Girls Volleyball: Worthington Kilbourne needs seniors to set tone

STEPHEN BORGNA
sborgna@thisweeknews.com
Margo Henderson and Zeynep Yildez of the Kilbourne girls volleyball team celebrate after winning a point during a 26-24, 25-15, 25-19 victory over host New Albany on Aug. 22.

The Worthington Kilbourne girls volleyball team is brimming with experience with 12 seniors on its roster.

Five of those seniors are expected to be key cogs for 17th-year coach Meladee Hopkins and the Wolves, who lost three players to graduation -- outside hitter Olivia Karhoff, setter Ellie Ishida and libero Olivia Cheung -- following a finish of 17-7 overall and 10-4 in the OCC-Cardinal Division.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Bair is in her fourth year as a starter and is oming off a season that featured 235 digs, 112 kills, 102 blocks and 19 aces, earning her first-team all-league honors.

Senior Lily Podolan, who had 158 kills and 49 blocks and was honorable mention all-league, joins Bair at middle hitter.

"Lauren and Lily are both really strong blockers for us," Hopkins said.

Junior middle hitter Margo Henderson is expected to form a trio with Bair and Podolan to enable the Wolves to run a triangle offense, a formation that utilizes three middle hitters, two outside hitters and a setter.

Another two seniors expected to be strong contributors are libero Morgan Beals, who had 125 digs and 27 aces last season, and setter Grace Cummings.

Hopkins said she has observed significant growth in Cummings' abilities as a player.

"She has really come around in her all-around play," Hopkins said. "She's pretty consistent. Her setting has really improved. We threw that at her last year, and she's really worked hard in the offseason to get those skills where they need to be to run this program."

The final senior in the starting lineup is Rachel Simmons, who will join junior Zeynep Yildez as the Wolves' top two outside hitters.

Yildez was second-team all-league last year with 288 digs, 189 kills and 52 aces.

Last year, Kilbourne couldn't match its 2018 success of going 22-4, winning the OCC-Cardinal and reaching a Division I district final.

While the Wolves again are aiming for those goals, Hopkins said they're just fortunate to be on the court considering the backdrop of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"Our biggest thing is, every year we always want to be competitive in our conference and try to shoot for an OCC title and make it to district and be successful in that sense," she said. "But this year, with everything that is going on, our biggest thing is to make sure that we stay, as much as we possibly can, to continue to be a family-oriented team and make sure these kids are having fun.

"If the wins come, the wins come, but our biggest thing is the fact that we are happy to be playing."

Kilbourne started 3-0 with a 26-24, 25-15, 25-19 win over New Albany on Aug. 22, a 25-21, 25-19, 25-12 win over Hilliard Davidson on Aug. 25 and a 25-20, 24-26, 25-11, 25-19 win over Canal Winchester on Aug. 27. The Wolves played Dublin Scioto on Sept. 1.

Cardinals feature 'strong senior class'

Coming off an injured-filled season, Thomas is led by a small yet promising senior group.

"We have a really strong senior class," third-year coach Natalie Walter said. "They have some really great leadership capabilities and they really carried us through this turbulent preseason."

Two members of the three-member senior class suffered injuries last season, but now are healthy.

Senior Alayna Johnson, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker and University of Arizona commit, is expected to propel the offense.

"She really spearheads our offense from the middle," Walter said.

Senior newcomer Wakaya Wilson, a move-in from California, is expected to bring athleticism to the outside hitter position.

"We're really blessed to have her in our program," Walter said. "(She's) just a true athlete, a really strong offensive and defensive player for us."

Rounding out the senior class is Grace Matthews, an opposite hitter and defensive specialist who Walter said brings a stabilizing presence to the team.

"She's our steady-Eddie, if you will," Walter said. "(She's) really great at managing the emotional side of the game and keeping our players focused. She does a great job just making sure our team is focused but also keeps the intensity level pretty high for us."

Other key players include returning junior libero Josie Tinnerello, sophomore setter Dru Temple and 6-4 freshman right-side hitter Becca Wight.

Walter said the Cardinals are more balanced than last year's squad, which went 4-19 overall and 1-13 in the OCC-Cardinal.

"From an offensive and defensive standpoint, the pressure isn't all on one player," Walter said.

"I think we'll be a lot more competitive this year just because we're able to rely a little bit on everybody, instead of having one key player get us out of tough situations. I think the future's bright for sure."

Thomas opened Aug. 25 with a 25-11, 25-14, 25-11 win over Groveport and then earned a 15-25, 25-22, 25-23, 24-26, 15-13 victory over Upper Arlington on Aug. 27. The Cardinals played Central Crossing on Sept 1.

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve

At a glance

WORTHINGTON KILBOURNE

*Coach: Meladee Hopkins, 17th season

*Top players: Lauren Bair, Grace Cummings, Margo Henderson, Lily Podolan, Rachel Simmons and Zeynep Yildez

*Key losses: Olivia Cheung, Ellie Ishida and Olivia Karhoff

*Last season: 17-7 overall

*OCC-Cardinal standings: Hilliard Bradley and Dublin Scioto (13-1), Kilbourne (10-4), Hilliard Darby and Dublin Jerome (6-8), Delaware (5-9), Olentangy Berlin (2-12), Thomas (1-13)

*2019 postseason: Defeated New Albany 23-25, 25-18, 25-9, 25-19; lost to Hartley 25-21, 25-15, 21-25, 25-20 in Division I district semifinal

THOMAS WORTHINGTON

*Coach: Natalie Walter, third season

*Top players: Alayna Johnson, Grace Matthews, Dru Temple, Josie Tinnerello, Becca Wight and Wakaya Wilson

*Key losses: Lauren Gerber, Alice Kolwicz and Rosa Spurgeon

*Last season: 4-19 overall

*2019 OCC-Cardinal Standings: Bradley and Scioto (13-1), Kilbourne (10-4), Darby and Jerome (6-8), Delaware (5-9), Berlin (2-12), Thomas (1-13)

*2019 postseason: Lost to Olentangy 25-18, 25-18, 25-19 in second round of Division I district tournament

Alayna Johnson (32) and Josie Tinnerello go up for a block against Kilbourne last season. Johnson, a senior middle blocker and Arizona recruit, and Tinnerello, a junior libero, are expected to be among the top performers for the Cardinals.