After being on the doorstep of winning the Division I state title for the second consecutive year, the Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team will be looking to bust through the door next season.
The Panthers lost to top-ranked Cincinnati Moeller 25-22, 25-22, 25-18 in the state final June 3 at Capital University to finish 21-9 overall. In 2017, they fell to Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-18, 26-24, 25-19 in the state final.
"It's pretty difficult to be that close two years in a row and get denied," first-year coach Evan Bell said. "But Moeller was the better team today."
The Panthers, who won state championships in 2013 and 2015, made their 13th consecutive state tournament appearance this season and 17th overall.
"This was a very good season that just ended up (short) from being spectacular, but with most of the lineup coming back next year, I think we'll be even better," Bell said. "I just feel for the seniors this year that we didn't quite accomplish our biggest goal."
Darby rallied to defeat Clayton Northmont 25-20, 21-25, 21-25, 27-25, 15-13 in a state semifinal earlier June 3 after beating Cincinnati St. Xavier 22-25, 25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 15-10 in a state quarterfinal June 2 at Capital.
The Panthers were the top seed in the East Region tournament and defeated fourth-seeded Mount Vernon 25-16, 25-23, 22-25, 25-19 in a quarterfinal May 19, 10th-seeded Pickerington North 25-11, 25-15, 25-23 in a semifinal May 22 and fifth-seeded Dublin Jerome 25-22, 25-11, 25-10 in a final May 25 to advance to state.
Darby earned its 18th consecutive league title, going 12-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to finish ahead of Jerome (10-2), Worthington Kilbourne (8-4), Bradley and Thomas Worthington (both 5-7), Dublin Scioto (3-9) and Delaware (0-12).
The Panthers are losing four seniors in Collin Buelow (outside hitter), Trey Byrd (middle blocker), Drew Dickmann (defensive specialist) and Caleb Hill (middle blocker).
"The seniors carried on the tradition and were strong leaders for us," said Bell, who shared league Coach of the Year honors with Jerome's Phil Cagnoli. "They did a great job and will be missed."
Buelow was named second-team all-league and all-region and honorable mention all-state, while Byrd was honorable mention all-league.
Among the expected return-ees are juniors Nick Ferko (setter), Nick Hermosilla (libero) and Dominic Melchiorre (middle blocker) and sophomores Adam Ansel (outside hitter) and Noah Platfoot (setter).
Platfoot was named first-team all-state and Player of the Year in both the region and league. Melchiorre was first-team all-league and all-region and honorable mention all-state, Hermosilla was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-region and Ansel was special mention all-league.
Others expected to return are juniors Drew Geise (defensive specialist) and Josh Salmons (defensive specialist) and sophomores Michael Beard (outside hitter), Griffin Hart (opposite hitter), Jared Kish (middle blocker) and Payton Reed (defensive specialist).
Boys track team losing 18 seniors
The boys track and field team will have to replace 18 seniors next season, including three of its top athletes in Josh Baldridge, Clint Barnett and Dylan Litreal.
"Those three will be our biggest losses," coach Matthew Fox said. "Josh ran the 800 for us, Dylan was large in throws and Clint was our top sprinter. But we have a ton of momentum in our program right now that we can build on."
In the Division I state meet held June 1 and 2 at Ohio State, the 3,200-meter relay of sophomore Malachi McGill, Baldridge, senior Jason Fleishman and freshman Sean Carney finished 11th in 7 minutes, 57.14 seconds and Barnett finished 13th in the 100 (10.96).
Also at state, McGill placed fifth in the 800 (1:53.75) and junior Chris Burkhart finished 16th in the discus (144 feet, 5 inches).
McGill, who missed a significant portion of the season with a pulled hamstring, scored five points for the Panthers, who tied four teams for 38th behind champion Pickerington Central (58) as 69 teams scored. He had won the state title in the 800 (1:53.28) as a freshman.
In the regional meet May 23 and 25 at Pickerington North, Barnett placed third in the 100 (10.87) while McGill (800, 1:54.09), Burkhart (discus, 151-7) and the 3,200 relay (7:56.86) all placed fourth.
