Ninth-year Bexley High School girls lacrosse coach Gillian Thomson believes her team can make a deep run in the Division II South/Central Region tournament later this spring.
Having graduated only five players from last season's 13-4 squad while bringing back 11 letterwinners, including Duquesne signee Sarah Dawley, it's easy to see why Thomson is confident.
"I think this team has the potential to put it all together," said Thomson, a former All-American at Princeton University who also was a member of the Canadian national team. "In the past we have gone from playing a first-round game and not making it through.
"I think this team can go deeper in the playoffs than what we have in the past."
Leading the way for the Lions are Dawley, who scored a team-best 56 goals a year ago, and fellow senior midfielder Samantha Bolon, a Lynchburg College recruit who had 31 goals last spring. They also combined for 17 assists a year ago and serve as captains with defensive leader Emma Crane, a senior.
Junior goalkeeper Mimi Nahem averaged more than seven saves per game last season. She made 16 in Bexley's 10-5 loss to Columbus Academy in the second round of the regional tournament.
The biggest losses to graduation were Libby Davis and Ellie Williams, who combined for 72 goals last season, and defender Carlin Coffey. The Lions will be looking for their third consecutive season with double-digit victories with a group of returnees that includes senior attacker Megan Elisar and juniors Katie Bringman (midfielder), Gina Gogan (attacker), Paige Ingwersen (defender), Leslie Janco (midfielder) Megan Myers (midfielder/defender) and Grace Rosenthal (midfielder).
"There are a lot of kids working harder and harder in the offseason and our skill level is another notch higher than it was," Thomson said. "We have good speed and enough experienced players coming, and the kids are just raising their level."
In 2009, the Lions were state runners-up in the club division, but they haven't played more than two postseason games since becoming a Division II team in 2010.
Bexley went 5-2 in the Central Independent League last season, finishing second behind Academy (7-0).
The Lions lost their opener to Olentangy Orange 6-5 in overtime March 27.
"I think we can have a great season. We have strength and leadership from one end of the field to the other," Thomson said. "I really enjoy these players and it is a great group of kids who support each other, have fun and push each other."
Boys lacrosse team 'expecting to win'
Despite playing a challenging schedule that has, in part, led to back-to-back 7-10 seasons, the ultimate goal has not changed for fifth-year boys lacrosse coach Rich Russo.
"I walk into every game expecting to win. Some games are going to be tough, but I expect to win and I expect the kids to expect to win," Russo said. "It is the same goal every year. It is not to win a playoff game or two playoff games it is to win a state title, which is why our schedule is so tough.
"I want to keep pushing us so we can compete at a level to win a state title."
The Lions played five Division I schools last season, when they defeated Columbus Academy 8-7 in the play-in round of the Division II Central Region tournament and lost to Granville 16-7 in the first round.
This year's schedule includes eight Division I schools.
Bexley lost seven players from last year's team, including five 2013 graduates, but returns senior attacker Cole Keny, a first-team all-region selection, and junior defender Anders Pedon, a second-team all-region pick.
Other returning players are senior midfielder Joshua Adkin, juniors Christian Adkin (midfielder), Taylor Farthing (midfielder) and Jack Haught (attacker) and sophomore defender Riley Hayden. Freshman Zach Welsh, a standout on the wrestling team this winter, takes over in goal.
Russo said depth is a concern, so the Lions probably will need to play more of a possession-type game this season. He said the Lions got away from that in their 15-8 opening loss March 26 at Orange.
Bexley, which lost its home opener 15-4 against New Albany on March 29, is looking for its first winning season since going 9-6 in 2011.
"We are mentally tough, that is our make-up," Russo said. "When they're on the field, they are competing as hard as they can go and I love that.
"We will compete and fight to the last second in every game. There is no give up in them."
Cruz resigns coaching positions
Members of the girls volleyball and wrestling programs received some surprising news March 24 when Ed Cruz resigned as coach of both.
The 58-year-old Cruz, who posted a 22-26 record in two volleyball seasons and a 12-17 dual-meet mark in two wrestling seasons, is moving to the Phoenix area to be closer to his two children and seven grandchildren.
"Quite frankly, no other reason would have me leave Bexley," Cruz said. "There is no other coaching job in this area I would even think about taking.
"Telling the kids was extremely difficult and leaving the kids is extremely tough. I am sure they were surprised. I kind of gave the athletic director (Corinne Taylor) a heads up about a month or so ago."
Last fall, Cruz guided the volleyball team to a 12-12 finish, its first .500 record in five years.
On the mat, Bexley finished the 2012-13 season with a 2-12 dual-meet record and a roster of just seven wrestlers. This winter, the Lions were 10-5 in duals, sent four wrestlers to district and featured a roster of 13.
Cruz praised volleyball assistant coach Justina Sleesman and wrestling assistants Seth Preisler and Chris Bragg.
"Both volleyball and wrestling wise, the assistant coaches were big factors in what we were building," Cruz said. "I have full confidence in all three of them."
As for Cruz's coaching career, he's taking a wait-and-see approach.
"When I came here a couple of years ago, I thought that I was going to be here for a long time," he said. "The kids worked hard, they are great and I couldn't ask for anything more from our athletes."