Winning can change everything -- at least that's what 30th-year Big Walnut girls volleyball coach Ron Lehman hopes after his team captured its first victory following three consecutive losses to open the season.
The Golden Eagles beat Olentangy 15-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-23 on Aug. 27 to improve to 1-3 before playing Marysville on Aug. 29. They open OCC-Capital Division play Tuesday, Sept. 2, at Canal Winchester.
"We started out really bad (against Olentangy), losing 15-25, but we got it together and started playing well and won the next three sets," Lehman said. "Hopefully, it showed them what it takes to win some of these matches."
The slow start wasn't surprising.
The Golden Eagles lost six players from a year ago to graduation, led by setter/outside hitter Michaela Podraza, last season's OCC-Capital Player of the Year and a first-team all-district honoree who now plays for Ohio State.
Another key loss was 2019 graduate Kaley Rammelsberg, a middle hitter who was first-team all-league and all-district last season.
"I thought there would be some growing pains until we find out what our best lineup is," Lehman said. "We don't have quite the firepower that we had last year, so we have to win with a different strategy and battle for points."
Big Walnut has just two returning starters in senior middle hitter/outside hitter Kassie Bowmar, who was second-team all-league and all-district last season, and sophomore outside hitter Caroline Speelman.
Senior defensive specialist/ outside hitter Alex Billings also saw playing time last season.
Others in Lehman's rotation include senior Madi Coulson and junior Reagan Bickley at setter, senior libero Morgan Schull, junior middle hitter Taylor Schirtzinger and senior defensive specialist Jen Crenshaw.
Juniors Olivia Pollock and Sarah von Hollen are sharing time on the right side, and sophomore Andie Stewart is in the mix on the right side and at setter.
Despite having a mostly new lineup, Lehman expects his team to contend for the OCC-Capital championship.
Last season, the Golden Eagles captured their 15th league title in 19 seasons, going 10-0 in the OCC-Capital to finish three matches ahead of runner-up New Albany (7-3). Big Walnut did not lose a set in league play.
"I don't think you'll see us do that again this year," Lehman said. "It's going to be a little tougher."
Girls runners pursing OCC title
Led by a two-time state qualifier, the girls cross country team is striving to compete for the OCC-Capital title and advance further in the postseason.
Last season, the Golden Eagles finished second (46 points) in the league meet behind New Albany (26) and finished 11th (261) of 15 teams in the Division I, district 3 meet behind champion Hilliard Davidson (25).
Big Walnut reached regional in 2017, finishing 16th of 17 teams.
Senior Colbi Borland placed 48th (19 minutes, 39.9 seconds) of 176 runners at state last season and finishing 59th (19:14.5) of 173 in 2017. She was the Golden Eagles' lone regional qualifier a year ago.
"She had a great summer of running and got a lot of miles in this summer," sixth-year coach Kevin Lewis said of Borland, a three-time regional qualifier and three-time defending OCC-Capital champion. "She's just the hardest worker I've been around. I think she's going to do some big things this year."
Borland opened the season by placing third (18:46.2) in the Hartford Twilight Invitational on Aug. 24 at Hartford Fairgrounds behind Granville's Reilly Zink (18:28.4) and Ashland's Danielle Honaker (18:36.9).
Senior Alina Pecci (21st, 20:39.7) was next for the Golden Eagles, followed by sophomore Madi Yano (26th, 20:52.3), sophomore Grace Grunewald (31st, 21:04) and senior Chloe McKenzie (93rd, 23:06.4).
Big Walnut finished sixth (161) in the 15-team event behind champion and host Granville (56).
Others on the team include seniors Siena Coomes, Fiona Lariviere and Ava Walker, juniors Annika Anderson and Sierra Sanders, sophomores Abbey Danne and Jaiden Hilton and freshmen Mackenna Ames and River Hamilton.
Led by senior Jacob Krous (43rd, 17:27.5), the boys team finished 10th (259) of 13 teams in the Hartford Twilight Invitational behind champion Olentangy Orange (53).
Lewis expects freshman Jordan Monebrake (45th, 17:29) and sophomore Christopher Lee (53rd, 17:38.9) to push Krous for the team's top spot.
"Running is Jordan's thing," Lewis said. "He's got big goals and he's going to be a first-rate runner down the line. He never misses a practice, he's in the weight room twice a week and he's got a great attitude."
Senior Grady Hemmingway (81st, 18:36.1) and sophomore Ryan Cummins (98th, 18:58.9) round out Big Walnut's top five runners.
"All five of those guys are under 19 minutes right now," Lewis said. "It was probably the end of last season before we had five guys breaking 19 minutes, and here we are doing it now."
Others on the team include seniors Cole Matos, Jackson Podraza, Connor Staschiak, Austin Stewart and Sam Wilson, juniors Braden Buckler, Jatan Pokar and Khail Yano and freshmen Gabe Ghering and Ethan Swager.
Football team getting ready for Barons
The football team will meet one of its Delaware County rivals this week after opening Aug. 30 at Johnstown, last year's Division V state runner-up.
The Golden Eagles will visit Buckeye Valley on Friday, Sept. 6
The Barons, who are preparing for their first season in the MSL-Ohio, opened Aug. 30 at Delaware.
Buckeye Valley has a significantly smaller roster this season, going from 60 players last year to 45, according to sixth-year coach Matt Stephens. And of the 22 combined starting positions on offense and defense, 16 are filled by first-year starters.
The Barons, who finished 5-5 last season, have returned only two starters on offense in senior lineman Nick Fein and junior running back Andre Ash. They have returned four starters on defense, including senior cornerback Andy Anthony, a second-team Division III all-state honoree last season.
The other returning starters on defense are sophomore free safety Anthony Hughes and Ash and junior Will Weinberg at linebacker.
Big Walnut defeated Buckeye Valley 42-28 last season.
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 7 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
Sept. 4 -- Westerville South at Royal American
Sept. 5 -- Dublin Scioto at Darby Creek
Sept. 3 -- Madison Plains at Bent Tree
Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Marysville
Sept. 3 -- At Marysville
Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Ontario
*Sept. 3 -- At Franklin Heights
Sept. 4 -- At Hilliard Darby
*Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Groveport
Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Delaware
*Sept. 3 -- At Canal Winchester
Sept. 7 -- At Hilliard Davidson with Gahanna and Thomas Worthington