Abbey Arnett is trying to solve a puzzle in her first season coaching the Hilliard Bradley girls volleyball team.
She is working to fit the pieces together for what could be a successful campaign for the Jaguars, who finished 22-3 overall last fall and tied Dublin Scioto for the OCC-Cardinal Division title at 13-1.
Bradley lost a pair of Division I college players to graduation in middle hitter Allie Holland (Tennessee) and setter Riley Speelman (Duquesne). Also, senior outside hitter Clare Flanagan (second-team all-league; team-high 281 digs, 38 aces) had foot surgery and might miss the season.
"We have a lot of our starters back, but we lost a lot as well," said Arnett, who replaced RyAnne Ufferman after she had stints of six and two seasons leading the program. "We're still figuring it out.
"It's going to be an interesting year with (the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic) and people being out with quarantine. It will be fluid. Everyone will have their time to shine. We're working through it. I think it made us feel more like a family than a team."
One returning starter is senior middle hitter Penellope Kern, who had 55 kills, 30 aces and 134 digs last fall.
"I kind of appreciate (playing) more because I didn't think we would even have a season," Kern said. "The fact that we do get to play, it makes me happy and I don't take things for granted."
Senior middle hitter Anna Alford agreed.
"I think that we have had to get over the fact that it's kind of a weird time," said Alford, who was special mention all-league last fall with 115 kills and 60 blocks. "I think we really have come together well. We have to keep it positive and make sure that we pick each other up."
Alford and Kern are in the starting lineup along with junior setter Emma Richter, senior outside hitter Lolah Maxey and junior outside hitter Maggie Willis (honorable mention all-league; 173 kills, 30 aces, 142 digs). Junior Sydney Bleyle is the right-side hitter.
Sophomores Grace Ahrens (right-side hitter), Emerson Alexander (right-side hitter), Lauren Edwards (defensive specialist), Izzy Michel (defensive specialist) and Kayla Pairan (right-side hitter) round out the roster.
"There are some holes, and the girls are up the challenge," Arnett said. "We're figuring out how things will work this year.
"These girls have chemistry off the court as well as on the court. They are just happy to play, and they're putting everything out on the court. They are taking advantage of the time they can be with each other."
The Jaguars lost to Scioto 25-15, 25-15, 25-21 in their opener Aug. 22 before defeating Central Crossing 25-13, 25-20, 25-23 on Aug. 27. They have moved to the OCC-Central Division with Davidson, Dublin Coffman, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange and Upper Arlington and open league play Sept. 10 at home against UA.
Farrell excited to lead Wildcats
First-year Davidson coach Shane Farrell hopes his team improves as the season continues.
He replaced Betty Cameron, who stepped down after 21 seasons.
The Wildcats are looking to improve on last year's finish of 7-17 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Central.
"I like the fight," said Farrell, who also is the boys coach at Coffman. "I really like our (middle hitters) and how they're running. I want to see it all put together. We just have to get a little better passing and it will flow from there because then we can run our offense more. When we get a good pass and run our offense, we can compete with anybody, but it's getting to that point."
Davidson, which lost its first two matches, opens OCC-Central play Sept. 10 against visiting Olentangy Orange.
"We're trying to start a new culture, one which values the hustle, the dedication and the hard work and just not giving up on any point at all," Farrell said. "That's how you build a program."
Davidson returns six players, including senior outside hitter Lindsey Buckley, who was second-team all-league last season.
Also back are senior setter Cassidy DeJesus (205 assists), junior outside hitter Madelyn McMillan (157 assists, 117 digs, 24 aces) and sophomore setter Anna Rodenbaugh (146 assists).
Other returnees are junior Maci Keys (middle hitter) and sophomore Maura Jacob (libero).
Other players are seniors Ashley Barrington (setter), Gabby Grubaugh (right-side hitter), Sydney Johnson (middle hitter) and Lauren Runals (defensive specialist), junior Ryann Bunyak (outside hitter) and sophomores Riley Hall (defensive specialist) and Lydia Sauer (middle hitter).
"If you want to start a dynasty, if you want to start a group, it begins with (the upperclassmen)," Farrell said following a 25-21, 25-19, 25-12 loss to visiting Worthington Kilbourne on Aug. 25. "It has to begin with them and they have to be the role models for the younger girls."
Maddox takes reins of Panthers
Darby coach Rebecca Maddox has inherited a solid core of seniors for her inaugural season.
The Panthers lost key contributors to graduation in setter Olivia Zawadski and middle hitter Olivia Krumpe, who were first-team all-OCC-Cardinal and honorable mention all-league last season, respectively. They were among four players lost to graduation.
Replacing the senior void in the starting lineup are libero Sophia Iosue, outside hitter Alexa Capka and outside hitter/middle blocker Shelby Long.
Maddox said Long is more of a natural outside hitter, but she temporarily moved to middle blocker after the No. 1 middle blocker, junior Rachel Hopkins, suffered a sprained ankle.
"She's just a very versatile player, she can play anywhere," Maddox said of Long. "I see her more as a setter or right-side (hitter) ... but she's doing pretty well (at middle blocker) for just learning it a couple of weeks ago."
Sophomore Amanda Cowen, a setter, is expected to be another key cog for Darby.
"She's pretty young and taking on a huge leadership role being the setter," Maddox said.
Darby finished 11-13 overall last year and went 6-8 in the OCC-Cardinal.
"This year, we're just really excited to get to play," Maddox said. "We're just trying to have fun and enjoy the opportunity that we have to have our season and allow our seniors to be on the court. As far as wins and losses, we would love to see a winning season, possibly a conference title, but it's hard to say how many games we'll actually get in. So we're just enjoying every minute we've got."
Darby opened with a 25-11, 25-20, 25-12 loss to Pickerington Central on Aug. 25 and a 25-17, 25-17, 25-10 loss to Westerville Central on Aug. 27.