Jack Brinkman hasn't forgotten how it felt when he was a freshman for a Watterson High School boys volleyball team that was enduring its second consecutive three-win season.
Two years later, the junior middle hitter and his teammates have helped the program undergo a transformation.
Seeded third in the Division II East Region tournament, the Eagles defeated host and second-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 17-25, 26-24, 25-17, 25-21 in a semifinal May 22 to earn a shot at a regional championship.
"I feel like we've gained a lot of respect around the school, boosting our self-esteem, getting the team together and getting some fans to the game," Brinkman said. "It feels great, especially the way everyone's come together. We've had a whole new culture change, just developing players, getting into the weight room in the offseason and gaining chemistry."
Watterson took a 15-6 record into the regional final May 25 against top-seeded St. Charles. The Eagles had won 11 of 12 matches heading into the contest since losing to the host Cardinals 25-21, 25-22, 25-23 on April 17.
Watterson also lost to St. Charles 25-19, 23-25, 26-24, 25-15 on March 27 in its season opener.
The regional champion advanced to the state tournament Saturday, June 2, and Sunday, June 3, at Capital University.
"The previous two years before I took over, we won (three matches) apiece," coach Ryan Thompson said. "We were (8-14) last year and we've completely flipped it.
"We looked at all the Urban Meyer books about how to build a winning culture. They were coming from losing a lot of games a season, and it starts in the offseason for us. As soon as school starts, we're in open gyms. They're hard-working kids and deserve everything they've accomplished."
In addition to the leadership of players such as Brinkman, senior Luke Lawson (libero), juniors Jake Page (outside hitter) and Jared Sommer (right-side hitter) have played key roles.
In addition, freshman Jake Maziarz has stepped in at setter to help solidify the offense.
According to Thompson, Maziarz's decision-making was a key aspect of the victory over Kilbourne. The Eagles had split a pair of matches against the Wolves during the regular season, winning 31-29, 20-25, 25-22, 25-23 on May 17 after losing 25-15, 25-19 on April 6.
"Everyone supports each other and everyone played their positions well (in the regional semifinal)," Maziarz said.
Boys lacrosse team falls in regional semi
Having just two returnees this season, the boys lacrosse team lost its first two games and three of its first five.
However, the Eagles found their footing and went on to earn the third seed for the Division II, Region 7 tournament.
After opening the postseason with wins over 13th-seeded Jonathan Alder (22-5 on May 14) and sixth-seeded Bellbrook (12-6 on May 17), Watterson lost 16-11 to second-seeded Buckeye Valley in a regional semifinal May 23 at Otterbein to finish 10-7 overall.
"(Buckeye Valley) came in with a bunch of energy," coach Chris Sauter said. "They seemed like they came in ready to play and, for whatever reason, this was the day we didn't pack the punch. We got it within two (goals) by the end of the third quarter.
"We lost 20 of our top 22 guys from last year's squad, so we're extremely proud of our body of work this year. Unfortunately, it's tough to play your worst game in the regional semifinals."
Watterson, which went 0-2 in the CCL to finish behind DeSales (2-0) and St. Charles (1-1), is losing nine seniors, including a pair of first-team all-region selections in Jacob Bruening (defender) and Frank Jobko (defender), a second-team all-region honoree in Paul Hamlett (attacker) and an honorable mention all-region selection in Connor Whitacre (attacker).
Sophomore Dominic Dean (attacker) is among the expected returnees. He had eight goals in the tournament loss and finished the season with 65 goals and 32 assists while making first-team all-region.
Also making first-team all-region were junior Barrett Baur (defender) and sophomore Max Graham (midfielder). Junior Max Balyeat (goalkeeper) was second-team all-region and sophomore Max Ritchey (midfielder) was honorable mention all-region.
Junior Patrick Hall (attacker) should be another key returnee.
"We're excited about the future," Sauter said. "We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing. (The seniors) did a fantastic job and we would have never been as successful without the leadership of those guys. We continued what we believe is a winning culture at Bishop Watterson."
Girls lacrosse team to return big group
The girls lacrosse team is losing its top two offensive threats in seniors Nina Buoni (midfielder) and Emma Coleman (attacker), but nearly all of its other key players are set to return.
Buoni and Coleman scored 46 and 33 goals, respectively, for the Eagles, who finished 7-12 overall after losing to second-seeded Columbus Academy 18-2 in a Division II, Region 7 quarterfinal May 19.
Seeded seventh, Watterson opened the postseason by beating 10th-seeded Big Walnut 13-4 on May 17.
"We've had probably the fourth-toughest schedule in central Ohio in both Division I and II," coach Joe Gavin said. "We knew our schedule was going to be tough so that come playoff time we'd be ready for some tough games."
Watterson went 2-5 in the Central Independent League to place sixth, behind DeSales (7-0), Academy (6-1), Granville (5-2), Hartley (4-3) and Columbus School for Girls (3-4) and ahead of Bexley (1-6) and Wellington (0-7). The Eagles went 0-3 in the CCL to place behind DeSales (3-0), Hartley (2-1) and CSG (1-2).
Junior Erica Melaragno had 23 goals, sophomores Margaret Baur and Abbey Giesler scored 21 and 16, respectively, and freshman Victoria Alves scored 18 as a part of the team's attack line.
Others expected to return include juniors Regan Abahazie (goalie) and Lindsay Hull (midfielder), sophomores Hope Adams (attacker) and Emily Dixon (midfielder) and freshman Caroline Slater (defender). Dixon scored 11 goals.
"The most improvement has come from our freshmen and our sophomores," Gavin said. "We've had a lot of girls step up into a lot of different positions. We had a freshmen who's never played defense before, Caroline Slater, step up and be a starter for us. A lot of other players have improved."
Boys track team competes at regional
Members of the boys track and field team competed in the Division II regional meet May 24 and 26 at Lexington.
On May 24, the 3,200-meter relay of Will Garey, Matthew Hartel, Nick Kuraly and Matthew Lamb placed 10th (8 minutes, 21.24 seconds) and Erik Placke finished 14th in the discus (120 feet, 6 inches).
Also competing were Tony Rogner (400), Kuraly (3,200) and the 1,600 relay of Hartel, Lamb, Rogner and Nick Youell.
The top four finishers in each regional event advanced to the state meet Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2, at Ohio State.
Girls track relay sets program mark
The girls track and field team was represented in the Division I regional meet last week at Pickerington North by the 1,600 relay of junior Jane Porter and freshmen Erin Connors, Anna Kessler and Cailin O'Reilly.
The relay finished ninth in the preliminaries May 23 in a program-record 4:03.85. The Eagles missed advancing to finals May 25 by .01 of a second.