Coach Ned Gruber helped lead the St. Charles Preparatory School volleyball team to its second Division II state championship last spring, but he scoffs at any prediction that another title could be on the horizon.

The Cardinals return four starters from last season, when they finished 24-5 overall, won the CCL title at 4-0 and defeated four-time defending champion Kettering Alter 25-19, 14-25, 25-16, 28-26 in the state final.

"It's really hard to win it," said Gruber, who is in his sixth season. "The biggest thing I have been thinking about in the offseason is how to manage this. We bring back a lot of talent, but we have to manage it so we can keep everyone focused in the right way. We have to admit to ourselves that we can be beaten."

The returning starters are seniors Jake Franz (setter; honorable mention all-region, second-team all-league), Nathan Lancia (outside hitter; first-team all-state and all-region, second-team all-league), Alex McLane (outside hitter; honorable mention all-state, second-team all-region, first-team all-leagu e) and Jack Schumacher (middle hitter).

"Last year was my first year as a setter, so it was good to get that experience and connect with the hitters and keep things moving," said Franz, who had 40 kills, 48 aces, 44 blocks, 156 digs and a team-high 659 assists. "It's nice to be on a big stage (at state) and feel the crowd like that."

Lancia had a team-high 325 kills, 55 blocks, 205 digs and 46 aces, and McLane had 277 kills, 48 blocks, 190 digs and 62 aces. Schumacher had 115 kills and a team-high 82 blocks.

The Cardinals lost middle hitter Andrew Dilley and libero Kevin Gallagher to graduation. Gallagher, who was first-team all-state and all-region and CCL Player of the Year, now plays at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois.

Junior Ted Hofmeister (libero/setter; 82 kills, 143 digs, team-high 58 aces) will step in for Gallagher. Senior Michael Jimenez and junior Ethan Hoying are expected to contribute as right-side hitters.

"We had a big loss in Gallagher," said Gruber, who was named Division II state and East Region Coach of the Year last season. "You don't get many studs like him and he's tough to replace. We have to replace as best we can and be able to enhance what the other guys do."

Also in the mix are seniors Griffin Beam (middle hitter), Evan Benson (libero), Dastan Haghnazari (setter), Jackson Illig (opposite-side hitter), Ben Nemish (libero) and Grant Tiefenthaler (opposite hitter) and junior Andy Mason (middle hitter).

The Cardinals opened with a 25-18, 19-25, 25-22, 25-20 win over Beavercreek on March 22. They then went 2-1 at Mount Vernon Nazarene on March 23, defeating Cleveland St. Ignatius 28-30, 25-23, 25-20 and Akron Hoban 25-20, 24-26, 25-22 before losing to Mount Vernon 19-25, 25-17, 25-15.

St. Charles played Gahanna on March 26. It opens CCL play April 4 at Watterson.

Baseball squad looks to build unity

The baseball team hopes to return from its spring-break trip to Florida with chemistry that will lead to late-season success.

The Cardinals return six starters from last season, when they finished 18-10 overall and 4-4 in the CCL.

Senior Aidan Rice is the top returning pitcher after going 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 34 2/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks. Senior Mason Olding (C/1B) batted .310 with 15 RBI and 17 runs. Both were second-team all-league.

Also back are juniors Taylor Bryant (OF; .327, 8 RBI, 19 runs, 12 stolen bases), Charlie Duross (2B/SS) and Andrew Rubadue (C; .348, 14 RBI, 15 runs, 8 doubles) and junior outfielder Trey Willis (.284, 10 RBI, 9 runs).

Seniors Tom Fanning (OF) and Aidan Quinlan (P) and junior Connor Coretta (P/3B) also were letterwinners.

"It's hard to determine what is what because we had not been out much this spring before heading south," said coach Ray Benjamin, who is in his 22nd season. "Being able to get down there and play in the nice weather and to be able to face some quality opponents will help clear things up.

"Bonding will also be huge for us. We need to let the kids be kids, have fun with the game and learn a lot about what they can do."

The Cardinals opened by losing to Philadelphia William Penn Charter 2-1 on March 25 at ESPN-Disney spring training in Kissimmee, Florida. They played a doubleheader March 26 against Havertown (Pennsylvania) Haverford and University of Chicago Lab Schools.

St. Charles begins CCL play April 15 against Hartley.

"We have some quality returnees who saw action and had decent years so we'll see what else flourishes in the program," Benjamin said. "We could potentially have a decent (pitching) staff, but we have to see how things shake out.

"Aidan Rice is our No. 1 right now. He's not going to overpower you, and he has a lot of movement on the ball. He throws a lot of ground balls."

Lacrosse team loaded with defensive talent

The lacrosse team returns seven starters with an emphasis on the defensive end of the field.

Seniors Karson Burkey and Dylan Shuster are back on defense with junior Luke Eversole at long-stick midfielder and senior Zach Lowis (second-team all-region) at goalkeeper.

"We'e a young group in terms of our offense," said second-year coach Patrick Harnett, whose team finished 11-7 last season.

"We return our goalie and two starters in the close (defensive) positions and our starting (long-stick midfielder). We also have some guys back there that had a lot of time last year."

Senior attacker Karson Doon played in only one game last spring after breaking his left arm in an 18-3 season-opening loss to Thomas Worthington. Senior Jack Hamrick is another top scoring threat.

Seniors Evan Bouscher and Max Lyski are returning starters in the midfield. Junior Bowen Minnich, sophomores Tommy Cloran, Henry Mauntel and Blake Roller and freshman Pat Cahill also will play key midfield roles.

"The guys move the ball well and work off of each other really well," Harnett said. "We had a great start in our scrimmages and (were) slow starting in our first three games.

"We'e a little eager to go to the goal and a little eager in transition. We'e teaching the kids to play fun and fast, and that means the ball is moving but it doesn't mean you have to rush the ball to the crease."

Sophomore Brodie Sullivan also will play in goal.

The Cardinals were 2-2 before playing New Albany on March 26. They defeated Pickerington North 10-6 on March 15, lost to Thomas 9-7 on March 19, beat Licking Valley 9-3 on March 22 and lost to Dublin Jerome 6-5 in overtime March 23.

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the St. Charles baseball, lacrosse, track & field and volleyball teams:

BASEBALL

March 28 -- La Grange Park (Ill.) Nazareth at ESPN-Disney spring training in Kissimmee, Fla.

March 29 -- Northbrook (Ill.) Glenbrook at ESPN-Disney spring training in Kissimmee, Fla.

April 2 -- Home vs. Teays Valley

LACROSSE

March 28 -- Home vs. Olentangy Berlin

March 30 -- Home vs. Lakewood St. Edward

April 2 -- Home vs. Goshen (Ky.) North Oldham

TRACK & FIELD

March 30 -- Newark Invitational

April 3 -- At Olentangy Orange with DeSales and Franklin Heights

VOLLEYBALL

March 29 -- At Kettering Alter

April 3 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington