Coming off a winning season and a berth in a Division I district final, second-year Westerville Central girls volleyball coach Shelly Ebright hopes for similar results this fall.
The Warhawks won three of their first four matches and open OCC-Ohio Division play Sept. 10 at home against Pickerington North.
"Any team, depending on how they keep moving, has potential," Ebright said. "It just depends on what you can do with that potential and hard work. That's why the girls' motto this year is: 'outwork, outplay.' They learned a lot from last year of what it takes to be an OCC contender."
The other teams in the OCC-Ohio are Gahanna, Grove City, New Albany and Westland.
Last season, the Warhawks finished 17-7 overall and went 4-6 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish fourth behind champion Olentangy Orange (10-0). Central lost to Olentangy Liberty 25-15, 25-17, 25-14 in a district final.
"We had a great season last year," Ebright said. "We started rebuilding right away from last year and we're looking forward to this year to see what we can do in the new OCC division we're in."
Senior outside hitter Riley Kindall was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season. Senior right-side hitter Josie Curran was special mention all-league and senior libero Ava Hampton was honorable mention all-league.
"We're all very excited with the start of our season," Hampton said. "We're all very confident going into this season with the talent we have this year. One of our main goals is to go further than we did last year with being district runner-up. We're all pretty happy we made it that far, but this year our goal is to go even further and to push ourselves even more."
Also back are juniors Shannon Clarke (defensive specialist), Mia Cline (defensive specialist), Melody Kwarteng (middle hitter/right-side hitter) and Mia Saunders (setter) and sophomore Tatum Hubble (outside hitter).
Other players are sophomore Olivia Childress (right-side hitter/middle hitter) and freshman Abby Lane (middle hitter/right-side hitter).
A key loss to graduation was outside hitter Maddie Saunders, who was second-team all-district and all-league last season.
Warriors working to find right mix
North has four varsity players from last year and some key newcomers as it tries to improve on a finish of 6-18 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Buckeye.
Senior setter Addy Moore and senior defensive specialist Catherine Moore return along with junior middle hitter Grace Link and senior outside hitter Emily McGeorge, who has been nursing a back injury.
Junior right-side hitter/setter Kori McClure is a move-in from North Carolina. Savana Gurr, a 6-foot sophomore middle hitter, also expects to be a big contributor.
"We're really young and some of our kids played on j.v. last year, so we're trying to figure things out," third-year coach Amanda Mosely said. "Last year's seniors were vocal and played together all of the time. These girls would back off, and they were the role players for us. Now they realize they have step up and be vocal. We just have to play more and be together."
Also in the mix are seniors Marisa Bernhardt (setter), Miya Martin (defensive specialist) and Kayla Padilla (defensive specialist) and juniors Alana Alexander (defensive specialist), Lauren Phipps (right-side hitter), Maddy Sanford (outside hitter) and Lillian Ward (middle hitter).
The Warriors lost their opener to Westerville Central 13-25, 25-12, 25-11, 25-17 on Aug. 25.
"We looked young and we didn't look ready," Mosely said. "With all of the changes from (the) COVID(-19) coronavirus, we got a late start and didn't have scrimmages. That hindered some of our abilities.
"People weren't used to being here and they didn't know where they were supposed to be on the court. We had some plays work well, though. One thing from all of this craziness is at least we're still playing."
North now is in the OCC-Capital with Westerville South, Big Walnut, Delaware, Dublin Scioto, Franklin Heights and Worthington Kilbourne. The Warriors won their league opener Aug. 27, defeating Franklin Heights 25-7, 25-7, 25-1.
One player in the program tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus Aug. 28, forcing the postponement of the team's matches through Sept. 10, athletics director Wes Elifritz said Aug. 31.
Wildcats looking to take next step
South entered the season looking to improve on last year's finish of 5-17 overall and 0-10 in the OCC-Buckeye.
The Wildcats are now competing in the OCC-Capital with North, Big Walnut, Canal Winchester, Delaware, Franklin Heights, Kilbourne and Scioto.
"This will be much more competitive for us," second-year coach Haley Adams said. "We're not going to be going into every game expecting to lose, which will be a big difference. As much as I tried to get them past that last year, it's hard when that's been the norm and the routine a couple of years before that."
The Wildcats were 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the league before playing Big Walnut on Sept. 1. They opened league play with a 25-12, 25-4, 25-12 loss at Scioto on Aug. 27.
"We lost the five seniors last year and we have a young team this year," Adams said. "It's going to be a growing year, but a good season. We have a really good team culture that we didn't quite have last year. I'm definitely excited for this team."
Juniors Hannah Pestorius (middle blocker) and Maggie Yost (setter) and sophomores Lauryn Bowie (outside hitter/right-side hitter) and Nelia Guice (outside hitter/opposite hitter) all were starters last season.
Other players are seniors Sophia Polo (libero/defensive specialist) and Micah Wyckoff (middle blocker), juniors Yaretzi Centeno (defensive specialist), Brenda Light (setter) and Colleen Morrison (right-side hitter/outside hitter), sophomores Gia Golden (outside hitter/opposite hitter) and Lelia Jones (opposite hitter/outside hitter/setter) and freshman Aurelia Ledbetter (middle blocker).
"There's been a lot more growth this year," Adams said. "It's my second year with the program and I've seen a lot positive changes. Everybody is willing to try new things and grow. It's been a pleasure to coach this group. We might not be exactly where we want to be right now skill-wise, but they definitely have improved a lot."
A key loss to graduation was outside hitter Promise Winston, who led the Wildcats in kills with 107 and was second-team all-league.
