Coming off its first losing season since 1996, the Big Walnut High School football team will start fresh when it opens Friday, Aug. 29, at home against Mansfield Senior.
The Golden Eagles lost to Mansfield 28-7 in last year's opener and went on to finish 2-8. Ranked fourth in the final Division II state poll, the Tygers beat Licking Heights 24-0 in the first round of the Region 5 playoffs before losing to New Albany 26-22 in a regional semifinal to finish 11-1.
Big Walnut coach Joe Weaver is well aware of the troubles the Tygers present, but sees this as an opportunity for his team to show they are ready to turn things around.
"They are a very athletic team and they present a ton of issues when it comes to game planning," Weaver said. "We've worked hard this summer to identify how they beat us last season and we are going to fix it."
Weaver looks for his team to have more consistency on offense after averaging only 15 points per contest last season. Mansfield, by comparison, averaged almost 40 points and allowed only 14 per game.
"With the experience and speed we have coming back, we're definitely going to score more this year," senior quarterback Jordan Wall said. "Last year we weren't ready to play with Mansfield. This year we are."
While Weaver said Mansfield has an edge in athleticism, he believes the Golden Eagles have a chance to win up front.
"The game starts in the trenches," he said. "Both teams have guys returning up front and we're hoping to gain an advantage there."
The Golden Eagles lost their first eight games last season but showed resolve by winning their final two. Wall, who is in his second season as a starter, said his team looks to carry that momentum into the game against Mansfield.
Among the players Weaver sees playing a key role against Mansfield are Wall, junior defensive back Isaac Lucas and senior running back Christian Johnson.
While all of the players for Mansfield who made first-team all-state last year have graduated, Weaver said the Tygers remain "deep and talented." While he believes the Golden Eagles have a good chance to beat a tough opponent, he said the fate of the season doesn't rest on the outcome of the opener.
"It's not a 10-week season, it's 10 one-week seasons," Weaver said. "We have to prepare for (Mansfield), but we're focused primarily on us. Every game is a big game with this schedule."
Boys soccer team returns four starters
The boys soccer team returns only four starters from last season, when it finished 13-5-1 overall and reached a Division II district final before losing to Bexley 2-0.
Big Walnut opened Aug. 19 with a 1-0 win at Watkins Memorial and beat host Bloom-Carroll 2-0 on Aug. 21. The Golden Eagles are 2-0 heading into their OCC-Capital Division opener Tuesday, Aug. 26, at home against Olentangy.
"No year is a rebuilding year here," said second-year coach Tim Poitinger, whose team went 3-4 in the league last year to place fifth, behind champion New Albany (6-0-1). "We'll be real young, but that's just not how we do things."
According to Poitinger, the Golden Eagles went through a "rigorous" summer program, working to reach the next level.
"We've been working hard and we have the potential to be better than we were last season," said senior midfielder Bobby Bogantz, who scored six goals last season and was named honorable mention all-league. "We've done our best to set an example for the younger guys."
Poitinger said he implemented a new "indirect possession style" of offense to help accommodate his new personnel. He said he is extremely pleased with how his players have adapted to the short-passing style.
The Golden Eagles have returned 11 letterwinners in Bogantz, seniors J.P. Civin (goalkeeper), Drew Cochran (forward/midfielder), Iain Kirsch (forward), Anthony Pavuk (defender), J.T. Thompson (midfielder), Jason Vazquez (defender/midfielder) and Kevin Vazquez (midfielder), junior J.T. Hrusovsky (midfielder) and sophomores Nick Flury (defender) and Taylor Kline (defender).
Also on the team are seniors Noah Gibson (forward) and Tyler Martin (midfielder), junior Tyler Lacy (defender) and freshmen Chase Geddis (forward/midfielder), Sam Mason (midfielder/defender) and Tim Rumas (forward/midfielder).
Bogantz, Gibson and Kirsch are team captains.
Gibson has returned to the program after playing for a club team last fall. He said the club game was "more technical as opposed to physical," but felt playing for Big Walnut was right for him this season.
"We're a closer team than we were last season and we're more motivated than we were before," Bogantz said. "We're very excited to see what we can do."
Expectations high for girls soccer team
Second-year girls soccer coach Drew Pitzer is looking for his team to improve on last season despite returning only four starters and having six freshmen on the roster.
Big Walnut finished 9-7-2 overall last year, losing to Bloom-Carroll 3-2 in a Division II district semifinal.
"We're probably younger than the boys' team," Pitzer said. "We almost have a brand new team, but it's a good one."
Big Walnut has returned 10 letterwinners in seniors Makenna Hammond (stopper), Abby Tabor (midfielder) and Jen Wenger (midfielder), juniors Anna Mackey (forward) and Colleen White (goalie) and sophomores Madison Aleshire (midfielder), Suhaila Bickel (forward), Bailey Bodker (forward), Lindsay Civin (midfielder) and Michaela Pavuk (defender).
Rounding out the team are senior Morgan Clark (midfielder), sophomore Jordan Foxworthy (goalie) and freshmen McKenzie Lusenhop (midfielder), Sydney Manns (defender/midfielder), Kaitlin Meade (defender), Emma Padgett (defender), Mya Rasar (defender) and Lauren Schnipke (defender).
"Last year was devastating for us when we came up short (against Bloom-Carroll)," Wenger said. "Our goal is to make it to districts, and it's on us to make sure we grow."
The Golden Eagles opened Aug. 19 at home against Watkins Memorial. They led 2-0 at halftime when the game was suspended because of bad weather. The contest is expected to be completed at a later date.
Big Walnut, which lost to visiting Bloom-Carroll 4-0 on Aug. 21, begins OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Aug. 26, at Olentangy. The Golden Eagles went 1-4-1 in the league last year to tie Delaware for fifth, behind champion Olentangy Orange (6-0).
Big Walnut has plenty of chances to show growth this season, as Pitzer said this year's schedule will be "as tough as we've had in years.
"We like it that way," Pitzer said. "We're going to take some lumps, but when we have to play tough teams in the tournament, we'll be prepared for anything."
Despite having 12 underclassmen on the roster, the Golden Eagles are not short of veteran leadership, with Hammond, Tabor and Wenger filling that role.
"It could be tough for us sometimes, but we're going to make sure the younger players keep their heads up and realize we can't win every time out," Tabor said. "But it will be a good experience for us."
Pitzer said his midfielders will be the strongest unit at the start of the season, but he believes his defense could approach that level with some more experience.
"I think being young is good for us because we go into each game with a new perspective," Wenger said. "It doesn't matter what happened last year. Each game is an opportunity for us to show our stuff."
Aug. 19 -- at Watkins Memorial
Aug. 21 -- at Bloom Carroll
*Aug. 26 -- vs. Olentangy
Aug. 28 -- vs. Whetstone
Aug. 30 -- vs. Dresden Tri-Valley
*Sept. 2 -- at Delaware Hayes
Sept. 6 -- at Johnstown
*Sept. 9 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 11 -- vs. Shekinah Christian
Sept. 13 -- vs. Centennial
*Sept. 16 -- vs. Mount Vernon
*Sept. 23 -- at New Albany
*Sept. 30 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
Oct. 2 -- vs. Columbus International
*Oct. 7 -- at Franklin Heights
Oct. 9 -- at Hartley
Aug. 19 -- vs. Watkins Memorial
Aug. 21 -- vs. Bloom Carroll
*Aug. 26 -- at Olentangy
Aug. 28 -- at Westerville South
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Delaware Hayes
Sept. 6 -- at Dresden Tri-Valley
*Sept. 9 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 13 -- at Granville
*Sept. 16 -- at Mount Vernon
Sept. 20 -- vs. Licking Heights
*Sept. 23 -- vs. New Albany
Sept. 25 -- at Buckeye Valley
*Sept. 30 -- at Olentangy Orange
Oct. 4 -- at Lakewood
Oct. 7 -- vs. Franklin Heights
Oct. 9 -- vs. Hartley