Canal Winchester girls volleyball coach Kellina Snyder does not base her high expectations for this season purely on the fact that nine players who started at some point last year, including two college commits, are back.
"We have a deep bench this year," Snyder said. "If someone is off, I have a reliable sub that we have confidence in."
With all of their top players back from last year's team that went 9-15 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Capital Division in its first season under Snyder, the Indians were 2-1 overall before playing Westland on Aug. 27.
Seniors Shalea Byrd (middle hitter), Rylee Gillam (defensive specialist), Riley Krueger (middle blocker/opposite-side hitter), Amanda Rarick (outside hitter), Natalie Rarick (outside hitter/opposite-side hitter) and Jayana Thompson (outside hitter) have returned, as have juniors Ally Hawkins (middle blocker/outside hitter), Avery Huntzinger (setter) and Emi Waller (libero).
Amanda Rarick led the Indians in kills last year with 202, ahead of Byrd (105). Byrd and Krueger were first and second, respectively, in blocks with 85 and 55.
Waller was team leader in digs with 777 and Huntzinger had a team-high 340 assists.
Both of the Rarick sisters have committed to Rio Grande, where Snyder's sister, Billina Donaldson, is the head coach.
"Shalea Byrd and Riley Krueger have worked incredibly hard on their blocking since last year," Snyder said. "Their hard work has been evident in the early stages of our season. They are seeing their hitters very well. We knew in preseason that we needed to be an aggressive serving team and a better blocking team."
Rounding out the roster are juniors Maddy Koehler (outside hitter/middle hitter/right-side hitter), Jordan Mays (libero/defensive specialist) and Sydney Morrow (middle hitter/right-side hitter) and sophomore Kendall Sampson (defensive specialist).
Canal Winchester opened Aug. 17 with a 20-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-17 home win over Berne Union and defeated visiting Central Crossing 25-10, 20-25, 25-22, 25-19 on Aug. 20 before losing at Lancaster 25-27, 25-18, 25-23, 25-20 on Aug. 22.
The Indians begin OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Sept. 3, at home against defending league champion Big Walnut.
Cruisers need 'time to jell'
Groveport Madison has returned three starters from last season, when it posted its best record in 13 years.
But with two of those players learning new positions and the Cruisers learning a new defensive system, Groveport has started slow, as it was 1-4 overall before playing Pickerington North on Aug. 27.
"We've got veteran leadership, with four seniors, and we have a strong group of underclassmen this year," fifth-year coach Matthew White said. "But we need to improve our setting and serve-receive if we want to improve on our 10-13 record from last year. That's one of our main goals, and the other is to continue to develop and retain our talented players."
The returning starters are seniors Michela Ayers (outside hitter) and Lizarely Martinez (setter) and junior Sydney Morant (middle hitter).
Morant was second-team all-league last season when the Cruisers went 2-8 in the OCC-Capital.
"Sydney is a dominating blocker with a wicked hit," White said. "She is a player that teams need to account for, but is working on becoming an all-around player."
Ayers played outside hitter last season, while Martinez was honorable mention all-league at setter.
"Lizarely is a very intelligent player, an experienced hitter and a great team player," White said. "She has an amazing top-spin serve. Michela is a very athletic player with a dominating swing. She is learning the nuances of the outside hitter position. She is a very smart player with a variety of serves and is a good spot server."
Also starting are senior Aries Clay at right-side hitter, junior Aniya Owens at middle hitter and sophomore Lindsey Jones at outside hitter.
Others looking to contribute include senior Annetta Jackson (defensive specialist), juniors Tori Banks (right-side hitter) and Grace Seipel (defensive specialist) and sophomores Natalie England (setter) and Natalie Stauffer (defensive specialist).
Groveport opened Aug. 17, defeating host Whitehall 25-11, 25-15 and losing to Eastmoor 25-27, 25-17, 25-23. The Cruisers then fell to Pickerington Central 25-4, 25-21, 25-21 on Aug. 20, lost to Licking Heights 25-23, 23-25, 25-13, 25-14 on Aug. 21 and lost to Central Crossing 25-15, 25-15, 25-16 on Aug. 22.
Groveport begins OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Sept. 3, at Franklin Heights.
"I think we'll be fine once we get acclimated to our new rover defense," White said. "We've got some pieces and we just need a little bit of time to jell."
-- Brad Emerine
Below are the coming schedules for Canal Winchester and Groveport Madison:
Aug. 31 -- Granville Invitational at Bryn Du Mansion
Aug. 31 -- Bexley Invitational at Westchester
Sept. 3 -- DeSales at Champions
Sept. 4 -- Liberty Union at West-chester
Sept. 4 -- OCC-Central at Blacklick Woods
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
Aug. 31 -- Home vs. Perrysburg
Sept. 3 -- At Pickerington North
*Aug. 29 -- At Franklin Heights
*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. New Albany
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Africentric
Aug. 31 -- Westerville North Classic
Sept. 4 -- Central Crossing at Mentel Memorial
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Independence
Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Lancaster
Aug. 31 -- At Centennial
Sept. 3 -- At Lancaster
*Aug. 29 -- At New Albany
*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Newark
Sept. 4 -- At Grandview
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Lancaster
*Sept. 3 -- At Franklin Heights