It hasn't taken Kerry Nixon long to learn the value of having numbers on your side when you're attempting to build an athletics program in the City League.

It hasn't taken Kerry Nixon long to learn the value of having numbers on your side when you're attempting to build an athletics program in the City League.

Now in his third season as the Whetstone High School boys soccer coach, Nixon was in the unusual situation of having so many athletes show interest in playing that he had to turn a few away.

The influx in participation is exactly what Nixon hopes is the next step in transforming the Braves back into the program which won three consecutive league championships from 2001-03.

"We had 61 kids try out, so we're absolutely thrilled about that," said Nixon, whose team improved by one win last year when it finished 8-8 overall. "If we can consistently get those numbers, we can have a (varsity) B team."

Despite losing 15 seniors to graduation, the Braves again have a large senior class. Forward Tyler Glover is back to lead the offense after finishing with six goals and four assists, and goalkeeper Tom Kocab returns after posting five shutouts. Seniors Andrew Bogart (defender), Bashir Farah (midfielder) and Stefan Koltun (midfielder) and junior Charlie Schenk (defender) are other returning starters.

Senior Oliver Wilsbach, who sat out last season after transferring from Watterson, also should start at forward.

Other key players should include seniors Drew Botti (midfielder), Pete Pajor (defender), Ryan Thompson (defender) and Jon-Henry Van Luinen (midfielder), sophomores Nate Armstrong (midfielder), Matt Dascenzo (defender), Ty Hamilton (forward), Josh Kurtz (defender) and Cameron McCann (midfielder) and freshman Collin Tuttle (forward). Junior Brandon Rhodes will be the backup goalkeeper.

Last season, the Braves lost to Hilliard Darby 4-1 in the first round of the Division I district tournament. Brookhaven went 5-0 to win its second consecutive City League-North Division title, followed by Centennial (4-1), Whetstone (3-2), Mifflin (2-3), Beechcroft (0-4-1) and Northland (0-4-1).

"We've had a few growing pains, but offensively we're moving the ball pretty well," Nixon said. "We're essentially moving from a sweeper system on defense to a flat-back four, which is definitely more zonal. I think our guys fit with the system better."

•The girls soccer team also is looking for improvement after finishing 7-8 last season.

The Braves' top returnees are senior midfielder Katie Fuller and junior goalkeeper Symiah Campbell. Another key player, senior Sarah Patashinsky (midfielder), is back for her fourth year but could miss time at the beginning of the season because of an injury.

Junior Brynne McCann (midfielder) is another returnee.

The Braves lost a senior class that was led by Kasey Althouse, who finished with a team-leading 19 goals last year. They also won't have junior defender Ellie Rafferty, who was expected to lead the defense but is a student at Fort Hays and is not playing because of school scheduling conflicts.

Freshman Maddy O'Malley is expected to take over on defense for Rafferty, and freshman forward Liz Jackson should take on a key role offensively.

There was no official City League champion last season because only five conference schools had teams. Whetstone went 3-1 against the City's other teams, with the loss coming to first-year Centennial (2-1).

"We're really young," 12th-year coach Phil Labuhn said. "Losing Kasey is obviously a big loss, and we've got some nagging injuries. The way Katie goes this year is probably the way our team is going to go."

•The cross country program again will be led by senior Evan Schwartz, who last year became the boys team's first state qualifier since 1992.

Schwartz finished 54th in 16 minutes, 49.32 seconds at the Division I state meet after he was eighth (17:31.95) at district and 11th (17:38.22) at regional.

"He's running pretty well right now and has high expectations for himself," coach Joe Monda said. "He doesn't just want to make it to state, he wants to be on the podium."

Junior Alexander Singer and senior Habeeb Al-Ghawi, who were 61st (19:27.65) and 70th (20:38.24), respectively, at district, are other returnees. Senior Tom Kocab will split time between soccer and cross country and could be the fourth runner.

