Despite having just one senior last spring, the Watterson High School boys volleyball team took the step forward that Ryan Thompson envisioned when he took over as coach before the 2017 season.
The Eagles are looking to take even bigger strides this spring after going 15-7 and reaching a Division II regional final.
Of the 18 players in the program, nine are seniors and most of the seniors are in their third seasons as key players.
"The schedule difficulty is way up this year," Thompson said. "We play a lot of good (Division I) teams. We have super high expectations. With so many seniors, they're ready to really try to make that leap and see how far we can go in the tournament."
Watterson was 3-2 after losing to Kettering Alter 25-17, 25-17 and Kettering Fairmont 26-24, 25-23 on March 30. The Eagles opened CCL action April 2 at DeSales and continues league play Thursday, April 4, at home against defending Division II state champion St. Charles, which beat Watterson 25-20, 25-19, 25-11 in the Division II, East Region final last year.
Senior Jack Brinkman (outside hitter) and sophomore Jake Maziarz (setter) were honorable mention all-state honorees last season.
Seniors Rob Agan (middle hitter), Jake Page (outside hitter/right-side hitter) and Jared Sommer (outside hitter/right-side hitter) also were among the top players last season.
The other seniors are Ethan Burchard (middle hitter), Brendan Foley (defensive specialist/libero), Nick Giangardella (right-side hitter), Lucas Mariotti (middle hitter) and Zac Pardi (outside hitter/right-side hitter).
Agan is 6-foot-4 and Brinkman, Mariotti and Page all are 6-2.
In addition to facing St. Charles twice during the regular season, the Eagles' schedule includes matches against Division I programs such as Olentangy Liberty on April 25 on the road and a tri-match May 11 at Cincinnati La Salle along with Louisville (Kentucky) Trinity.
"Last year ended on a real positive note with all the progress we made," said Thompson, whose team went 3-16 the year before he became coach and improved to 8-14 in 2017. "We spend a lot of time in the weight room. We're trying to be as explosive and athletic as we can be."
Softball team has experienced unit
Among the softball team's biggest goals is winning the CCL championship after placing second (4-2) in the league last spring behind Ready (5-1).
The Eagles, who opened league play April 3 at Ready, have a large group of returnees after going 14-10 overall a season ago.
"We're definitely hoping to improve," second-year coach Emily Manahan said. "We came up a little short (in the league) right at the end (last year). I think the advantage of being in the CCL is that everybody's got a shot every year regardless of who you are. It also means every game is exciting, so the biggest goal is to take the CCL, because if we can, we'll be beating some pretty decent teams."
Senior outfielder Gracie Bressoud, a four-year starter who has committed to John Carroll, batted .342 with 17 runs scored last season.
Senior pitcher Nicole Funge also is back after going 12-7 with a 3.58 ERA.
Seniors Tori Demko (C/OF), Maddie McCleary (2B) and Moira O'Reilly (P/INF), juniors Sydney Blake (SS) and Maddie Egelhoff (SS/INF) and sophomore Grace Jenkins (OF) are other key returnees. McCleary has committed to Ursuline College.
Senior Alexis Ream (1B), junior Amy Emswiler (3B/C), sophomore Rachel Reuter (C/3B) and freshman Anna Emswiler (1B) also are key infielders.
"I've been pretty excited about how it's coming together so far this year," Manahan said. "We lost a couple kids that played in some big spots, but it's given this team a chance. People are getting more of a chance to be a utility player and see who's going to get the job done and who's going to find a role to fill. We've got some new faces that are kind of learning the ropes and some kids that have been there."
Baseball team again expects strong year
The baseball team has played in 10 district championship games in 11 seasons, including the past two years when it was a district runner-up.
The Eagles would like to get back to that level again this spring, particularly since it's their final season under coach Scott Manahan.
Manahan announced in mid-March that he will be retiring from coaching after heading the program for 23 seasons.
"I'm retiring from coaching baseball, but I'm going to stay at Watterson and will be the full-time alumni director," said Manahan, who has more than 600 career wins in 34 seasons. "(I wanted everyone) to know ahead of time and enjoy my last season and not have to keep it a secret, and my (players) are pretty geeked up about it. I'm excited about this group of kids. I think we've got some talent."
Watterson was 4-1 after losing to Canton GlenOak 12-0 on March 28 at The Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Eagles, who finished 18-10 overall and 4-4 in the CCL last season, open league action April 12 at DeSales.
Seniors Drake McAninch (P/1B), Adam Fallon (INF/P), Stephen Garrett (P/OF), Sam Greiner (OF/C), Grant Horvath (C/DH) and Ryan Roark (P/INF) and junior Noah Truax (INF/P) are the top returnees.
Last season, McAninch went 2-4 with a 3.17 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 42 innings and Truax was 4-0 with a 3.16 ERA, while Fallon led the team in RBI with 21 and he and Fallon both batted better than .300.
Garrett has committed to play for Walsh, McAninch has committed to Ashland and Fallon will play for Bowling Green.
Rounding out the senior class is Sam Wallace (OF/P).
Others on the team include juniors Murphy Carroll (C), Steven Chillog (P/INF), Luke Delbert (OF/P), Mason Graney (INF/P), Ian Simone (INF/C/P), Michael Vondran (P/OF) and Zach Yates (INF/P) and sophomores Noah Grayem (INF/P) and Tyler Young (OF).
"Pitching is probably our strength," Manahan said. "We have some depth. We've got a lot of new guys waiting to make a name for themselves."
Below are the coming schedules for the Watterson baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
April 4 -- At Hamilton Township
April 5 -- Home vs. Youngstown Ursuline
April 6 -- At Olentangy Berlin
April 9 -- Home vs. Granville
April 4 -- At Columbus Academy
April 6 -- Home vs. Cincinnati Mariemont at Otterbein
April 6 -- At Dayton Chaminade Julienne
*April 9 -- At Bexley
April 4 -- At Reynoldsburg
April 5 -- Home vs. Mount Vernon
April 6 -- At Dublin Coffman with Newark
*April 8 -- Home vs. Hartley
April 9 -- Home vs. Grandview
*April 10 -- At DeSales
April 4 -- At Bexley
April 8 -- Home vs. Logan Elm
*April 9 -- At Ready
April 10 -- At Worthington Kilbourne
TRACK & FIELD
April 6 -- Red Edwards Golden Eagle Relays at Big Walnut
April 8 -- Whetstone Invitational
*April 4 -- Home vs. St. Charles
April 9 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty