When Erik Feinstein was hired to coach the Canal Winchester High School boys soccer team in 1998, one-fourth of his players played for club teams during the offseason.
That percentage gradually has increased over the past 15 years, and more than 50 percent of the players on this year's roster play year-round.
"In years past, we've always had some guys who didn't play much soccer during the offseason, and now all of our guys play soccer as their No. 1 sport," Feinstein said. "This is possibly the most talented group of players, top to bottom, that I've coached in my 16 seasons here."
Canal Winchester, which opened on Aug. 17 against Teays Valley, returns seven starters in seniors Daltyn Colley (defender) and Ryan Miller (defender), juniors Jacob Mullenbach (midfielder), Kyler Splunge (midfielder) and Luciano Phaboune (forward), and sophomores Zach Barwick (midfielder) and Blake Horne (defender).
Colley and Miller both were named first-team all-MSL-Buckeye Division last season, when the Indians finished 10-7-1, placed third in the league and reached a Division I district semifinal.
Senior Brandon Pfeiffer and junior Aaron Graber are vying to start at goalkeeper.
Others expected to contribute include senior Bob Butler (forward) and juniors Tristan Daniels (forward), Phillip Kelley (midfielder) and Jamie Robson (midfielder).
"We have a lot of very good players back and we have a lot of depth," Feinstein said. "We have a lot of skill overall."
Canal Winchester has moved from the MSL-Buckeye to the OCC-Cardinal, along with Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South.
The Indians begin league play Tuesday, Aug. 27, at home against South.
"We believe we can make some noise in our division of the OCC and even challenge for it," Feinstein said. "But we'll need to put the ball in the net with more consistency to do so."
Girls soccer team starting fresh
The girls soccer team underwent a coaching change during the offseason and lost all 11 of its starters from a year ago to graduation.
Emily Buccilla, a 2008 Pickerington Central graduate, is guiding the program after serving as Pickerington North's junior varsity coach last year. She replaced Jim Stevens, who stepped down after nine seasons.
Canal Winchester, which opened Aug. 20 against Bloom-Carroll, returns two players who played significant minutes last season in junior midfielders Makala Blankenship and Kylie Harper.
Also on the team are juniors Emmi Coonfare (goalie), Katie Kissner (midfielder), Kristin Riggs (midfielder) and Taylor Thompson (defender), sophomores Ally Beerman (defender), Julia Blum (defender), Betsy Cadwallader (forward), Destiny Chester (forward), Ellie Drake (defender), Taylor Fox (forward), Kaylee Guiler (forward), Maddie McCoy (defen-der) and Caroline Rosch (midfielder) and freshmen Allison Booher (goalie), Francy Booher (defender), Kiana Brooks (defender), Taylor Coontz (forward), Alyssa Edwards (midfielder), Brooke Eggleston (midfielder) and Valerie Vatri (midfielder).
"We're a very young team with no seniors, but that can work to our advantage because the girls are in shape and willing to work hard," Buccilla said. "Our group as a whole is very energetic. They play well together and like each other.
"The girls rarely complain about anything. They're even positive and energetic through fitness training."
The Indians, who finished 8-8-1, placed second in the MSL-Buckeye and lost in the opening round of the Division I district tournament last year, travel to Pickerington Central on Thursday, Aug. 22, before beginning play in the OCC-Cardinal on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Westerville South.
"I think we're entering one of the toughest divisions of the OCC and we're going to be the youngest team in our conference," Buccilla said. "We're not going to be the biggest team in our division, but that's not a bad thing because we have speed and quickness to counteract what other teams will bring to the table."