), Alexis Newman (libero), Abby Painter (outside hitter) and Kylee Williams (outside hitter), juniors Morgan Alley (setter), Kaylynn Bowmar (middle hitter) and Kayla Walaszek (middle hitter) and sophomore Claire Chatterton (outside hitter).

Last season, Natalie Chatterton was first-team all-league and Alley was second-team all-league. Williams and Newman were special mention and honorable mention all-league, respectively.

Completing the roster are junior Brooke Hatfield and sophomore Krista Schmidt.

"I'm a little disappointed we didn't win the league and didn't win the district (last season)," Lehman said. "We have high standards."

As part of OCC realignment this summer, Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy, which had been in the OCC-Cardinal.

"Bradley is up and coming," Lehman said. "In ways, it's disappointing to lose a really good program like that."

Football team falls in season opener

The football team opened with a 27-0 to visiting Westerville Central on Aug. 24.

"I'm proud of my kids," coach Joe Weaver said. "They played their tails off. Westerville Central is a good football team. They're big, strong and fast, but there are some things we have to fix."

It marked the second consecutive season in which Big Walnut lost to Central in its opener. The Golden Eagles lost to the Warhawks 27-16 last year but went on to finish 9-3, earn a share of the OCC-Capital championship and reach the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.

Big Walnut, which leads the all-time series with Central 8-2, played without its starting quarterback in senior Carson Chatterton, who was sidelined with mononucleosis and is out indefinitely, Weaver said.

Chatterton's backup, sophomore Jordan Wall, made his first varsity start and completed five of eight passes for 79 yards before leaving the game late in the first half with concussion-like symptoms. Wall was replaced by junior Chaz Leavitt, who was 0-for-5 passing with an interception.

The Golden Eagles were held to 108 total yards and had two turnovers.

"We had a lot of kids who were seeing Friday night lights for the first time," Weaver said. "They came out fired up and ready to roll, but you're going to make mistakes when it's your first time there. They made those mistakes and played through them. They played hard.

"I'm proud of the senior class. They rallied around (the younger players) and constantly picked them up."

Central was led by junior quarterback Jared Drake, who transferred from Upper Arlington this summer. He completed six of 10 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 121 yards and two scores.

"He's a caliber player," Weaver said. "He came in and was an impact right away. That tells you how good he is."

The Golden Eagles had two takeaways against Central, as junior defensive back Joel Windle intercepted Warhawks backup quarterback Nate Jackowski and senior C.J. Harness recovered a muffed punt.

Big Walnut, which played a road game against Chillicothe on Aug. 31, plays host to Cleveland Collinwood on Friday, Sept. 7. The contest marks the first meeting between the teams.

The Golden Eagles originally were scheduled to play Hamilton (Ontario) St. Jean de Brebeuf in week three. However, teachers at the Canadian school went on strike, which resulted in members of the coaching staff for its football team quitting, leaving the school without a team this season.

Collinwood finished 3-7 last season and was held to 79 yards passing and minus-15 yards rushing in its opener, a 56-0 loss to Hubbard on Aug. 24. The Railroaders played East Cleveland Shaw on Aug. 31.