Lakota East High School boys volleyball coach Brittney Billiter had a good feeling about this year’s squad when she saw how experienced some of the incoming freshmen already were.
It turns out her instincts were right.
With three freshman starters and a mix of veteran returners, the No. 10-ranked Thunderhawks (11-0, 7-0 Greater Miami Conference) are off to their best start in Billiter’s five years.
“We have more experience on our team than we’ve had in my five years here,” Billiter said. “Even when we went to the state tournament three years ago, we were starting kids that had never played volleyball before, and this year, we’re starting people that have played before and some kids that have played club and year-round, which is unusual for us.”
East is led by seniors Brad Meyer and Blake Butikofer, who are both four-year players, and juniors Evan Kuhlman, who paces the GMC with 4.74 kills per game. Kuhlman is the Hawks’ statistical leader but they have a well-rounded squad in which the scoring and defense comes from all parts of the floor.
Freshman contributors include setter Trenton Kuhlman (8.5 assists per game), libero/outside hitter Reese Kuhlman (23 digs), opposite hitter Ethan Hubbard and outside hitter Josh Dubovec.
“The experience the younger guys coming in have had really helped us,” Meyer said. “In years past, we’ve always had to catch up players coming in to what we play, but now some of these younger guys are filling the positions of guys that left, and they’ve had club experience and that has made them able to fill the role and take it farther.”
The freshman class came in not just with talent but numbers.
Billiter’s program has grown from 16 players on the 2014 state team to 28 now, which could be a good sign for the future.
“I don’t know if the word is just getting out or if it’s just that we’ve been pretty successful the past few years, so people want to try it, or if people heard boys volleyball doesn’t cut and think, ‘I want to be part of a team, so I’ll do volleyball,’ ” Billiter said. “That used to be true, but now we’re getting to the point we’re getting more competitive. It’s pretty exciting to see the growth.”
East has passed early-season tests against traditionally strong Mason, Oak Hills, Fairmont and last year’s GMC champion Fairfield, and the Hawks have only lost three games all season, including rallying from down one against Carroll and winning a five-set match against Mason; however, their biggest challenges are still ahead. The Hawks host No. 4 Elder on Monday, and matches against No. 1 St. Xavier and Division II’s fourth-ranked Fenwick loom May 7.
Meyer said the Hawks look forward to a chance to see how they stack up.
“I think we’re ready to compete with the best teams in the state,” he said. “We have great team chemistry, and we just have fun, so that’s really carried us through, and we really have a team that just fights. The first game we ever went down a game, we finally found out what it felt like to get punched in the face, and we were able to just fight back. We’ve been fighting ever since.”
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.