The Watterson High School baseball team has returned more starters than it did a year ago when it finished 19-11 overall.
That fact, along with an increased level of enthusiasm within his squad, has 20-year coach Scott Manahan feeling optimistic about the 2014 season.
The Eagles were 2-2 before their CCL opener April 7 against St. Charles. They opened April 1 with a 16-1 five-inning victory over Waverly before losing to Pickerington Central 7-2 on April 2, beating Hilliard Darby 5-4 on April 4 and losing to Wheelersburg 1-0 on April 5.
"Our team is different this year in that we have a nucleus of veteran players back who played significantly last year," Manahan said. "Six of this year's starters were key contributors to last year's team.
"Our team has been working exceptionally hard in the preseason and there is a level of excitement that we have not had regarding our baseball program for the past few seasons. (Our) goals this year are to win the CCL and the (Division II) Central District tournament."
The six returning starters are seniors Joe DiOrio (C), Sam Severance (LF) and Mitch Stotler (SS/P) and juniors Jacob Bolton (INF/P), Avery Janning (INF/OF/P) and Sam Rice (1B/3B/P).
Watterson entered last season with four returning starters.
Last year, Severance batted .345 with eight doubles, one triple and 17 runs and was named honorable mention all-district and first-team all-CCL. Rice was first-team all-league and Bolton was second-team all-league.
DiOrio, Severance and Stotler are team captains.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kevin Bell (INF/C), Scott Carter (OF), Mason Fisher (OF), Johnny Heath (1B), Sean Helenthal (P) and Bobby Truelove (2B), juniors Matt Froehle (1B/DH), Jack Haley (3B/C), Sean Roark (C/INF), Chris Slavik (P/OF/INF) and Teddy Walter (OF), sophomore Alex Gabel (OF/P/1B) and freshman Matt Dockman (P/1B).
Rice pitched a three-hitter against Waverly.
"I feel that pitching will be a strength, as we have seven pitchers who we feel can be successful," Manahan said. "Also, we seem to have grown defensively and I hope that our defense is better behind our pitching staff."
Manahan, who entered the season with a 525-212 career record, is hoping he can guide the Eagles to their first CCL and district titles since 2007.
Last year, Watterson went 4-4 in the CCL to tie DeSales for second behind St. Charles (7-1) and lost to Jonathan Alder 4-3 in a district final.
"The CCL should be one of the strongest leagues in the Central District," Manahan said. "All five teams have the ability to win the league and do well in their respective tournaments this season."
Two starters back for softball team
The softball team has only two returning starters in juniors Katie Manahan (1B) and Maria Simmonds (designated player/INF).
Manahan batted .419 and hit five home runs and was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-CCL last season, as the Eagles finished 19-5 overall.
Serving as team captains are seniors Chloe Butcher (INF/C), Katie Devine (OF) and Erin Farmwald (C).
Rounding out the roster are juniors Katlyn Lynch (INF/OF) and Avery Wakefield (OF), sophomores Ashley Competti (P), Mallory Devine (OF) and Claire Kudika (C) and freshmen Erin Vonderwell (P) and Katrina Wierzbicki (INF).
The Eagles opened April 1 with a 2-1 loss to Pickerington North and lost to Teays Valley 10-0 in six innings and Westland 10-7 on April 5.
"The difference with this team from last year is experience," third-year coach Tracey Cultice said. "We are only returning one starter, so there will be a lot of new faces to our lineup. This group is up to the challenge. They are getting better every day and it is exciting to watch.
"The strength of this team is their chemistry. This is a fun group of girls who get along very well. There is never a dull moment with this team. They keep the mood light and fun."
The Eagles are looking to defend their CCL title after finishing 6-0 in league play a year ago. They also are hoping to win their first district title after losing to Grove City 9-1 in a Division I district final last season.
"Our league is very strong," Cultice said. "DeSales, Hartley and Ready are returning with most of their starters from last year, (so) every game is going to be a battle."
Crossin guiding boys tennis team
The boys tennis team has a new coach in Steve Crossin, a 2004 Watterson graduate who played four seasons on varsity.
He has taken over a team that finished 11-6 overall last season under Barb Woods, who retired after compiling a 235-163 record in 21 seasons with the Eagles.
Watterson lost its first four matches, falling to Dublin Jerome 4-1 on March 31, Hilliard Davidson 3-2 on April 1, Dublin Coffman 4-1 on April 2 and Westerville South 4-1 on April 5.
"We're playing a tough schedule at the start because the experience of playing that kind of competition will help us improve and be better for the (Division II) tournaments," Crossin said.
Seniors twin brothers Mark and Michael Guza have returned to play first doubles and seniors Jae-Suk Bae and Michael O'Brien are playing second doubles.
Last year, the Guzas went 3-1 and placed second in a sectional at Columbus School for Girls before losing in the first round at district.
Sophomore Ryan Maur is playing first singles after playing third singles last season behind Ryan Bibo (first singles) and Kevin Beattie (second singles). Bibo, who won a sectional title, placed second at district and lost in the first round at state last season, graduated and Beattie did not return for his junior season.
Senior Stev Gregory and sophomore Samwise Parkinson are playing second and third singles, respectively.
Sophomore Tommy Scherer also will see playing time this season.
"The Guzas won their first three matches of this season and they should be contenders when we get to the tournament," Crossin said. "We're seeing improvements from each of our kids in every practice and every match."
The Eagles finished second (3-1) in the CCL last year behind St. Charles (4-0). They will face the Cardinals on April 29.
"Our No. 1 goal is to win the CCL," Crossin said. "St. Charles was the team to beat last year and they're still strong from what I hear, so that will be a key match for us."