Girls Volleyball: Gahanna Lincoln hopes to keep building under Slone

JARROD ULREY
julrey@thisweeknews.com
Third-year coach John Kelley is facing a tough challenge with his youthful Vikings girls volleyball team, which has just two returning starters.

Following an up-and-down 2018 season, the Gahanna Lincoln girls volleyball team improved by six victories, captured the OCC-Ohio Division championship and reached a Division I district semifinal last fall.

The Lions would like to continue that ascent under first-year coach Ashanti Slone, who took over after serving as an assistant the past three seasons under Molly Martin. Martin stepped down in the offseason.

Gahanna, which opened Aug. 31 against Watkins Memorial, lost three players to graduation after going 17-6 overall and 10-0 in the OCC-Ohio.

"We've done pretty well," senior outside hitter Kortney Grimm said. "I'd say we're one of the closer-knit teams (as compared to) some of the teams Gahanna's had in the past. We lost three seniors from last season and I think with those three leaving we definitely have some big shoes to fill, but (we) have stepped in to fill in as best as we can."

Gahanna is a holdover in the OCC-Ohio along with Grove City and Pickerington North. New Albany, Westerville Central and Westland have joined the league in the OCC's latest realignment.

The Lions open the league schedule Sept. 10 at Westland.

Grimm, who was special mention all-league last season, is one of four returning seniors, joining Kelsey Cripe (defensive specialist), Emily Schweitzer (middle hitter/ outside hitter) and Alex VanHorssen (defensive specialist). Senior Hani Simpson (defensive specialist) is a Fairborn transfer and senior Caitlyn Monaghan (defensive specialist) has returned after competing as a freshman and sophomore but not last fall.

Setter Kendall White is a 6-foot junior who was second-team all-league last season.

Others looking to contribute are juniors Alivia Dials (right-side hitter), Julianna Grubich (defensive specialist), Mia Hill (defensive specialist) and Kendall Washington (middle hitter) and sophomores Audrey Cotner (outside hitter/right-side hitter) and Audrey Worthington (middle hitter). Worthington is 6-0.

Lost to graduation were OCC-Ohio Player of the Year Anna Nie (middle hitter); Lexi Tatum (outside hitter; first-team all-league) and Kailey Mishler (setter; honorable mention all-league).

"I don't think I knew I was ready (to be the coach), but Molly needed a lot of help the last two years and she always invited me to meetings so it was a really easy transition," Slone said. "We've got some really good young talent with the sophomore class and a few juniors as well. Our middles are going to fill their roles really well. We have such a good group of seniors just leading the team."

Vikings feature new-look roster

After losing several key players to graduation and another whose family moved to Cincinnati, Columbus Academy coach John Kelley faces a new challenge this season.

The Vikings need to replace several key players, including senior outside hitter Lily Plaugher, who transferred to Cincinnati Ursuline Academy because of family work commitments. She was first-team all-MSL-Ohio Division last season.

"We have a lot of work to do," Kelley said. "We're a very young team. We have six freshmen. We graduated nine seniors out of 12 players and then my big gun moved to Cincinnati, so we only have two returning starters. ... You deal with what you have."

The returning starters are senior middle hitter Olivia Pierre-Louis and junior outside hitter Kerry O'Connor.

Key graduation losses include Noelle Boltz (setter; honorable mention all-league), Sophia Freytag (outside hitter; honorable mention all-league) and Mabry Nichols (middle hitter/middle blocker; second-team all-league).

Academy finished 14-10 overall and 8-4 in the MSL-Ohio last season.

"We're just hoping to improve as a team because we do have six freshmen on the team and it is a younger team than we're used to," O'Connor said. "Our goal is to be where we were with the team last year. Last year we had a very strong team."

The rest of the Vikings' roster features players who are new to the varsity level.

Junior Aislinn Ahern was the primary setter on the junior varsity team last season and will take on the same role on varsity.

Also looking to contribute are seniors Cydney Platt (defensive specialist) and Ellie Vasilkov (outside hitter), sophomore Sophia Constantine (middle hitter/outside hitter) and freshmen Rene Fleege (outside hitter), Alli Klinefelter (libero), Maddie Martin (outside hitter), Kelli Raque (outside hitter), Eliora Teferi (setter/outside hitter) and Shaia Young (defensive specialist).

Academy opened Aug. 29 against Liberty Union and began MSL-Ohio play Sept. 1 against Grandview.

"It's a work in progress," Kelley said. "I expect to get beat a lot at the beginning of the season and I'm OK with that as long as we play as well as we can play and play hard. I really don't care what our season record is.

"My goal is by the end of the season when we get to the (district) tournament is to be competitive, because we have a long way to go to be competitive with a lot of the teams we're going to play."

--Frank DiRenna

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At a glance

GAHANNA LINCOLN

*Coach: Ashanti Slone, first season

*Top players: Kelsey Cripe, Kortney Grimm, Emily Schweitzer, Alex VanHorssen and Kendall White

*Key losses: Kailey Mishler, Anna Nie and Lexi Tatum

*Last season: 17-6 overall

*2019 OCC-Ohio standings: Gahanna (10-0), Pickerington North (7-3), Grove City (6-4), Pickerington Central (3-7), Lancaster (2-8), Reynoldsburg (2-8)

*2019 postseason: Defeated Delaware 25-19, 25-19, 25-14; lost to Dublin Scioto 20-25, 25-7, 25-17, 25-21 in Division I district semifinal

COLUMBUS ACADEMY

*Coach: John Kelley, third season

*Top players: Kerry O'Connor and Olivia Pierre-Louis

*Key losses: Noelle Boltz, Sophia Freytag, Mabry Nichols and Lily Plaugher

*Last season: 14-10 overall

*2019 MSL-Ohio standings: Worthington Christian (12-0), Bexley (9-3), Columbus Academy (8-4), Buckeye Valley (6-6), Grandview (4-8), Columbus School for Girls (3-9), Whitehall (0-12)

*2019 postseason: Defeated Africentric 25-22, 25-16, 25-15; lost Cardington 25-14, 25-18, 25-13 in Division III district semifinal

Kortney Grimm, an outside hitter, is one of four returning seniors who will lead the Gahanna Lincoln girls volleyball team under first-year coach Ashanti Slone.