The Columbus Academy and host Grove City Christian School football teams enter their opener Friday, Aug. 29, in similar situations.
Despite having limited numbers during the preseason, Academy coach Jim Collis and Grove City Christian coach Andrew McCampbell both believe they have solid cores with which to work and their teams can have some success if they stay healthy.
The teams met last season in the opener at Academy, with the Vikings winning 55-20.
Academy, which competes in Division VI, has 27 players in the program and practiced some days in the preseason with fewer than 20, according to Collis.
Grove City Christian, which is in Division VII, also has 27 players.
"They're a team that is similar to us in terms of numbers," Collis said. "I think we may have an advantage when it comes to skill positions, but you never know in first games. You open up the first game and you never know what's going to happen. You can't turn the ball over and if we take care of business, we have a good chance."
The Vikings will have a new look in the backfield as junior Matt Watters (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) is expected to replace his brother, 2014 graduate Charlie Watters, at quarterback in the team's wing-T offense.
Senior Ben Dahl (5-11, 160), who rushed for 328 yards and five touchdowns on 66 carries last season, is expected to be the starting tailback. He replaces 2014 graduate Bryce Bailey, who last season had 73 carries for 622 yards and eight touchdowns and 22 receptions for 291 yards and two scores.
"We're young and we have some talent," Collis said. "We're making a lot of mistakes, but they have some grit. The kids are battling and they're showing a competitive spirit that I questioned whether that we had or not. I'm finding out that it is becoming more important to them because they're playing hard."
With limited rosters, many players on both teams will have to play both ways, with a key contributor for Academy expected to be senior Reed Clark (6-3, 210) at offensive tackle and defensive end.
A key two-way player for Grove City Christian should be senior Tre Roberts (5-11, 180) at running back and cornerback. Last season, he rushed for 282 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries and caught 10 passes for 228 yards and two scores.
The Eagles are looking to replace senior running back Jordan Haywood, who transferred to Hilliard Bradley after rushing for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns on 173 carries last season. He was second-team all-MSL-Cardinal Division and honorable mention all-district.
Sophomore Matt Bailey (5-8, 155) has replaced 2014 graduate Nate High at quarterback in the team's pistol-wing offense.
"Our kids know they competed with (Academy) for a half last season. They just have to put a full game together," McCampbell said. "The seniors have been talking about that. One of our goals is to, no matter what, win the fourth quarter. Finishing games is going to be a big thing this year for us."
Last season, Grove City Christian trailed Academy 14-7 at halftime.
Cross country teams have new coach
Mindy Bankey has taken over as cross country coach in place of Brad Seaburn, who resigned after four seasons.
Bankey also is the school's junior varsity girls basketball coach.
"We have a great group of kids who are very dedicated and focused," she said.
Returning to the boys team after competing in last season's Division III district meet are seniors John Hand, Josh Jones, Noah Miller and Rhyen Reier and junior Brett Crabtree.
Senior Eli Womack rounds out the team.
The Eagles opened Aug. 23 by finishing sixth (130) of six teams that scored in the Whitehall Invitational, behind champion Bexley (21).
Girls runners who competed at district a year ago are senior Katie Flowers and sophomores Angelina Gibson and Allison Hatfield.
Senior Jenny Jones also is competing for the girls team, which did not have enough runners for a team score at Whitehall.
Boys soccer team opens with win
The boys soccer team opened Aug. 21 by defeating Shekinah Christian 4-1 as senior forward Jayson Stauffer scored three times and sophomore midfielder/forward Tanner Allen scored once.
Freshman goalkeeper Noah Tomlinson, who had eight saves, "has never played soccer before," coach Aaron Holley said.
Last season, Stauffer was named second-team all-MSL-Ohio.
After beginning last season 2-6-1, the Eagles went on to finish 5-10-1 overall and 2-5 in the MSL-Ohio.
"Coming into this season, we're just growing off of that (finish)," Holley said.
Junior defender and captain Ryan Lantzy was honorable mention all-league last season.
Senior defender Josh Dick, who was honorable mention all-league a year ago, is expected to miss the season with an illness.
Other returnees are senior Michael Bibyk (defender), juniors Olivia Carter (midfielder) and Jessica Jablonski (defender) and sophomores Lauren Bankey (midfielder), Morgan McKnight (midfielder) and Sebastian Molina (midfielder).
Other players are junior Megan Given (midfielder), sophomores Lane Scott (defender) and Alec Sliemers (midfielder) and freshmen Savannah Carter (midfielder), Zach Lantzy (midfielder) and Riley Peters (midfielder).
Girls volleyball team looks for improvement
The girls volleyball team is hoping to improve on last season's 5-18 overall record and 0-10 finish in the MSL-Cardinal.
Grove City Christian opened by defeating Whetstone 25-14, 25-16, Patriot Prep 25-15, 25-13 and host Linden-McKinley 25-12, 25-15 in a quad match Aug. 16.
"It was a good start," coach Joe Bradford said. "Any time you get three (wins) right off the bat like that it's pretty good for us."
Grove City Christian lost at Gahanna Christian 25-14, 25-18, 25-22 on Aug. 21.
Junior setter Allison Jacobs was second-team all-district in Division IV and second-team all-league last season.
Other returning letterwinners are seniors Emma Baker (defensive specialist) and Kasey Hogan (middle hitter) and juniors Mariana Gallion (libero), Allison Griggs (outside hitter), Alex Polentz (defensive specialist/setter) and Stephanie Sowards (middle hitter).
Other players are junior Kylie McDade (middle hitter/outside hitter) and sophomores Leah Baker (outside hitter) and Savie Hartman (outside hitter). Each saw time on varsity last season.
Bradford said the players talk "every single day" about improving on last season's league record.
"There's a little bit of fire in their eyes after some of the failure from last year and some of the internal goals that were set as far as what we're challenging them with," he said.
Boys golf team getting 'comfortable'
The boys golf team also has a new coach as Rex Vandermark has replaced Del Varney, who resigned after last season.
"Our goals for this year are to get everyone comfortable with their game," Vandermark said. "I have a couple of students this year who are just starting to play golf."
Sophomore Dane Long had a 95 in last season's Division III sectional at Pine Hill as the Eagles fell one shot shy of a district berth as a team.
Other returnees are senior Emma Baker, junior Quinn Evans and sophomores Leah Baker, Ben Hardy and Zach Strawser. Other competitors are junior Olivia Nester, sophomore Conner Milam and freshman Clayton Buck.
Lost to graduation were district-qualifier Tyler Elgin and state-qualifier Cameron Michalak, who was MSL-Cardinal Player of the Year.
Michalak earned first-team all-state honors for the second consecutive season by tying for third in the Division III state tournament.