The Braves lost a senior class that included Wade Westbrook, who last year along with Schwartz became the team's first regional qualifiers in six years. That duo helped lead the Braves to an unofficial City title with 25 points. Whetstone was eighth (187) of 13 teams at district, behind champion New Albany (67).

Senior Katie Fuller likely will be the girls team's top runner in addition to leading the soccer team. Seniors Erin Beard and Haley Buskirk are other returning runners with experience.

Last season, the girls team finished third (73) at the City meet, behind Centennial (35) and Brookhaven (70). At the 13-team district 2 race, Whetstone was 12th (373) behind champion Dublin Scioto (23), as 2010 graduate Shelby Schaefer finished 70th (25:18.25).

•In addition to cross country, Buskirk is expected to be the top player for a boys golf team that lost four of its top six to graduation.

Buskirk shot a 47 at the City tournament last year to finish five strokes out of first. At the girls Division I sectional at Mill Creek, she carded a 95 but failed to advance to district by seven strokes.

She also helped the Braves finish second (194) at the 14-team City tournament, behind Centennial (180).

Junior Gabe Reece is another returnee after shooting a 51 at the City tournament. Juniors Marcus Blann, Jackson Peck and Greg Rogers and freshmen Drew Gabalski and Colin McCoy also are key players. Junior Sarah Weaver is new to the sport.

Whetstone graduated a senior class led by Kevin Blann and Kelly Norris. The Braves finished second in the City at 35-4 last year, behind Centennial (39-0). Norris and Buskirk both were second-team all-league. The Braves were last (464) at the 12-team sectional at Foxfire, behind champion Dublin Jerome (308). Norris shot a 98.

"I believe Haley is going to be our best player," coach Tom Philip said. "She hits it straight and hits it long. They've all been working pretty hard this summer."

•The girls volleyball team has just two seniors in Veronica Schulte-Hordelhoff (middle hitter) and Sarah Johnson (front and back row).

The Braves also return juniors Brittany Bishop (middle hitter), Sarah Cramer (outside hitter), Lauren McKee (setter), Quincy Repka (front and back row) and Rachel Wiltshire (outside hitter) and sophomore Danielle Fisher (setter). McKee was honorable mention all-City last year.

New to the team are juniors Rebecca Andriani (back row), Deidra Benjamin (back row) and Mercedes Mead (back row) and sophomores Audrey Bollas (front and back row) and Briana Clemens (weak-side hitter).

Last season, Whetstone went 7-14 overall and finished third at 5-2 in the City-North, behind Centennial (7-0) and Northland (6-1).

The Braves lost to Pickerington North 25-7, 25-11, 25-13 in the first round of the Division I district tournament and lost a senior class that was led by Katie Pezzatta and Kristen Dennison. Both made first-team all-City.

Over the summer, Whetstone failed to win a game in the league it competed in.

"Our biggest problem is that we don't have that one player that can really kill the ball," coach Errole Rembert said. "In the immediate future we might struggle, but the future looks good with us only having two seniors."


At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Whetstone boys and girls cross country, football, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

CROSS COUNTRY

Saturday - Boys, girls: At Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North in opener

FOOTBALL

Friday - At Briggs in opener. Whetstone beat the Bruins 14-7 last season.

BOYS GOLF

*Last Wednesday - Played Eastmoor and Walnut Ridge at Mentel Memorial *Wednesday - Marion-Franklin and Columbus South at Raymond Memorial

BOYS SOCCER

*Today - At Walnut Ridge in opener Saturday - Home vs. Westland *Tuesday - Home vs. Northland

GIRLS SOCCER

Last Tuesday - Played Teays Valley in opener Today - Home vs. Franklin Heights Tuesday - At Beechcroft

GIRLS TENNIS

*Today - Home vs. Brookhaven in opener *Monday - Home vs. Briggs *Wednesday - At Mifflin

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Monday - Home vs. Worthington Christian in opener *Tuesday - At Brookhaven

*City League contest