The Upper Arlington High School boys volleyball team won only three matches last season, but won three of its first four this spring.

The Upper Arlington High School boys volleyball team won only three matches last season, but won three of its first four this spring.

Coach Mike Wion attributed the fast start to a strong group of returnees and an infusion of new talent into the program.

"Experience has been the big thing for us because we only lost one (starter) to graduation from last season," Wion said, referring to libero Mark Finneran. "Plus, we gained quite a few athletic players in (junior middle hitter) J.B. Gauch, (sophomore outside hitter) Carson Showe and (sophomore middle hitter) Nate Jones, and they have been a big help for us."

The Golden Bears, who were 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Hilliard Darby on April 17, returned seven players in seniors Taha Alghothani (outside hitter), Byron Bruno (defensive specialist), Michael Schroer (outside hitter), Matthew Shannon (setter) and Phil Shera (defensive specialist) and juniors Josh Jackson (middle hitter) and Paul Linville (outside hitter).

"I think we have a lot more focus and a lot more talent," Shera said. "This is the most talented team that I have played on. We have a lot of kids who are able to play with the Hilliard schools and the other top schools in the area.

"We have players stepping up to challenges like Matthew and Taha, and we have some new players who have brought a lot of energy and are quick at learning the game."

Wion said his team is a year older and a year wiser.

"We also had some young kids who matured this year in Paul Linville, Josh Jackson and Michael Shannon," Wion said. "They grew some inches and really have matured into being key players for us.

"Paul Linville is (6-foot-2) and he's our biggest player, but we have several other players who are close to that size. We have a bunch of good players who are average in height and they are putting up good blocks on the front line."

The Bears' added experience has allowed them to run a more sophisticated offense.

"Athletically, we were getting more talented and we had juniors who are now seniors who are leading the way for us," Wion said. "With the experience we have, we were able to run more of an up-tempo offense. We have been able to run more quick (sets) or up-tempo sets."

The Bears' first two wins came against opponents that have been tough on them in recent seasons. In league play, UA defeated Worthington Kilbourne 21-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-10 on March 29 before beating Dublin Coffman 27-25, 23-25, 25-21, 25-16 on April 3. It also defeated Dublin Scioto 25-17, 25-27, 25-16, 25-21 on April 4.

"We have beaten (Kilbourne and Coffman) before, but this is the first time we have beaten them the first time we played them in a season," Shera said. "We lost the first game (against Kilbourne) and we rallied together to win the next three. It was the first time we played as a unit. We didn't see that last season until we reached the playoffs."

"We beat Coffman and Kilbourne and they are two teams we haven't beaten in my three years with the program," Wion said. "Getting those wins were a big boost in confidence for our players."

The Bears had lost four consecutive matches before playing Darby, but Wion looks for his team to get back on track.

"One thing is we have to continue to develop on the court," he said. "We have to continue to improve every time we take the court."