The Bexley High School boys soccer team's season ended in a Division II state semifinal against a squad that refuses to lose.
In their first state tournament appearance since 2009, the Lions lost to Dayton Carroll 4-0 on Nov. 7 at Hilliard Bradley to finish 14-4-4 overall.
Carroll played in its state-record 60th consecutive game without a loss when it defeated Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy 2-0 on Nov. 10 at Crew Stadium for its third consecutive state championship and fourth in five years.
Carroll scored early against Bexley and withstood a run that saw shots by seniors Jacob Cini and Jacob Hodge just miss.
"For the next 15 to 20 minutes after they scored, we had several decent opportunities," coach Greg Kullman said. "It was disappointing (to lose), but we played as well as we could. We just played a team that was better than us."
The Lions defeated Vincent Warren 3-0 in a regional semifinal Oct. 31 at Logan and beat Dover 1-0 in a regional final Nov. 3 at Zanesville to reach the state tournament. Cini scored the winner against Dover with 8 minutes, 4 seconds to go in the first 15-minute overtime.
In the district tournament, top-seeded Bexley defeated London 9-0 on Oct. 18 and 11th-seeded Hartley 3-2 on Oct. 23 before beating fourth-seeded DeSales 2-1 on Oct. 27 at Westerville North to win a district title.
Following an appearance in the regional tournament last season -- Bexley lost to Middletown Fenwick 4-0 in a semifinal to finish 9-10-2 -- the Lions believed they had potential for success this fall, according to Kullman.
"I think coming into the season we were confident with all the players we had coming back from a district championship team that we'd be competitive," he said. "But you don't go into a season thinking you're going to win this or go this far in the tournament, because long tournament runs are built upon what you do in the regular season. We needed to use each day to get better."
The Lions finished second (4-0-2) in the MSL-Ohio Division, behind Columbus Academy (5-0-1) and ahead of Granville (4-1-1), Heath (3-3), Whitehall (1-4-1), Licking Valley (1-5) and Lakewood (0-5-1).
Hodge (midfielder/forward) was district and league Player of the Year, while Cini (midfielder/forward), sophomore Adam Hirsch (midfielder/forward) and senior Tucker Stas (defender/midfielder) also were first-team all-league.
Seniors Jordan Hoffman (midfielder/forward) and Will Gingery (defender/midfielder) were on the league's second team, and junior Alex Eikenberry (defender), junior Jared James (defender) and senior Sebastian Parra-Maya (goalkeeper) were honorable mention.
Cini was first-team all-district, Hirsch and Stas made the second team and Hoffman was on the third team.
Cini led the Lions with 15 goals and added six assists, while Hodge had 13 goals and six assists.
Hirsch had eight goals and eight assists.
Parra-Maya had 48 saves. Junior Eli Feuer also got experience in goal and made 11 saves.
Other underclassmen who contributed included juniors Dan Loeser (midfielder/forward) and Rafi Quastler (defender), sophomores Noah Appelbaum (midfielder/forward) and Carl Pohlman (defender) and freshman midfielder Cole Heilman.
"We had some younger players really step up this year," Kullman said. "It excites me to have them coming back. There are only three returning starters (in Eikenberry, Hirsch and James), but we do have some young players who got minutes this year."
Girls soccer team battled injuries
Jared Dombrowski said his second season as coach of the girls soccer team included plenty of adversity.
The Lions finished 10-7-2 overall with an 8-2 loss at top-seeded Granville in a Division II district semifinal Oct. 24. Bexley was seeded fifth and beat 11th-seeded Centennial (7-0 on Oct. 17) and eighth-seeded Buckeye Valley (3-2 on Oct. 20) in the first two rounds.
"The season didn't meet my or the girls' expectations, I think," Dombrowski said. "We dealt with a lot of hardships. You pick an injury, we had it. There was a stretch of games where we were missing five starters and that didn't help the record.
"Obviously, we'd like to go further in the tournament."
The Lions finished second (7-0-2) in the MSL-Cardi-nal/Ohio behind Granville (8-0-1) and ahead of Grandview (6-1-2), Academy (6-2-1), Fisher Catholic (5-4), Liberty Union (3-5-1), Lakewood (2-6-1), Licking Valley (1-7-1), West Jefferson (1-7-1) and Heath (1-8).
Seniors Jill Clark (midfielder) and Niki Urell (forward) and junior Sarah Dawley (midfielder) were first-team all-league. Seniors Meg Farrar (midfielder), Emma Murphy (goalie) and Emmy Myers (defender) and sophomore Maddie Baker (midfielder) were on the second team, and seniors Libby Davis (forward/ defender) and Natalie Schwager (defender) were on the third team.
Clark and Urell were first-team all-district, while Dawley was on the second team and Farrar made the third team.
Urell led the Lions with 16 goals and Murphy had eight shutouts.
As opposed to last year, when Dombrowski saw his team start 3-4 but finish 12-6-1, this season "was more up and down," he said. "We would get a girl back and lose another girl. It was kind of like a roller coaster. Once we got conference play going, even with some injuries, we were able to sustain some success."
Football team relied on seniors
The football team went 2-8 overall, but the seniors left the program better than when they arrived, according to senior two-way lineman Andrew Getz.
"I really loved who I played with," he said. "I feel we've all improved as athletes and as men since we started playing together in sixth grade. I think the fact we all stayed with it says a lot about the kind of people who were on the team."
Bexley loses nine senior starters in Getz, Will Gingery (K/P), Luke Groom (TE/LB) Mike Herwald (OL/DE), Jimmy Kahan (WR/DB), Patrick McClendon (QB/DB), Will Murray (WR/DB), Jaxon Sher (OL/DL) and Howard Wang (OL).
"We had an outstanding senior group from the beginning of the offseason workouts starting last November," coach John Smith said. "They just did everything we asked them to do. Taking away the record, it was a very enjoyable group to work with.
"They gave everything they had and were very coachable. They didn't have a lot of the off-field problems we may have had in years past. They gave 100 percent all the time and played their hearts out on Friday night."
McClendon started the season at quarterback but finished playing only on defense as sophomore Andre Stewart became the starting quarterback.
"The last five games we were getting better offensively," Smith said. "We just really didn't have anything to show for it, but I think we started to understand and grasp what it was we wanted to accomplish."
Other expected returnees include sophomore Jaycob Gardner (short snapper), sophomore Javelle Gray (FB), freshman Marcus Johnson (long snapper), junior Dan Lee (DL), junior Isaah McKee (OL), junior Chad Meyer (WR), junior Greg Miller (WB/DB), junior Rasheed Morgan (WB/DB), junior Jack Needles (OL), sophomore Jeff Nicosia (LB), junior Jacob Old (FB/DL) and junior Zach Ward (FB/LB).
Stewart also played defensive back.
Morgan (473 yards), Old (466) and Stewart (457) led a balanced rushing attack, with Stewart leading with five rushing touchdowns.
Groom and Miller each caught a pair of touchdown passes, with McClendon and Stewart throwing two each.
Ward led in tackles with 82, and Kahan intercepted three passes.
The Lions finished seventh (1-6) in the MSL-Ohio, behind Granville (6-1), Newark Catholic (6-1), Licking Valley (6-1), Academy (4-3), Heath (3-4) and Whitehall (2-5) and ahead of Lakewood (0-7).
Old and Sher were first-team all-league, Gingery and Herwald were on the second team and Getz, Morgan and Stewart were honorable mention. Gingery, Old and Sher also were second-team all-district in Division II, and Nicosia was honorable mention all-district.