Dublin Jerome High School boys volleyball coach Phil Cagnoli considers his team's invitation to participate in this year's Centerville Elite 8 tournament to be "kind of a big deal."
The event will be held April 27 and typically includes strong programs from the Cincinnati and Dayton areas, signifying to Cagnoli that his program is respected throughout the state.
The Celtics are coming off an 18-6 season in which they were Division I, East Region runners-up, and many of their key players have returned.
"All of them took a vested interest into what we can be this year," said Cagnoli, who is in his sixth season. "I did see a lot of movement in terms of guys taking the offseason a little more seriously. We can always do more, but I think they realize we could have a pretty special year."
Jerome, which was ranked fourth behind Hilliard Darby, St. Charles and Mount Vernon in the East Region preseason poll, opened April 2 with an OCC-Cardinal Division match at Thomas Worthington.
On Monday, April 8, the Celtics will visit Darby, which handed them three of their losses last season.
The top returnee is junior libero Tommy Poole, a first-team all-OCC-Cardinal and second-team all-East Region honoree who helped Jerome finish second in the league last season at 10-2 behind Darby (12-0) after placing third in 2017.
Junior Leo Morales returns at setter after making first-team all-league and honorable mention all-region last year. Senior outside hitter Gage Utrup was second-team all-league, senior middle hitter Brendan Zimovan made special mention all-league and sophomore outside hitter Tyler Nutting was honorable mention all-league.
Also on the team are seniors Jack Fedurek (defensive specialist), Cam Rich (outside hitter) and Andrew Shen (middle hitter) and juniors Nathan Chao (setter/outside hitter), Prithvi Mekala (middle hitter) and Matt Paul (defensive specialist).
Rich is 6-foot-3 and Zimovan is 6-2.
"We return just about everybody, so we're looking for another strong season," Cagnoli said. "What I would describe us as is a team that tries to out-compete our opponent. You can call that defense, offense or whatever, but I just want to outwork the other team."
Baseball squad off to strong start
The baseball team won four of its five games during its spring break trip to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
The Celtics are hoping that's a better indicator of how successful they will be this season as opposed to the injuries that they've had to deal with.
Senior first baseman Trent Belli, an Ohio University recruit who was named first-team all-district last season when he hit .361 with 25 RBI, likely is out for the season because of a right shoulder injury sustained March 8 while he was playing for the hockey team in the state tournament.
Belli isn't the only expected key player dealing with an injury.
Despite those absences, Jerome beat Johnsburg (Illinois) 8-1 on March 24 and Marshfield (Wisconsin) 4-2 on March 25, lost to Grayslake (Illinois) North 4-3 on March 25 and defeated Waterford (Wisconsin) 8-3 on March 26 and Buffalo Grove (Illinois) 6-1 on March 28.
Jerome was 4-2 after losing to Upper Arlington 6-5 on April 1 and opens OCC-Cardinal action Monday, April 8, at home against Worthington Kilbourne.
"Coming into this season, we had very high expectations because of the personnel we had coming back," 15th-year coach Chris Huesman said. "As the season has been progressing with a litany of injuries we've gone through, it's kind of forced us to adapt to things that maybe we weren't ready to do yet."
Jerome has a pair of strong catchers in junior Will Piccin and sophomore Ryan Miller to anchor its infield.
Piccin, who hit .333 last season, will be at designated hitter when he's not on the field, while Miller, who has committed to play for Tennessee, also will see time at first base and third base.
Junior Dan Wilson is a pitcher and first baseman who figures to be one of the team's top hitters. He went 4-4 on the mound last season.
Junior Adam Booth is at second base and sophomore Nick Lapham plays at shortstop after both played key roles a season ago.
Senior Nate Davis, who went 1-3 with 28 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings as a pitcher last year and also plays at third base, and senior Dalton Miller (P/OF) are others who have been battling injuries.
Junior Easton Gross has been seeing increased action at third base during Davis' absence.
Junior Ryan Callahan, who hit .351 with 14 runs scored last season, is expected to fill a key role in the outfield and as a pitcher but has been battling shoulder soreness.
Senior Hayden Schell is a center fielder who has been a key player since his sophomore season.
Juniors Alex Fox, Joe Callahan and Mike Callahan are other outfielders.
Senior Carson Rengel, who has committed to Wittenberg, should be among the top pitchers along with Wilson, Davis, Callahan, Gross and junior Drew Haab.
Others looking to contribute include senior Ben Clouser (utility), juniors Brad Fagan (1B/P), Evan Hannan (utility/P) and Avery Mlicki (INF/utility) and sophomore Sammy Stoner (OF/P).
"The majority of our team are pitchers, so we can always run somebody out there that can throw strikes and get somebody out," Huesman said. "We're going to be a team that's consistent and that gets consistent pitching and hitting."
Below are the coming schedules for the Jerome baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
*April 8 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*April 10 -- At Kilbourne
*April 4 -- Home vs. Olentangy Berlin
April 6 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*April 9 -- At Delaware
*April 4 -- At Berlin
*April 9 -- Home vs. Delaware
*April 4 -- Home vs. Berlin
*April 5 -- Home vs. Kilbourne
April 6 -- At Westerville North with Licking Heights
*April 8 -- At Hilliard Darby
*April 10 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
*April 4 -- At Thomas Worthington
April 6 -- At Cincinnati St. Xavier with Hunting Valley University School
*April 9 -- Home vs. Berlin
April 10 -- Home vs. Olentangy
TRACK & FIELD
April 5 -- Panther Invitational at Darby
April 9 -- At Olentangy Liberty
*April 4 -- Home vs. Berlin
*April 8 -- At Darby
*April 9 -- Home vs. Bradley