The Hilliard Darby High School girls volleyball team is looking to make bigger memories this season after winning the OCC-Cardinal Division title last year.
Although the Panthers lost two key players in four-year starting setter Kali Apelt and middle blocker Erin Kowalski to graduation, they have a large senior class and lots of experience returning.
"We've got eight seniors and their presence is huge," fourth-year coach Joe Ross said. "They are working their tails off to make this season the best that it can be for our program. They were freshmen my first year as the head coach, and it is a blessing to watch them grow as young ladies and volleyball players."
Last season, Darby went 12-0 in the OCC-Cardinal, well ahead of runner-up Worthington Kilbourne (8-4), and finished 21-4 overall after losing to DeSales 21-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-13 in a Division I district semifinal.
The Panthers return five starters in seniors Lauren Chance (middle blocker), Cambron Hampton (libero), Paige Kucinic (outside hitter) and Maddy Smith (outside hitter) and junior Annie Rauch (middle blocker).
In addition, the Panthers welcome back senior middle blocker Quinn Coppess, who was a starter as a sophomore but missed last season because of a knee injury.
"Maddy is a fourth-year starter on the outside," Ross said. "She is a true six-rotation outside (hitter) and that is a total credit to the work she puts in every day. Quinn would be a fourth-year starter had she not missed all of last year with a torn ACL. I'm so happy to see her back on the court and she is ready to make this season as special as it can be."
Rauch has committed to play basketball at Ball State.
"She is our fiercest competitor and Cambron is a third-year starting libero whose presence and leadership in our serve receive is so important for us," Ross said. "We just have a lot of kids who love the game and love each other. As a coach, you know you have something special when on a daily basis, you have girls asking if they can stay after practice for a few extra minutes to play short-court or work on a skill."
Sophomore Olivia Zawadzki becomes the main setter this season, replacing Apelt.
Also seeking playing time are seniors Abbey Ansel (defensive specialist), Emily Nolan (defensive specialist) and Jamie Walters (defensive specialist), juniors Sydney McCreary (setter) and Stacia Rispress (outside hitter) and sophomore Olivia Krumpe (middle blocker).
The Panthers were 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the league before playing Dublin Scioto on Aug. 29.
They lost to Olentangy Orange 25-19, 25-22, 25-20 in their opener Aug. 19 but defeated both Pickerington Central (13-25, 25-11, 25-18) and host Davidson (25-18, 25-20) in the Sharon M. Huesman Memorial on Aug. 26.
In league matches, Darby held off Delaware 23-25, 25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 19-17 on Aug. 22 but lost to Kilbourne 25-21, 17-25, 25-20, 26-24 on Aug. 24.
"We have a lot of athleticism," Ross said. "Our kids have been working since June and I think we are getting stronger every day. ... With so many players returning, we are eager to compete at the highest level we can."
Six starters back for
girls soccer team
Six starters return for the girls soccer team, which set the program record for wins and reached a Division I district final last season.
The Panthers finished 14-4-1 overall a year ago after losing to Pickerington North 3-1 in a district final and went 4-1-1 in the OCC-Cardinal to place second behind Dublin Jerome (6-0).
"We've got speed, skill and team unity," third-year coach Dan Brady said. "We will need to be consistent and remain passionate and assertive throughout season. The goals are for us to compete for the top rung in the (league) and to make a deep run in the tournament."
Back to lead the way is senior Blair Cowan, who was second-team all-state and first-team all-district and all-league last year.
"Blair is an Ohio State-bound midfielder who possesses strong technical skills coupled with great field vision and awareness," Brady said. "That makes her a constant threat on the field."
Other returning starters are seniors Hannah Knobloch (defender) and Emily Radcliff (forward), juniors Aaliyah Brletic (forward/midfielder) and Natalie Brown (defender) and sophomore Naomi Walters (forward).
"Hannah will be playing at (Ohio Dominican) and is very physically strong with excellent field awareness and great technical skill," Brady said. "As a defender, she will be an offensive threat with runs out of the back.
"Unfortunately, Emily is out until mid-season due to a torn meniscus. But she's also a team leader who keeps everyone focused and is a dangerous threat up front at the striker position."
Other expected starters entering the season included seniors Olivia Kane (midfielder) and Brynn Miller (defender) and juniors Sophia Roberts (forward), Cassidy Webber (defender) and Allison Williams (midfielder).
Senior Gillian Tinney and junior Emily Schneck both are expected to see time at goalkeeper.
Completing the roster are seniors Maddy Grobe (defender) and Gabby Thayer (defender), juniors Abbey Spencer (forward) and Caitlyn Spencer (midfielder), sophomores Zayna Hampton (defender) and Carli Rigel (midfielder) and freshman Maddy Leone (forward).
Darby opened Aug. 24 by beating Westerville North 5-1 and began league play Aug. 29 against Delaware.
Boys soccer team
returns four starters
The boys soccer team returns just four starters from last season, when it finished 10-4-5 overall and lost to top-seeded St. Charles 3-0 in a Division I district final.
Seniors Jack Gearhiser (midfielder), Josh Govine (defender) and Jason Fleischman (forward) are back to lead the way, along with junior Daniel Djelmis (defender).
"Jason is one of our most talented and experienced players as a fourth-year varsity player," second-year coach Kyle Reichle said. "He is very good with the ball at his feet, with potential to beat anyone one-on-one. He's strong on the ball and can hold onto it so that the team can help join in the attack."
Djelmis and Govine both played varsity as freshmen, too, and are expected to be anchors as center backs.
"They bring experience and leadership back there," Reichle said. "Daniel is a very technical player and has exceptional field vision. Josh provides a tall, physical presence to our back line and is exceptional at winning balls in the air, both defensively and on the attack."
Fleischman was first-team all-league and Djelmis was honorable mention last season when the Panthers went 3-2-1 in the OCC-Cardinal to share second place with Delaware and Bradley, behind Jerome (5-1).
Other returning letterwinners who are now starters are senior Blake Sawicki (forward) and juniors Nick Hermosilla (goalie), Jackson Janetski (forward) and Matt Mills (midfielder).
Also in the starting lineup to begin the season were senior Tyler Stitzel (defender), junior Matthew Toplikar (defender) and sophomore Zach Jasper (midfielder).
Completing the roster are juniors Sid Dasaraju, Aaron Muldrow and Matt Turner, sophomores Trevor Burke, Alexis Delarosa and Ethan Hessick and freshmen Colin Walters and Brian Watkins.
The Panthers beat Westerville South 3-2 in their opener Aug. 22 and Westerville North 3-2 on Aug. 24. They opened league play Aug. 29 against Delaware.
"Winning the midfield will be one key for us," Reichle said. "Also, finding our wingers early is key because attacking from the flanks is crucial in our 4-3-3 system, so getting the ball wide will be important."
Aug. 22 -- vs. Westerville South
Aug. 24 -- vs. Westerville North
*Aug. 29 -- at Delaware
Aug. 31 -- vs. Davidson
*Sept. 5 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 7 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 12 -- at Dublin Scioto
Sept. 14 -- vs. Olentangy
*Sept. 19 -- at Dublin Jerome
Sept. 21 -- vs. Watterson
Sept. 26 -- at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 28 -- at Grove City
*Oct. 3 -- at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 5 -- vs. Granville
*Oct. 10 -- vs. Bradley
Oct. 12 -- at Marysville
Aug. 24 -- at Westerville North
*Aug. 29 -- vs. Delaware
Aug. 31 -- at Davidson
*Sept. 5 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 6 -- vs. Big Walnut
Sept. 9 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
*Sept. 12 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 14 -- at Olentangy
*Sept. 19 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
Sept. 23 -- at Watterson
Sept. 26 -- vs. Watkins Memorial
Sept. 28 -- vs. Grove City
*Oct. 3 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
Oct. 5 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*Oct. 10 -- at Bradley
Oct. 12 -- vs. Marysville
Aug. 19 -- at Olentangy Orange
*Aug. 22 -- at Delaware
*Aug. 24 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Aug. 26 -- Sharon M. Huesman Memorial at Davidson
*Aug. 29 -- at Dublin Scioto
*Aug. 31 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
*Sept. 7 -- at Thomas Worthington
*Sept. 12 -- vs. Bradley
*Sept. 14 -- vs. Delaware
*Sept. 19 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 21 -- vs. Westland
*Sept. 26 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
*Sept. 28 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
Sept. 30 -- Perrysburg Invitational
Oct. 4 -- at Watterson
*Oct. 5 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
*Oct. 10 -- at Bradley
Oct. 12 -- vs. Olentangy
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby cross country, girls golf and girls tennis teams:
Sept. 2 -- Hot Summer Bash at Davidson
Aug. 31 -- Bradley at Thorn Apple
Sept. 5 -- Ready at National Road
*Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Jonathan Alder