With nearly its entire lineup returning after falling just shy of winning its third Division I state championship, the Hilliard Darby High School boys volleyball team is looking to finish the postseason with a victory this year.
The Panthers, who won state titles in 2013 and 2015, lost to Cincinnati Moeller 25-22, 25-22, 25-18 in the state final a year ago. It was the second consecutive state runner-up finish for Darby, which fell to Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-18, 26-24, 25-19 in the 2017 final.
The Panthers are seeking their 14th consecutive state tournament appearance and 19th consecutive league title.
"We were a very young team last year, so we're fortunate to have so much experience returning this year as we look to finish the job," second-year coach Evan Bell said. "We're being led by junior setter Noah Platfoot and senior middle hitter Dominic Melchiorre. They have a dynamic chemistry."
The Panthers were 9-2 overall and 6-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing Bradley on April 16. Both losses came during their annual trip to Wheaton (Illinois) Warrenville South, where they went 3-2 in the Tiger Classic on March 29 and 30.
"We had a lot on our mind coming into this year, especially after not getting it done last year," Platfoot said. "So with everybody coming back, we kind of have the same expectation as last year. We just need to build the chemistry and believe in one another.
"We definitely expect to get back to where we were, but we know it won't come easy, so we're just going to trust in our training."
Last season, Platfoot was named first-team all-state and Player of the Year in the region and league and Melchiorre was first-team all-league and all-region and honorable mention all-state.
The Panthers have eight other returnees in seniors Nick Ferko (setter), Drew Guise (outside hitter/defensive specialist) and Nick Hermosilla (defensive specialist/outside hitter) and juniors Adam Ansel (outside hitter), Michael Beard (outside hitter), Griffin Hart (opposite hitter), Jared Kish (middle hitter) and Payton Reed (defensive specialist).
Completing the roster are senior Josh Salmons (defensive specialist) and junior Liam Davis (middle hitter).
"We lost a heavy hitter in (2018 graduate) Collin Buelow and a middle blocker in (2018 graduate) Trey Byrd last year, but the rest of the pieces are back so we do have high expectations," Bell said. "But we have those expectations in this program every year and every year is a new year. Our motto is to get 1 percent better daily and focus on what we do and need to do day by day."
Buelow was second-team all-league and all-region and honorable mention all-state last year and Byrd was honorable mention all-league.
Young tennis team facing rebuild
The boys tennis team was still seeking its first win of the season when it played Olentangy Berlin on April 16.
The Panthers were 0-6 overall and 0-4 in the OCC-Cardinal before facing the Bears.
Darby lost league matches against Delaware (3-2 on April 2), Worthington Kilbourne (5-0 on April 4), Dublin Scioto (3-2 on April 9) and defending champion Dublin Jerome (5-0 on April 11). Its other losses came against Columbus Academy (5-0 on April 3) and Davidson (4-1 on April 8).
Senior Caleb Hughes and junior Ayo Obisesan earned a 7-5, 7-6 win at second doubles against Davidson. Against Scioto, senior Ebun Obisesan won 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 at second singles and junior Ishan Somani won 6-3, 6-1 at third singles.
"Our winning formula is most likely going to require that we win both doubles (courts) and then hope to capture at least one of the singles (courts)," 16th-year coach Scott Nickel said. "We graduated our top two players from last year in Tom Ohler and Krishna Revur and have several players playing varsity for the first time, so this is truly a rebuilding year."
Junior Noah Adams has been playing at first singles and senior Raj Jani and sophomore Krish Kondaveeti have been at first doubles. Senior Will Pitts also is contributing.
"Our top four players are very comparable in skill level," Nickel said. "They are solid all-around players, although Noah and Ebun prefer the baseline and Ishan and Krish are more likely to finish points up at the net. All give 100 percent on the tennis court.
"On top of that, our captains and seniors are setting a great tone for the season and all of our players have a great attitude."
Baseball team out to 'solid start'
The baseball team has begun its quest for a fifth consecutive league championship.
Darby was 8-3 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Cardinal after beating Kilbourne 17-1 on April 15 and before playing Scioto on April 17.
"We're still working through some little things, but I like the path we're on," coach Mike Weer said. "We returned from our trip to Tennessee with a 3-2 record and we've played a pretty strong non-league schedule. We've had a chance to win every game so far this season."
The Panthers opened league play by defeating Delaware 7-2 on April 8 and 20-5 on April 10 and beat Kilbourne 10-0 on April 12.
"Our pitchers have been throwing strikes and letting our defense play behind them," Weer said. "We're not giving up free bases. Offensively, we're doing OK and we're just starting to come around a bit with the bats. For not having a full-time, two-way starter returning from last season, I'd say this has been a pretty solid start. Now we've just got to build on it."
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
April 19 -- Home vs. Mount Vernon
April 20 -- At Olentangy Liberty (DH)
*April 22 -- At Dublin Scioto
*April 24 -- Home vs. Scioto
April 18 -- At Pickerington North
*April 23 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
April 18 -- Home vs. Gahanna
April 22 -- At Jerome
*April 18 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne. The Panthers beat the Wolves 16-0 on April 3.
April 19 -- Home vs. Buckeye Valley
*April 22 -- At Scioto. The Panthers beat the Irish 13-7 on April 4.
*April 24 -- At Jerome. The Panthers beat the Celtics 4-3 on April 8.
*April 18 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
April 22 -- Home vs. Ready
April 24 -- Home vs. Columbus West
TRACK & FIELD
April 18 -- Fulton Relays at Lancaster
*April 18 -- At Delaware. The Panthers beat the Pacers 25-13, 25-8, 25-13 on March 27.
*April 22 -- Home vs. Kilbourne. The Panthers beat the Wolves 25-21, 25-15, 25-14 on April 2.
*April 23 -- At Scioto. The Panthers beat the Irish 25-12, 25-9, 25-13 on April 4.