The Hilliard Darby High School girls volleyball team is hoping that its first league victory will provide the spark for a strong second-half run.
The Panthers' season went a bit sideways early, as they lost their starting setter, junior Elise Neighbarger, to injury during a 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 25-14 loss to defending OCC-Cardinal Division champion Worthington Kilbourne in the second match of the season Aug. 23.
"We've been playing with a different lineup almost every match, but I think we've got things figured out now," said first-year coach Stephanie Dietrich, who took over for Joe Ross, who guided the program the past four seasons. "We're just now beginning to jell and we want to continue to improve from here."
Darby is 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the OCC-Cardinal entering a match at Bradley on Thursday, Sept. 13. Last season, the Panthers finished 15-9 overall and 9-3 in the league to place second behind Kilbourne (12-0).
Darby defeated Thomas Worthington 26-24, 25-20, 25-10 in league play Sept. 6. The Panthers' other wins came Aug. 25 during the Sharon Huesman Memorial Quad, in which they went 2-1, defeating host Davidson (13-25, 25-21, 25-20) and Dayton Thurgood Marshall (25-5, 25-7).
Junior Olivia Zawadski has taken over at setter.
"Olivia is a setter and that's the position she's expected to play when she gets to Indiana Wesleyan in the fall of 2020," Dietrich said. "But we needed her all-around play because she is one of our best passers and top defenders and top hitters, so we've had to really juggle to make up for moving her to setter."
Dietrich said the Panthers have been led by seniors Annie Rauch and Stacia Rispress. A 6-foot-2 middle hitter, Rauch was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season.
"Annie brings intense leadership to the team and is an offensive powerhouse," Dietrich said. "She's a great athlete who will play basketball at Ball State next year. Stacia has been doing great at outside hitter and has been hitting over the blocks."
Senior Sydney McCreary (setter/defensive specialist) is a returning starter. Other starters have included senior Blaize Shiebler (defensive specialist), junior Olivia Krumpe (middle hitter) and sophomore Destiny White (outside hitter).
Also contributing have been senior Caroline Grady (outside hitter) and junior Nicole Logan (outside hitter).
"We have a small squad and the key for us will be our passing and consistency," Dietrich said. "We're inexperienced, but I'm just starting to get a good vibe and I believe when we become more consistent, we have the ability to play with any team in the league. Our goal is to win a few of the close matches we lost in the first round of the league and prepare to make a (Division I district) tournament run."
Boys soccer team receives help in league
After losing its league opener 1-0 to Delaware on Aug. 28, the boys soccer team received an unexpected boost.
That same night, Kilbourne shocked the entire OCC-Cardinal by beating defending league champion Dublin Jerome 3-0. Darby then defeated host Kilbourne 1-0 on Sept. 4 behind a goal by junior Luke Lassiter and strong defense in front of goalkeeper Brian Watkins, who made six saves.
"This was an important game for us to bounce back and get right back in the race," coach Kyle Reichle said. "I think when everyone saw that Jerome lost to Kilbourne, it lifted everyone's spirits. Basically, everyone thinks it opened the door for them. So now it's up to our guys to do our jobs and take care of business and see how the league unfolds from here. It could be a jumbled mess with almost everyone in it until the last game."
Darby was 4-1-2 overall before playing at Olentangy on Sept. 11 and is 1-1 in the league entering its home game against Dublin Scioto on Thursday, Sept. 13. The Irish were the only team in the league to win their first two league contests.
The Panthers, who won their first Division I district championship last season, went 2-2-2 in the league last season to place fifth behind Jerome (5-0-1).
"We have confidence in ourselves after winning the district last year and we wanted to come back and win the OCC title this year and repeat as district champion, too," senior defender Daniel Djelmis said.
In recent non-league play, Darby defeated Davidson 2-1 on Aug. 30 and tied Reynoldsburg at 1 on Sept. 6.
Girls soccer team sustains first loss
The girls soccer team endured its first loss of the season Sept. 4, falling to visiting Kilbourne 2-0.
The Panthers were 4-1-2 overall before playing Olentangy on Sept. 11 and are 0-1-1 in the OCC-Cardinal entering their game Thursday, Sept. 13, at Scioto.
Darby opened the season with three consecutive wins before tying Delaware at 3 in its league opener Aug. 28. After beating Davidson 3-2 on Aug. 30, the Panthers played Watterson to a 1-all tie Sept. 1.
Naomi Walters, Abbey Spencer and Maddy Leone scored against Davidson and Emily Schneck made seven saves. Against Watterson, Walters scored and Schneck made four saves.
Girls golf team finishes OCC play
The girls golf team did not record a team score in the fourth and final round of the OCC-Cardinal tournament Sept. 5 at Mentel Memorial.
Competing for the Panthers were sophomores Marla Hayes (91), Madison Hoschak (97) and Bailey Miller (114). Four individual scores are needed for a team score.
Darby finished 2-13 in the league to place fifth behind Jerome (19-0), Delaware (15-4), Bradley (11-8) and Scioto (7-12) and ahead of Kilbourne (1-18). Thomas and first-year Olentangy Berlin did not compete as a team in any of the four rounds.
The Division I seeding meeting is Sunday, Sept. 16, and the postseason begins with sectionals Oct. 2.
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 15 -- Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational in Louisville, Ky.
Sept. 13 -- Johnstown at Darby Creek
Sept. 19 -- Marysville at Darby Creek
Sept. 18 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Rolling Meadows
Sept. 19 -- Canal Winchester at Westchester
*Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
*Sept. 13 -- At Dublin Scioto
Sept. 18 -- At Big Walnut
Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Westerville North
*Sept. 13 -- At Bradley
*Sept. 18 -- At Delaware. The Panthers lost to the Pacers 25-17, 23-25, 25-16, 26-24 on Aug. 21.