With his team coming off a three-year period in which it won back-to-back Division II state titles and was the Division I state runner-up, Dublin Jerome High School boys lacrosse coach A.J. Auld admits there is more uncertainty heading into this season.
That doesn't mean it will be that way by tournament time for the Celtics, who open Saturday, March 30, against visiting Pickerington North.
"We're trying to figure out where to put guys so that they can be their most successful, and it's not as clear-cut as it has been in the past," said Auld, who is in his eighth season. "But I really like this group. We think this team will definitely grow by the end of the season. It might take us a while to hit our stride."
Tanner Barco is the top returning senior on offense from the team that went 21-1 overall and lost to Upper Arlington 7-6 in last year's state final. A first-team all-state attacker who had 35 goals and 14 assists last season, Barco has signed with Bellarmine University.
Senior defender Matt Isele and senior midfielder James Eastep both have committed to Otterbein.
Among juniors, defender J.B. Smith (Fairfield), attackers Mikey Bano (St. Joseph's) and Shawn Ewert (Jacksonville) and goalkeeper Chase Rose (Robert Morris) all have verbally committed to play collegiately. Bano had 40 goals and 15 assists last season.
Also looking to contribute are junior Ian Beith (defender) and senior Luke Potter (midfielder).
Last season, Jerome won its second consecutive OCC-Buckeye Division championship, going 6-0 to place ahead of UA (5-1), Worthington Kilbourne (4-2), Thomas Worthington (3-3), Dublin Coffman (2-4), Hilliard Davidson (1-5) and Dublin Scioto (0-6).
The Celtics beat Coffman 16-1 and Scioto 16-2 to secure their eighth consecutive Emerald Cup between the programs. Coffman defeated Scioto 14-3 in the other matchup.
Jerome also defeated Cincinnati Moeller 9-7 and UA 10-9 to win the A bracket of the MSLCA tournament at Thomas.
As was the case last year, Coffman is in the Central Region and Jerome and Scioto will compete in the Northwest Region of the Ohio High School Lacrosse Association.
The Celtics began last year's postseason with wins over Toledo St. John's (17-1), Sylvania Southview (15-2), Medina (15-4) and Hudson (17-2) and took a 29-game winning streak into the state final.
Jerome lost a 12-member senior class that included college recruits Todd Babione (Denison), Joe Bano (Denver), Christian Beith (High Point), Austin Duncan (Dartmouth), Wes Faulkenberry (Ohio State), Chris Kendall (Quinnipiac), Nick Neale (Towson) and Drake Powers (VMI).
Auld is excited about his team's inclusion in the North American Lacrosse Invitational, which will be held May 18 and 19 at Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Brother Rice.
"Obviously we have a lot of gaps to fill with the loss of our 2012 class," Auld said. "It's definitely a feeling-out process. It's a little bit of an unknown compared to the last two years, but I'm excited about the effort. I think we have good individual talent."
Coffman looking to win close games
Over the past two seasons, Coffman has lost a combined five games by one goal and two others by two goals.
It's a situation that isn't acceptable to fourth-year coach Mark Forsythe.
"We've been talking to our kids about what our expectations should be, and our goals are high," he said. "We lost four games by three goals or less last year. We're not going into games just to keep it close."
The Shamrocks, who open Saturday, March 30, at New Albany, believe they have enough returning experience to come out on the other end of some of those games this season.
There are 11 seniors in the program, including midfielder Brent Whitehead, who has committed to Wittenberg.
In addition, junior attacker Austin Seiple has verbally committed to Ohio State after scoring a team-leading 46 goals last season.
Seiple did not play during the postseason because of a concussion, as Coffman beat St. Charles 6-4 in the first round of the Division I Central Region tournament but lost to UA 13-4 in the second round to finish 12-7.
Coffman also lost to the Golden Bears 10-2 during the regular season.
Joining Seiple at attacker should be senior Jason Achauer, sophomore David Allgeier and freshman Jake Dodson.
Senior Gunner Gruehl, who has been battling injuries after playing for the hockey team this winter, should be another key midfielder.
Also at the position should be seniors Stephen Patton, Eric Schnese, Kevin Vantine and Chandler Warren and freshman Ryan Boyle.
Senior Mark Guzik, who made first-team all-league last season, leads the defense and should be joined by seniors Sawyer Mack and Patrick Ruz.
Senior Michael Turbitt is at goalkeeper and junior Jake Franklin is his backup.
Coffman lost six players to graduation from last season, including Alex Chin (attacker), Mitch Richert (midfielder), Scott Fannin (defender) and Tyler Mack (defender).
"We've got a nice senior class," Forsythe said. "It's very rewarding to see a class become better lacrosse players. We only lost six seniors from last year so now we have 11, which is what you want to aim for."
Scioto to field young team under new coach
After going 4-15 in 2011, Scioto went 2-16 a year ago in Todd Bauer's only season as coach.
Drew Sraver is the new coach after previously serving as an assistant at Coffman and spending the last three years as an assistant at Denison University. Last year, the Big Red reached the final eight in NCAA Division III.
Sraver will attempt to rebuild a program with a roster that includes several freshmen and just four seniors. Scioto opens Wednesday, April 3, at UA.
"I've got a core group of guys and a ton of freshmen," Sraver said. "We've got three freshmen who are going to start. We've got good athletes and some of the best kids in the school."
Back to lead the team are senior midfielders Jeremy Love and Shawn Snow.
The other seniors are Afzi Ahmed (goalkeeper) and Ric Sarpong (midfielder).
Juniors Jack Flood, Zac Henry and Marcus Myers, sophomores River Marzetti and Brennen Sawicki and freshman Joe Wallace are expected to lead the defense. Marzetti will be at long-stick midfielder.
Also at midfielder will be junior Jackson Heigel and freshman Wills Hutras.
Juniors Ryan Roll and Graham Smith and freshman Nate Mielke will be attackers.
Last season, Scioto's only wins came over Marysville (12-2) and Hilliard Darby (11-7).
In a play-in game of the Division I Northwest Region tournament, the Irish lost to Olentangy Orange 8-7.
Scioto lost nine seniors from a year ago, including Rocco Duco and Tyler Smoot, who are playing for Lynchburg College and Lake Erie, respectively.