Once the Dublin Jerome High School boys lacrosse team finally found its groove last season, a second consecutive Division I state runner-up finish ensued.
The Celtics, who open Saturday, March 29, at home against Pickerington North, are hoping they have what it takes to make another such run this spring.
"Probably the biggest strength of this team is their chemistry," said ninth-year coach A.J. Auld, who is 137-30 since taking over the program in its second season in 2006. "It took a little while for last year's team to get this type of chemistry. This year's team, I think, is a tight group."
Last season, Jerome finished 16-7 overall, marking the most losses in program history, but narrowly missed winning the state title, losing to Upper Arlington 7-6 in the state final. The Celtics lost to the Golden Bears by the same score in the 2012 state final, ending a 29-game winning streak.
Jerome, which won the Division I-B state championship in 2005 and Division II state titles in 2010 and 2011, will feature six seniors who have committed to play at the college level in midfielder Mikey Bano (St. Joseph's), midfielder/attacker Ian Brim (Wooster), midfielder Lucas Brush (Rollins), attacker Shawn Ewert (Jacksonville), goalkeeper Chase Rose (Robert Morris) and defender J.B. Smith (Fairfield).
Last season, Bano had 74 goals and 21 assists and was named first-team all-state. Ewert, who had 34 goals and 42 assists, and Smith both made second-team all-state.
Expected to join Smith on defense are seniors Ian Beith and Spencer Barco and juniors Connor Henneberry, Erik Pranckh and Addison Stern.
Juniors Chris Haimbaugh (midfielder/attacker) and Steve Kidwell (midfielder), sophomores Conner Barco (midfielder), Skyler Blake (attacker) and Ryan Prochko (midfielder) and freshman Hunter Barco (attacker) are others looking to contribute.
Last season, Jerome beat Scioto 17-0 and Coffman 13-7 to secure the Emerald Cup trophy for the ninth consecutive season.
The Celtics went 4-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division a year ago to place third, behind UA (6-0) and Worthington Kilbourne (5-1) and ahead of Thomas Worthington (3-3), Coffman (2-4), Hilliard Davidson (1-5) and Scioto (0-6).
Jerome and Coffman remain in the OCC-Buckeye, but Scioto has moved to the OCC-Ohio. Replacing the Irish in the OCC-Buckeye are Olentangy and Olentangy Liberty.
Jerome will be playing host to the MSLCA tournament May 2 and 3 after winning the B bracket a year ago.
"On paper, we're a little stronger on the offensive end," Auld said. "Historically, we've been a stronger defensive team. I think we're fairly balanced as a team overall."
Seiple among key returnees for 'Rocks
Coffman lost 11 players from last season to graduation, but there are significant reasons for optimism, according to fifth-year coach Mark Forsythe.
The Shamrocks, who finished 9-10 overall and lost to Thomas 8-7 in overtime in the first round of the Division I Central Region tournament last season, have several returnees who gained experience a year ago as a result of injuries.
"Last season they all played hard and never made excuses," said Forsythe, whose team opens Friday, March 28, at Olentangy Orange. "The second good thing about last year was that a lot of young kids got experience."
The top returnee is senior attacker Austin Seiple, who has been a key player since his freshman season and has committed to Ohio State.
Also back at attacker are sophomores Jake Dodson, who is recovering from a broken collarbone but is expected to return to the lineup sometime in April, and Bryson James.
The biggest area of depth is at midfielder, where seniors Phillip Chin and Jason Pinnell, juniors Kevin Bedle and Andrew Kraly and sophomores Noah Gleeson, Jack Holland and Spencer Mack should see action.
Sophomore Grant Powell is expected to be the starting goalie, with sophomore Morgan Nelson serving as his backup.
Juniors Matt Dilenschneider and Jared Febus and sophomore Grant Stellini are close defenders and senior Cody Ruck and sophomore Reece Partridge are long-stick midfielders.
"We've got 31 kids in the program and this is still a young team on paper," Forsythe said. "The young guys are very talented. We've got seven seniors and they're good role models."
Irish counting on improved depth
Scioto has 10 seniors and has more than doubled the number of total athletes in its program under second-year coach Drew Sraver after finishing 1-17 overall and losing to Whitehouse Anthony Wayne 14-6 in the play-in round of the Division I Northwest Region tournament last season.
"We're kind of living by the motto of no excuses and no wasted days," Sraver said. "Our physical effort has generally been very good and they're taking to the fundamentals we've been teaching. Even with our record being what it was last year, they knew everyone had their back and that the coaches cared about them."
The Irish, who opened March 26 at home against Pickerington Central, should be led offensively by senior attackers Ryan Roll and Graham Smith, senior midfielder Jackson Heigel, sophomore midfielder Wills Hutras and sophomore attacker Nate Mielke.
Also at midfielder are sophomores Riley Bragg and Chandler Swartz.
Senior Cameron Wallace is a long-stick midfielder and senior Amnjot Hothi and sophomore Nick Treboni will be defensive midfielders.
Sophomore Joe Wallace is expected to lead the defense. Other defenders are seniors Zac Henry and Marcus Myers.
Senior Matt Gallagher and freshman Evan Hutras are the goalies.
Scioto, which plays Friday, March 28, at St. Charles, is joined in the OCC-Ohio by Gahanna, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Marysville, New Albany and Orange.
"Our seniors are not only good guys and most of them are key players, but they work hard and are a close-knit group," Sraver said. "We just say play hard, play smart and love your teammates, and our seniors have done a great job leading."