One year after setting the program record for victories, the Worthington Kilbourne girls volleyball team is trying to reload.

The Wolves lost seven players to graduation after finishing 22-4, winning the OCC-Cardinal Division title and reaching a Division I district final last fall.

Among the losses were libero Amber Beals, setter/right-side hitter Maddie Reeve and outside hitter Taylor Katz. Last season, Beals was named league Player of the Year, Reeve also was first-team all-league and Katz was on the second team.

"We are very inexperienced with varsity playing time," said 16th-year coach Meladee Hopkins, whose team was a combined 43-8 the past two seasons. "We are still getting used to playing together since we have a few full-time varsity players mixed in with kids coming from the j.v. and one who played on the freshman team, so we are trying to blend many new players together."

Returning starters include senior Olivia Karhoff (outside hitter) and juniors Lauren Bair (middle hitter) and Grace Cummings (right-side hitter/setter). Karhoff is a Tiffin commit and Bair was honorable mention all-league last season.

"(Karhoff) is a solid player that is undersized but makes up for it with her athleticism," Hopkins said. "Lauren is our most experienced player with this being her third year starting at middle. She is very athletic and a very smart player.

"Grace is really going to help us on the right side and may see some setting duties."

Also back are juniors Jackie Wolford (outside hitter/defensive specialist) and Rachel Simmons (right-side hitter/outside hitter).

Junior Lily Podolan could give the Wolves a second strong middle hitter and sophomore Zeynep Yildiz has looked good at outside hitter, according to Hopkins.

"Lily has worked hard to become a force in the middle for us and Zeynep has broken into the starting lineup as a sophomore and we expect great things from her," Hopkins said.

Also slated to see time at setter are senior Ellie Ishida and junior Emily Cline, while senior Olivia Cheung and junior Morgan Beals will be defensive specialists.

Completing the roster are seniors Allie Simmons (defensive specialist), Victoria Stavish (middle hitter/right-side hitter) and Emelie Stewart (defensive specialist/setter) and juniors Natalie Helmbright (defensive specialist), Angelina Hipsley (setter/right-side hitter) and Kendall Timms (outside hitter).

Kilbourne was 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Hilliard Bradley on Aug. 27.

The Wolves, who went 13-1 in the league last season, opened Aug. 20 with a 25-22, 25-8, 25-17 league win over Dublin Jerome and defeated Hilliard Darby 25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-19 in a league match Aug. 22.

Kilbourne then competed in a tri-match Aug. 24, beating host New Albany 25-18, 25-19 and Upper Arlington 25-21, 22-25, 25-17.

Cardinals facing 'learning curve'

With little experience returning, Thomas has embraced the challenge of being an underdog this season.

The Cardinals lost eight players to graduation following a season in which they finished 8-15 overall and 3-11 in the OCC-Cardinal.

"We don't have a lot of returning letterwinners or starters, so there will be a little bit of a learning curve when it comes to various in-game scenarios," second-year coach Natalie Walter said. "Our conference brings good competition and we have several out-of-conference matches that will be challenging. We have a bit of an underdog mentality. While that will help us build perseverance and toughness, it is going to be very important for us to stay positive as we encounter experienced teams that have been playing together for years."

Thomas was 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the league before playing Delaware on Aug. 27.

The Cardinals opened Aug. 20 with a 25-17, 25-22, 25-12 league loss to Bradley but rallied to beat Mount Vernon 22-26, 19-25, 26-24, 25-15, 15-10 the next day and Jerome 16-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-14, 15-8 in a league match Aug. 22.

Junior Lauren Gerber is the lone returning starter.

"Lauren truly embodies the setter mentality," Walter said. "She is our quarterback. She leads our offensive system by making key plays and choices that enhance our strengths in each rotation. You combine her knowledge with her speed and athleticism and our offense runs like a well-oiled machine."

Also back are senior libero Rosa Spurgeon, senior middle blocker Alice Kolwicz and junior outside hitter Grace Matthews.

"Rosa is the hardest-working player we have," Walter said. "She also pushes the rest of our team to work every day. She brings big energy to the floor and has a great personality. She is a spitfire and she really amps up the rest of the team.

"Alice is our emotional leader. She is a very low-error player who consistently finds ways to put the ball to the floor offensively. She is an exceptionally smart player who brings out the best in others whether she is on the floor or on the bench."

Also getting significant playing time are junior Alayna Johnson (middle blocker), sophomores Lily Beier (outside hitter) and Josie Tinnerello (opposite hitter) and freshman Kaleigh Palmer (outside hitter).

Completing the roster are seniors Tara Bennington (middle blocker) and Elaine Ondo (defensive specialist) and juniors Ava Hamm (defensive specialist) and Bri Waltermyer (defensive specialist).

"This team believes in themselves and what they want to accomplish this season," Walter said. "The girls have amazing chemistry and they push each other to be better. That creates a depth that we haven't really had in past years. The chemistry and relentless pursuit of improvement are factors that can help us win more matches and hopefully allow us to reach one of our goals -- a winning record."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for Kilbourne and Thomas:

KILBOURNE

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 31 -- Westerville North Classic

FIELD HOCKEY

*Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Columbus School for Girls

BOYS GOLF

Aug. 31 -- Pickerington North Invitational at Pine Hill

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 4 -- OCC-Cardinal at Cooks Creek

BOYS SOCCER

*Sept. 3 -- At Hilliard Darby

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Delaware

*Sept. 3 -- At Olentangy Berlin

Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Buckeye Valley

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Delaware

WATER POLO

Aug. 30-31 -- Boys: Cincinnati St. Xavier Invitational; Girls: Milford Invitational

Sept. 4 -- Boys: Home vs. Upper Arlington; Girls -- At UA

THOMAS

FIELD HOCKEY

*Aug. 29 -- At Dublin Jerome

*Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 4 -- OCC-Cardinal (JV) at Marysville Country Club

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 31 -- Home vs. Whitehouse Anthony Wayne

*Sept. 3 -- At Dublin Jerome

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 29 -- At DeSales

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 29 -- At Dublin Scioto

*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Aug. 29 -- At Olentangy Berlin

*Sept. 3 -- At Dublin Scioto

WATER POLO

Aug. 30-31 -- Boys: Cincinnati St. Xavier Invitational; Girls: Milford Invitational

Sept. 4 -- Boys: Home vs. Upper Arlington; Girls -- At UA

*League contest