With a dozen returning letterwinners from a team that finished better than .500 a year ago, the Dublin Coffman High School girls lacrosse team has its sights on being among central Ohio's best this season.
It helps that the Shamrocks have a big win to draw from if they ever question whether they are ready to take a step forward.
According to coach Michael Murphy, Coffman's 13-12 victory over Thomas Worthington in the second round of the Division I South/Central Region tournament last season was a "big boost" for the program.
The Shamrocks, who then lost to Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame 13-12 in a regional semifinal, finished 11-8 overall a year ago.
"Last year we showed we could play with the top teams in the state and got a signature win when we beat Thomas Worthington for the first time in school history in the tournament," said Murphy, whose team opens Tuesday, April 1, at home against Hartley. "We are looking to build on last year and continue the success."
Back to lead the way are senior defender Emma Workman and senior attackers Kylie Kayser and Kelly Murphy.
Last season, Workman led the Shamrocks with 39 groundballs, Murphy had 42 goals and 19 assists and Kayser had 38 goals and 16 assists.
Junior Riley Steiner, who led in draw controls (44) and caused turnovers (24) last year, is back to lead the midfield.
Other returning starters are seniors Katie Ash (defender), Jenna Jacobs (defender/ attacker), Ally Philbin (defender), Emma Vander Stoep (defender) and Sarah Watson (goalkeeper) and junior Sarah Proctor (midfielder).
Also back are junior Courtney Dille (attacker/midfielder) and sophomore Sophie Vander Stoep (midfielder).
Looking to contribute are juniors Morgan Brandt (defender), Madeline Johnson (attacker), Emma Kreber (midfielder), Nikki Richert (attacker) and Abbey Willette (attacker/midfielder) and sophomores Daniela Dluzynski (midfielder) and Isabelle Kreber (attacker/midfielder).
Coffman went 1-4 in the OCC-Buckeye Division last season to place fifth, behind 2013 Division I state champion Upper Arlington (5-0), New Albany (4-1), Worthington Kilbourne (3-2) and Thomas (2-3) and ahead of Hilliard Darby (0-5).
This season, the Shamrocks are in the OCC-Central with Hilliard Davidson, Olentangy Liberty, Thomas and UA.
"Entering my fourth year as head coach, this is the most talented team I've had from top to bottom," coach Murphy said. "Playing some of the top teams the last few years has made us a better team and prepared us to challenge for the OCC championship this year and ideally make a deep run in the tournament."
Communication is strength for Irish
Scioto is hoping to build on last season, in which it finished 8-9-1 overall and 2-4 in the OCC-Ohio and defeated Pickerington Central 15-8 in the first round of the Division I South/Central Region tournament before losing to Loveland 16-9 in the second round.
Because the Irish had several players battling injuries during the preseason, second-year coach Amanda Schroyer has been stressing mental toughness.
"We're hoping for a successful season," said Schroyer, whose team opens Tuesday, April 1, at home against Westerville South. "Our goals are to stay positive and never give up."
Among the returnees for the Irish, who improved from 1-14-1 in 2011 to 8-8-1 in 2012, are seniors Jenna Best (defender), Coryanna Kinder (midfielder), Angela Lontoc (goalie) and Makenna Vargo (midfielder), juniors Cassie Lee (midfielder) and Abby Smoot (midfielder) and sophomore Catherine Howard (attacker).
Howard had 50 goals last season, including four against Loveland, and Lontoc was named first-team all-league and all-region and second-team all-state.
Also expected to be key contributors at midfielder are senior midfielders Brooke Grozenski, Katherine Kelly and Melina Triffon and freshman defender Elizabeth Howard.
Scioto finished fifth in the OCC-Ohio last year, behind Olentangy (6-0), Hilliard Bradley (5-1), Liberty (4-2) and Olentangy Orange (3-3) and ahead of Davidson (1-5) and Jerome (0-6). This season, the Irish and Jerome are in the OCC-Cardinal with Bradley, Darby, Kilbourne and Marysville.
"Communication (is one of our strengths)," Schroyer said. "We are currently working hard to improve our transitions."
Experienced Celtics looking to improve
After losing just three players to graduation, Jerome is looking to take a step forward after back-to-back four-win seasons.
Among the 21 players on the Celtics' roster are 10 seniors.
"I think we're coming along," said 10th-year coach Colleen Bender, whose team opens Wednesday, April 2, at Watterson.
"We didn't lose many seniors, but our team is still pretty young. We're ironing out the kinks. We didn't really lose anybody, so it's just a matter of coming together and playing together."
Senior midfielder Maddy Easdale is the top returnee.
Other key returnees are seniors Tara Blake (defender), Taylor Giles (defender) and Hayley Hannan (goalie) and sophomores Kailee King (midfielder), Claire Koontz (attacker), Morgan Monaghan (defender) and Kelly Sierschula (midfielder).
Also looking to be key contributors are seniors Melissa Kura (defender) and Stephanie Schiff (midfielder) and junior Megan Tomlinson (attacker).
Last season, Jerome finished 4-14 overall and 0-6 in the OCC-Ohio, but it defeated Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin 15-4 in the first round of the Division I South/Central Region tournament before losing to Toledo St. Ursula 16-3 in the second round.
"We struggled with not protecting our sticks, and defensively we got beat up a lot last year," Bender said. "We're hoping to generate some offense, and we've got some pretty good weapons."