The Bexley girls volleyball team has been behind schedule because of COVID-19 coronavirus protocols, but you would never know it from talking to third-year coach Mindy Millard.
The Lions canceled their opener against London on Aug. 25 and held off until playing Olentangy Berlin on Aug. 29, a match they lost 25-14, 25-19, 25-11, but Millard said the resiliency of her players has shined through.
"The girls have been practicing with masks on and playing with masks on," Millard said. "Not a lot of teams are doing that.
"Bexley has added additional precautions over and above what the OHSAA has done. (The players) have embraced it and not balked on it. They want to keep everyone safe and keep the season going. We really do try to find the silver lining in all of this."
Despite not having the ability to practice using volleyballs in their first couple of weeks, the players were ready to get the season going.
"Coach has been stressing safety," senior right-side hitter Ari Martin said. "We have to be really cautious. When we are waiting for drills, we have to make sure that we're separated. We always talk about how we need to practice every day because it could be our last.
"Things can change in an instant. Since we're seniors, it could be our last practice or our last match. We just don't know."
The Lions return three all-district performers after finishing 13-6 overall last season and placing second (9-3) in the MSL-Ohio Division behind Worthington Christian (12-0).
Junior outside hitter Giulia Viglietta (first-team all-district and all-league) had a team-leading 190 kills and added 16 blocks, 26 aces and 153 digs. Senior defensive specialist/libero Grace Satterwhite (second-team all-district, first-team all-league) had a team-high 214 digs with 150 kills and 36 aces, and sophomore setter Madison Lampke (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) led with 522 assists and had 37 aces.
"I really think our energy plays a huge part for us," Viglietta said. "We're energetic, and we communicate well. I think we can truly come out as a strong team to be successful."
Senior middle hitter Kate Huefner (second-team all-league) led the Lions with 37 blocks and 39 aces and also had 108 kills. Senior outside hitter Anna Appling (honorable mention all-league; 19 blocks, 31 aces) and senior middle hitter Zoe Boxill are out for the season with injuries.
"I think last year was like a building year, and we only lost two (seniors)," Satterwhite said. "It was really easy last year to be able to get that unity. You can really tell we have that unity."
Seniors Grace Glasser (outside hitter) and Hayley Heideman (right-side hitter), juniors Kelsey Cain (defensive specialist) and Emma Magee (right-side hitter), sophomores Gigi Lewis (defensive specialist), Sydnie Smith (middle hitter) and Ellie Smith (outside hitter) and freshman Kate Magee (setter) round out the lineup.
"We have seven seniors back and three returning juniors and eight or nine sophomores and eight or nine freshmen, so we have a large roster," said Millard, whose team opened league play Sept. 1 against Whitehall. "We were able to keep all of them. We're really looking forward to the season."
Kritchbaum takes reins of Unicorns
Coach Emily Kritchbaum is trying to build a cohesive group in her first season leading Columbus School for Girls.
Last fall, Kritchbaum was an assistant to Clint Gentry, who left the program after three seasons.
The Unicorns return three starters from last season, when they finished 4-16 overall and 3-9 in the MSL-Ohio. They are seniors Emma Salamon (middle blocker) and Bella Sloan (outside hitter) and sophomore Bella Luckage (libero).
"We have very strong leaders in Salamon, Sloan and Luckage, and they lead by example," said Kritchbaum, whose team opened Sept. 1 against league-foe Worthington Christian. "They always hustle, and they do the little things well. I couldn't ask for better student-athletes."
Luckage, Salamon and Sloan are joined in the starting lineup by junior setter Sophia Nagy, junior outside hitter Taylor Porter and sophomore right-side hitter Kelsey Anderson.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Jordan Bauknight (outside hitter) and Baillie Breckenridge (defensive specialist), juniors Suhanna Halaharvi (defensive specialist), Catherine Lyons (defensive specialist), Alex Rodgers (middle blocker) and Ruthie Saar (right-side hitter) and freshman Ava Kessler (defensive specialist).
"Only a handful of my athletes have played together," Kritchbaum said. "It will be important to establish a dynamic, a flow.
"With that said, there's a lot of opportunity as well. It will be interesting to see who steps up as a leader and takes advantage of this season."
Hawks expect strong season
Hartley has three Division II state runner-up finishes since Mike Rahe took over as coach in 2013.
The Hawks found things a bit tougher in 2017 and last season when they competed in Division I, but they're back in Division II this year and feeling confident about what the future could hold.
There are only two seniors in the program, but both were key players during the 2018 run to a state final. Also, all but three players from last season have returned.
"We've got (almost) everyone back," Rahe said. "We've got all the pieces. When you're starting probably five sophomores, a senior and a junior, we're still pretty young. ... We've got a good core group of kids and these young kids are just talented."
The Hawks were 2-0 before playing Westland on Sept. 1. They play their CCL opener Sept. 10 at Watterson.
Last season, DeSales won the league at 5-1 and went on to capture the Division I state title. Watterson finished 4-2 and was a regional semifinalist, while Hartley went 21-6 overall and 3-3 in the CCL and was a district runner-up, falling to DeSales 25-13, 25-20, 25-17 in a district final.
Senior setter Colleen Sweeney, senior outside hitter Katie Heuser and junior libero Lauren Johnson all were contributors for the state runner-up team in 2018. Johnson has committed to West Virginia State.
Sophomore Ella Brandewie, a 6-foot-3 middle hitter, is considered one of the top recruits in her class nationally, according to Rahe.
Sophomores Jasmyn Crockett (outside hitter), Jocelyn Heuser (defensive specialist) and Kate McLane (middle hitter) also are returnees. McLane is 6-1.
Freshman Kaylee Musick is a 6-0 right-side hitter who is playing a key role.
Most of Hartley's schedule consists of Division I programs.
"Colleen, Katie and Lauren all have the experience of being in the state final in 2018," Rahe said. "They're all good kids and understand what we're trying to accomplish. They work really hard. We've got a couple kids who are going to be role players. ...
"We've got all the pieces and parts, but it's just getting them to play at that high level consistently. Sometimes it's hard for those young kids to maintain that level, but with senior and junior leadership, we'll be able to make a run."