Jake Maziarz remains surprised that he and his teammates on the Watterson boys volleyball team reached the Division II state championship match last season.

Although the Eagles featured a nine-member senior class as well as Maziarz as their setter, St. Charles was the defending state champion and had defeated Watterson twice during last year's regular season.

Nonetheless, the Eagles upset the Cardinals 25-21, 25-21, 14-25, 20-25, 15-10 in last year's East Region final. They then defeated Kettering Alter 25-18, 22-25, 25-15, 25-23 in a state semifinal before losing to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit 25-18, 25-17, 25-21 in the state final to finish 17-10.

"For me, at least, it was definitely unexpected," said Maziarz, who is now a junior. "St. Charles was the state champs, but when we beat them in the (regional final) and made it to the state championship (match), it was definitely very cool."

Watterson, which had lost to St. Charles in the regional final in 2018, knew its status would be much different this spring with Maziarz serving as the only key returnee and with no seniors in its program.

Maziarz, who is a Dublin resident, was looking forward to that challenge, but the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"We started up the last week of February and practiced for about two to three weeks (before the season was suspended and ultimately canceled)," Maziarz said. "Our (junior varsity) team last year was mostly sophomores and freshmen and they were learning the skills. It was definitely going to be a rebuilding year, so it's kind of disappointing that we couldn't have this season. I've had to grow into (being a leader). I'm more of an introvert or a quiet person on the court, so this year could have definitely helped me be more boisterous."

Maziarz gained club experience before joining Watterson's program in 2018. Although he previously had been a libero, Eagles coach Ryan Thompson moved him to setter as a freshman and he settled in quickly.

The Eagles went 8-14 in 2017 before improving to 15-7 the next year, Maziarz's freshman season. Maziarz was named honorable mention all-state that season and earned first-team all-region and honorable mention all-state honors as a sophomore last spring.

Thompson was hoping to use Maziarz in a more offensive role this spring in addition to setting, in what he calls a "wildcat" style where Maziarz would have been a direct point-scoring option.

"Jake has a phenomenal approach to the game of volleyball," Thompson said. "Even as a freshman, you could tell how locked in and serious he is about the game. He was never intimidated by the upperclassmen and was an immediate perfect fit for those past teams. Having great fundamentals in every positional skill didn't hurt, either.

"This season's focus for Jake was developing leadership even further as well as pushing to make that next jump athletically. Getting him to motivate and lead his classmates with his approach to the game will help us speed up the transition from last season's graduates."

Maziarz regularly has done hour-long workouts and taken walks to stay in shape this spring.

"Coach Ryan and my club coaches had different styles, so I was able to use their ideas and techniques," Maziarz said. "Playing college volleyball is definitely a possibility, but academics, to me, are really important. Right now, I'm (interested in studying) pre-med or nursing. If I play in college, I want to make sure (the college has) the academics that I'm looking for."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek