The Watterson High School girls volleyball team improved its fitness level and sharpened its skills during a seven-day stay in Corolla, N.C. in July.

The Watterson High School girls volleyball team improved its fitness level and sharpened its skills during a seven-day stay in Corolla, N.C. in July.

More importantly, third-year coach Max Miller said his players became much closer while training together four times a day on a beach in the northern Outer Banks.

The Eagles, who finished 12-13 overall last year, opened Aug. 22 with a 25-17, 25-17, 16-25, 25-15 loss to Cincinnati St. Ursula before defeating Hartley 25-18, 25-15, 25-16 in their CCL opener Aug. 26.

"The best thing about our trip to the Outer Banks was seeing how much our team came together and bonded," Miller said. "I've done this type of trip with other teams in the past that were very successful. When I get back together with those teams years later, we rarely talk about the matches or championships we won. We usually talk about the time we spent working out on the beach and how it brought our team closer together because it played a big role in helping us develop into the team we eventually became."

Returning to lead Watterson are seniors Elena DeJaco (outside hitter), Caroline Leitch (outside hitter) and Julie Warren (middle hitter).

Last season, Leitch was named honorable mention all-district in Division I and first-team all-CCL, and DeJaco was second-team all-CCL.

Senior Natalie Weirtz also returned but won't be able to compete because of a health issue, according to Miller. She will serve as a team manager.

Rounding out the roster are juniors Grace Hetterscheidt (middle hitter) and Grace Schrieber (middle hitter) and sophomores Josie Bondran (setter), Callie Cloran (defensive specialist), Anna Hamrock (libero), Sarah Puthoff (outside hitter) and Maggie Simone (defensive specialist).

"Our seniors were sophomores when I arrived here and so they are more used to how our system works now," Miller said. "Our freshmen and (junior varsity) teams both won CCL titles each of the past two years, so our younger girls are used to winning and they will bring a lot of enthusiasm to our varsity team."

Watterson finished third (4-4) in the CCL last year, behind DeSales (8-0) and Hartley (6-2), and won two district tournament games before losing to Lancaster 17-25, 25-17, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9 in a semifinal.

"Our goals are to improve our record, move up in the CCL standings and reach a district final," Miller said. "DeSales and Hartley are both still very good, but we're a stronger team than we've been in the past, so we're optimistic that we can finish in the top two in the CCL this year."

Girls runners aiming for CCL championship

Five of the top seven runners from last year have returned to lead the girls cross country team.

Seniors Clare Aman, Meghan Connors, Morgan Hull and Caroline Sugar and sophomore Kelsi Connors are back after helping the Eagles win the CCL title and qualify for the Division I regional meet as a team for the first time since 2004.

Also expected to be key contributors are seniors Claire DiOrio, Liza Goedde, Kaleigh O'Reilly and Grace Thomas and junior Sam Mikula.

Watterson opened Aug. 29 by winning the 19-team Newark Catholic Invitational with 90 points, ahead of runner-up Liberty Union (103). Sugar led the Eagles, placing seventh in 20 minutes, 49.5 seconds.

"We had 57 girls join our team this year and 21 of them are seniors, so I'm excited to have such big numbers," 27th-year coach Matt McGowan said.

The Eagles lost their top two runners from a year ago in 2015 graduate Jessica Passwater and Jeanette Pfeiffer, a junior who moved to North Carolina.

Last season, Passwater became the first Watterson runner to compete in the Division I state meet since 2002, placing 47th of 151 runners in a personal-record time of 19:10.37 at National Trail Raceway.

Passwater, a preferred walk-on at Ohio State, also helped Watterson win the CCL meet for the second time in three years. She placed second (19:51.92) in the league meet, as the Eagles scored 33 points to finish ahead of runner-up DeSales (45).

"It's tough because we lost our top two runners, but I think our girls are going to be competitive in the CCL meet, along with DeSales and Columbus School for Girls," McGowan said.

Returning to lead the boys team are seniors Max McClelland and Jake Miller, juniors Mikey Grunenwald, Nick Haley and Ross Kuhn and sophomores Matthew Hartel, Nick Kuraly and Patrick Monnin.

Watterson opened by placing third (119) of 21 teams in the Newark Catholic Invitational, behind Heath (82) and Columbus Academy (118). McClelland led the Eagles, finishing fourth (16:31.8).

"It's nice to have our top three runners back in Max, Nick (Haley) and Ross," McGowan said.

The Eagles finished second (46) in the CCL meet last year behind St. Charles (27).

"St. Charles is a much larger school than us, so our goal is to run our best at the CCL meet, because we don't have any control over what the other teams are going to do there," McGowan said.

Football team getting set to face Pioneers

The football team's next opponent, Olentangy Orange, made the playoffs in 2009 and 2011.

Like Watterson, the Pioneers have endured losing seasons the last two years, going 4-6 a year ago under new coach Zebb Schroeder after finishing 1-9 in 2013. Orange's first season was 2008.

Watterson, which plays host to the Pioneers on Friday, Sept. 4, in the first meeting between the programs, was a combined 5-14 over the past two seasons.

There can be things gained in the long run, though, from seasons that don't go as well as hoped, according to Eagles senior quarterback Stephen Markos.

"What I learned last year was that there are a lot of good guys that actually had the right mindset," Markos said. "One of the things (we) talked about was in the back of our minds you're always trying to get ready for the upcoming season."

Watterson opened Aug. 28 with a 14-6 loss at Walnut Ridge after beating the Scots in the previous two openers. Orange opened that same night, losing 43-14 to host Olentangy Liberty.

Markos is in his first season as the starter behind center after gaining varsity experience last year at linebacker.

The Pioneers also have a new starting quarterback in junior D.J. Dayhuff, who took over for Will Phillis, who transferred to Hilliard Bradley.

Senior wide receivers Matthew Collins, Michael Sargent and Hunter Shepherd and senior running back Tyler Lichter are other returning starters for an Orange offense that uses spread formations to maximize its quickness.

Returnees such as linebacker Sam Lewis and lineman Matt Kent lead the Eagles' defense. The Pioneers' 4-3 defense is led by senior linebacker Blake Skuratowicz. He and Lewis were among their respective teams' leading tacklers a year ago.

In addition to Markos, senior running back Michael Auddino and senior tight end Michael Schweitzer are among those taking on bigger roles in the Eagles' offense this season.