"It's been an interesting year with COVID and everything," Adams said. "We're trying to get back to some normalcy."
Stallions aiming for title repeat
DeSales began defense of its Division I state championship Aug. 27 with a 25-20, 25-15, 18-25, 25-19 home win over Liberty, but that approach doesn't accurately reflect how the Stallions view the season.
Instead of defending the title, the Stallions' mantra is "attacking the title."
"When people say 'defend the title,' to me it sounds kind of like we're back on our heels and not ready," senior libero Bridget Javitch said. "When we say 'attacking the title,' our mindset kind of changes to running the offense with the same mentality, eagerness and hunger we had last year to win it all again."
Javitch is one of several returnees, joining classmates Avery Boyd (middle blocker), Brooke Stablein (defensive specialist) and Saje Washington (outside hitter) and juniors Gabby D'Amico (defensive specialist/outside hitter) and Morgan Tydings (middle hitter/outside blocker). Last year's team went 27-2 overall and defeated Parma Padua -- the top-ranked team in the country according to USA Today -- 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-22 to win the program's first state title since 1982.
Washington had 179 kills last season and likely will play an even larger role in the offense with the graduations of outside hitters Maryanne Boyle and Emma Brown, who now play for Providence and Robert Morris, respectively.
Stablein had 118 digs, Boyd had 117 blocks and Tydings had 109 kills and 67 blocks last year.
Boyd is a Fairfield commit. Javitch is an American University commit.
"We definitely graduated some great seniors, not just in terms of play but of leadership. All five of them really left their mark," fourth-year coach Brenden Pence said. "We still have some players who made huge impacts. We're still reloading. We won't rest on our laurels, but we'll have a sense of urgency. Our biggest issue is continuing to understand there are different mechanics, different tendencies with a slightly different roster."
Other hitters are seniors Alexis Johnson, Tara Mnich and Allison Weiner, sophomore McKenzie Hall and freshman Kerrigan Habing. Habing, Johnson, Mnich and Weiner also are defensive specialists.
"All our pin hitters are versatile," Pence said. "Saje can go on the outside and the right side and run a lot of different sets. She's taken a real leadership role this year. She leads through her actions and through being the one who wants to get to work and put the rubber to the road, so to speak."
Juniors Judy Stanczewski and Ashleigh Zehala are the team's setters, succeeding Bella D'Amico, last year's ThisWeek girls volleyball Athlete of the Year who now plays at Georgia Tech.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Claire Baileys (defensive specialist) and Arianna Hervey (middle blocker).
DeSales begins CCL play Sept. 10 at home against Ready. The Stallions went 5-1 in the league last year to finish first, ahead of Watterson (4-2). Their loss to Hartley in the final CCL match for both teams preceded a 15-match winning streak to end the season.
Pence said rather than the "three 'C's" -- composed, confident and consistent -- that the team emphasized last year, this season they are concentrating on "the three 'P's" -- purpose, patience and persistence.
"We want to perfect the little things," Mnich said. "We'll continue getting better as we keep playing. We have a target on our backs now. We're using that as motivation."
@ThisWeekSportsAt a glance
*Coach: Shelley Ebright, second season
*Top players: Josie Curran, Ava Hampton and Riley Kindall
*Key losses: Danielle Ingram, Madison Saunders and Hayle Tillman
*Last season: 17-7 overall
*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Olentangy Orange (10-0), Olentangy Liberty (8-2), Olentangy (6-4), Westerville Central (4-6), Westerville North (2-8), Westerville South (0-10)
*2019 postseason: Defeated Watkins Memorial 25-22, 15-25, 26-24, 22-25, 15-13; def. Hilliard Bradley 25-22, 12-25, 25-14, 20-25, 15-10; lost to Liberty 25-15, 25-17, 25-14 in Division I district final
*Coach: Amanda Mosely, third season
*Top players: Grace Link, Emily McGeorge, Addy Moore and Catherine Moore
*Key losses: Allyson Armstrong, Lynn Burton, Ameena Freeman, Clarke Gilchrist and Lily Miller
*Last season: 6-18 overall
*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (10-0), Liberty (8-2), Olentangy (6-4), Central (4-6), North (2-8), South (0-10)
*2019 postseason: Def. Whetstone 25-14, 25-19, 25-7; lost to Orange 25-11, 25-6, 25-12 in second round of Division I district tournament
*Coach: Haley Adams, second season
*Top players: Lauryn Bowie, Nelia Guice, Hannah Pestorius and Maggie Yost
*Key losses: Shae Johnson, Melanie Kowalski and Promise Winston
*Last season: 5-17 overall
*2019 OCC-Buckeye standings: Orange (10-0), Liberty (8-2), Olentangy (6-4), Central (4-6), North (2-8), South (0-10)
*2019 postseason: Lost to Big Walnut 22-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-9 in first round of Division I district tournament
*Coach: Brenden Pence, fourth season
*Top players: Avery Boyd, Gabby D'Amico, Bridget Javitch, Morgan Tydings and Saje Washington
*Key losses: Maryanne Boyle, Emma Brown and Bella D'Amico
*Last season: 27-2 overall
*2019 CCL standings: DeSales (5-1), Watterson (4-2), Hartley (3-3), Ready (0-6)
*2019 postseason: Def. Licking Heights 25-7, 25-5, 25-5; def. Hilliard Darby 25-14, 25-13, 25-8; def. Hartley 25-13, 25-20, 25-17; def. Watterson 25-15, 17-25, 25-12, 25-14; def. Orange 27-25, 25-16, 26-28, 25-22; def. Solon 25-10, 25-18, 25-21; def. Parma Padua 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-22 in Division I state final