Barnett also qualified for the finals in the 200 but did not compete because of tightness in his quadriceps after running the 100.
Also competing at regional were Litreal in the discus (fifth, 151-0) and junior Michael Cornathan in the shot put (fifth, 51-6), as the Panthers tied for seventh (29) behind champion Pickerington Central (97) as 41 teams scored.
Litreal won the discus (161-2) in the district 2 meet that concluded May 19 at Darby, as the Panthers finished fourth (62) of 16 teams, behind champion Gahanna (109).
In the OCC-Cardinal meet May 10 and 12 at Dublin Coffman, the Panthers finished second (128.5) behind Bradley (143.5) and ahead of Thomas (104.5), Jerome (98), Scioto (77.5), Kilbourne (42) and Delaware (35).
Winning league titles were Barnett in the 100 (10.98) and 200 (22.33), Litreal in the discus (156-10), Cornathan in the shot put (51-11 1/4) and the 400 relay (43.76) of Barnett, freshman Seveon Stewart, junior Jaeln Benjamin and sophomore Lucas Fratianne.
Other expected returnees include juniors Eric Lowery, Owen Martin, Todd Pilkington and Solomon Toliver and sophomores Tyler Hessenauer and Balaji Kurapati.
"I thought we had a great season," Fox said. "We saw consistent development from start to finish all the way into multiple state qualifiers. We're going to be expecting big things again next year from Malachi McGill, Chris Burkhart, Michael Cornathan, Sean Carney and Seveon Stewart, who will be our returning top scorers."
Girls track team to retain top scorers
Almost all of the top scorers for the girls track and field team are expected to return next season.
Darby, which is losing six seniors, was represented in the Division I state meet by sophomores Emma Kowalski and Naomi Walters.
Kowalski placed third in the discus (131-10) and seventh in the shot put (39-7 1/2) to score eight points for the Panthers, who tied five teams for 29th behind champion Gahanna (51) as 64 teams scored.
Walters finished 10th in the long jump (17-4 1/4).
At regional, Walters was runner-up in the long jump (18-3/4) and Kowalski placed second in the shot put (40-1/4) and third in the discus (130-0) as Darby finished 12th (26.5) behind champion Gahanna (84) as 32 teams scored.
Junior Stacia Rispress cleared 5-3 in the high jump to tie for fourth place, but lost a jump-off to Big Walnut's Kaley Rammelsberg to miss qualifying for state.
Also at regional, the 400 relay of Walters, senior Bethany Alecusan, sophomore Zayna Hampton and Rispress finished ninth (50.07), junior Maliyah Ellis was 10th in the long jump (16-2 3/4), sophomore Daniella Santos was 10th in the 1,600 (5:28.06), senior Kaysi Morris tied for 13th in the pole vault (9-0) and Walters was 14th in the 200 (26.52).
In the district 1 meet at Darby, the Panthers finished fourth (87.5) of 16 teams, behind champion Pickerington Central (112), as Kowalski won the discus (136-8) and Walters finished first in the long jump (17-6 1/4).
Darby won its third consecutive league championship, scoring 146.5 points in the OCC-Cardinal meet to finish ahead of Thomas (141), Scioto (116), Delaware (93), Jerome (63.5), Kilbourne (39.5) and Bradley (31.5).
Winning league titles were Kowalski in the discus (127-10) and shot put (37-1 1/2), Santos in the 3,200 (11:36.52), Ellis in the long jump (18-1 3/4) and Rispress in the high jump (5-2).
Other expected returnees include juniors Aaliyah Brletic and Erin Cowen, sophomores Haley Caudill, Joy Mak and Jane Vulic and freshmen Gabrielle Hammonds, Jenna Hartwell and Liz Silva.
"We had a very strong season and won our third straight league championship, and with all of our returnees and incoming freshmen, we are very excited for next season," coach Don Seymour said. "We will have good balance again because we should have our top scorers back in nearly all events."