The Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team finally has its trophy.

The Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team finally has its trophy.

In their fourth consecutive state appearance, the Panthers won their first state championship, defeating Cincinnati Elder 25-17, 25-15, 25-27, 25-23 in the Division I final May 26 at Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit.

Darby, which lost to Cincinnati Moeller 25-20, 25-10, 25-17 in the final last season after falling in a semifinal in 2010 and 2011, finished 24-2. The Panthers were ranked first in the state poll and Elder was ranked fourth.

"It's very exciting and actually hard to grasp right now," coach Bryan Webb said. "After we won the first two games, we were a little tight in the third one and didn't play particularly well. But I think (Elder) was like that, too. It's the final and we've got eight seniors taking their last chance. They didn't want to go home without the big trophy, that's for sure."

Led by 6-foot-6 middle hitter and Division I Player of the Year Jarrod Kelso, 6-5 outside hitter J.B. Brinkerhoff and 6-4 setter Thane Fanfulik, the Panthers used their size to their advantage, particularly in the first two games.

Fanfulik and Brinkerhoff were named first-team and second-team all-state, respectively.

"We caused them problems at the net and Thane was stellar as usual," Webb said. "Our back row was fantastic, with (defensive specialist) Zach Kuebler and (libero) Steven Prosser coming up big. Everybody played their role. Everyone played well in spurts. I can't single out any players because it was a total team effort and that's what it takes at this level."

Darby earned match point when a serve by Elder sailed long, setting off a celebration by the Panthers.

"We stormed the court and it was a moment I don't think any of us will ever forget," Webb said. "We had some crazy celebrations last season, but this one was at a different level. These seniors will go down as the first ones to get it done, but they learned from some great players and great senior classes the past three years and many of them were there supporting us. This was a program win."

Darby reached the final by beating sixth-ranked Clayton Northmont 25-20, 25-11, 25-18 in a quarterfinal May 25 and defeating second-ranked Moeller 24-26, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 in a semifinal May 26, about three hours before facing Elder.

Darby had split two regular-season matches with Moeller, losing 25-19, 22-25, 26-24, 15-25, 15-10 on April 20 and winning 25-20, 21-25, 25-22, 25-14 on April 27. The Panthers also had faced Elder twice during the regular season, winning 25-22, 25-15, 25-16 on April 27 and 25-14, 25-20, 25-13 on May 4.

Darby received a hero's welcome upon returning home after winning the state title, as Hilliard police escorted the team bus from the city line to the school.

"It's been a tremendous season and a great run," Fanfulik said.