The Worthington Kilbourne girls water polo team might have that thing that pulls a team together.
Illness decimated the Wolves and they were left with just the minimum seven players in the Milford Invitational held Aug. 30 and 31.
So, how did they respond? They beat Mason, Cincinnati Sycamore and Cincinnati Princeton in the event.
"(It) was incredible," fifth-year coach Olivia Miranda said. "I think they even surprised themselves. It was a very hard situation to be in and we're already the second smallest varsity team in the state ... and having your backs up against the wall and still coming out with a 3-0 record ... it was a pretty powerful moment."
Kilbourne is off to a 13-1-1 start and was tied with Upper Arlington for first in the latest state rankings released Aug. 28 by ohiowaterpolo.com.
The start might just erase the bad taste in Miranda's mouth after the Wolves' performance in the state tournament last year, when they went 1-3 and placed ninth of 10 teams to finish the season 17-14-1.
"I know for our three seniors (the state tournament) was a huge motiving factor in the offseason," Miranda said. "I think the mental aspect is something that we've worked on in the offseason and the early part of this season -- having that championship attitude and mindset so that we can ultimately achieve our goals."
Those seniors are Melanie Fisher, Cleo Melvin and Katie Rzymek. Juniors Lauren Richner, Fiona Saunders (goalkeeper) and Phoebe Saunders also have keyed Kilbourne's early success.
"All of our starters, except for Ashley Gilbert, have returned," Miranda said. "So, that's one of the reasons we've started so well."
Miranda said the coaching staff had a conversation with the team following last season.
"We said we saw this team as having the potential of achieve a state championship and if they wanted to do it, they were going to have to put in a lot of work in the offseason and they were going to have to commit," Miranda said. "And all of the girls did that."
Fisher leads the Wolves with 43 goals and 36 steals and is tied with Phoebe Saunders for the team lead in assists with 15.
"While I'm pleasantly surprised by the start to this season, I can't say that this was totally unexpected," Miranda said. "I've seen the potential of this season for a long time and I feel like this start is just reflective of the fact that the girls are now (playing to) their ability as well."
Rzymek is second on the team with 25 goals and is tied with Melvin for second on the team in assists with 11. Phoebe Saunders has 18 goals and is second with 31 steals, and Melvin has 21 goals.
Fiona Saunders has 78 blocks and eight steals in goal.
"She was a new player last year and I think she's the top goalie in the state," Miranda said. "She worked her (tail) off in the offseason."
Boys team aided by additional players
Athletes often complain about a lack of playing time, but fifth-year boys water polo coach Rick Yurich didn't hear any of those grumblings last season.
If anything, he was fielding complaints about fatigue.
The Wolves had just seven players -- the minimum number needed to field a team -- and finished 6-20-2.
This season, however, Yurich and assistant coach Cameron Harper have some company on the bench.
Kilbourne has 10 players on its roster and that number has already proved fruitful in terms of its record. Despite going 1-4 in the Ohio Cup held Sept. 7 and 8 at Thomas, the Wolves are 7-8 on the season, having already surpassed last year's win total.
"That team, playing extremely short-handed last year, was in a lot of tight games where they just couldn't hang on in the fourth quarter," Yurich said. "So, having even a couple of subs for these first few games has us able to finish games better."
Leading the way for the Wolves are seniors Mitchell Fisher, Matt Gerold and Thomas Rzymek, each of whom has at least three years of playing at the varsity level.
Other key players include juniors Jake Tefund, Drew Harvey and Andrew Winget.
"They've developed a really great chemistry and just a consistent work ethic to keep getting better as individuals and as a team," Yurich said.
Girls tennis team struggling for wins
It's been a tough go for the girls tennis team.
The Wolves won their opening match, beating Hartley 4-1 on Aug. 14, but were 1-7 overall before playing Granville on Sept. 10 and finished 0-7 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. They fell 3-2 to Thomas on Sept. 5 but lost 5-0 in their other six league matches.
Coach Steve Metzmaier altered the lineup, slotting freshman Lily Hershey into the first singles position and moving Hannah Lindeman into the first doubles slot with Libby Costello.
"(Hershey is) athletic and she moves pretty well," Metzmaier said. "She and (Lindeman) are really pretty close (skill-wise)."
The change hasn't shown an uptick in terms of wins yet, but Metzmaier thinks Hershey will grow into the team's No. 1 singles player and Lindeman is happier playing alongside a close friend.
Posting wins against Thomas were Lindeman and Costello at first doubles and Ellie Needleman and Eve Bomsta at second doubles.
"(Needleman and Bomsta) have learned what each other does well and have learned how to be a (doubles) team," Metzmaier said. "I think that helps a lot. They've gotten stronger and more consistent and are overall better tennis players this year."
Below are the coming schedules for the Kilbourne cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball and water polo teams:
Sept. 14 -- Galion Cross Country Festival at Amann Reservoir Park
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
Sept. 14 -- Rodney Butt Classic at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 12 -- Hilliard Darby at Worthington Hills
Sept. 17 -- Licking Heights at Broadview
Sept. 12 -- At Upper Arlington
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Grove City
Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Whitehouse Anthony Wayne
*Sept. 17 -- At Dublin Scioto
Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Westland
Sept. 17 -- At Newark
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. DeSales
*Sept. 12 -- At Dublin Jerome
Sept. 14 -- Kilbourne Invitational
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby
Sept. 14-15 -- Boys: Wild Knight Invite at Bowling Green; Girls: Ohio Cup at Thomas