Studies have shown that females are more likely to tear an ACL than males.

Studies have shown that females are more likely to tear an ACL than males.

Even so, plenty of high school girls soccer teams will survive the season without any players going down with this season-ending knee injury. Hardly any teams will lose two players to ACL tears in the same season, and virtually none will see three go down.

But that final scenario is exactly what played out for the Hilliard Darby team earlier this fall, as three players tore an ACL either in the preseason or just a few games into the regular season. Darby, which already had a younger team than in past years, was forced to grow up quickly and make the best of a difficult situation.

"We continue to have to move people around and fill in the gaps," senior Missy Karno said. "We've had a lot of girls come up from the j.v. and play, and honestly they've stepped up a lot. We definitely are improving, but it's unfortunate because our record doesn't necessarily reflect that."

Before playing Thomas Worthington last Tuesday, the Panthers were 5-5-1 overall and 0-2-1 in the OCC-Central Division. They had won four of their previous five, however.

The first of the three injuries came when senior Amy Cook, a three-year letterwinner and one of three of captains, went down during a preseason tournament.

"It's no secret that coming into this year, Amy was going to be one of the top players in central Ohio," first-year coach Steve Watts said. "She plays club soccer at the very highest level. She was a four-year varsity player. Obviously, losing her from the very beginning was a difficult blow."

Later in the preseason, the Panthers lost junior midfielder Emily White, who was expected to be a starter. Weeks later, freshman defender Molly Bretz, one of the first players off of Watts' bench, went down as well. Watts said perhaps the most frustrating thing was that Bretz and White both went down just when they seemed to be playing their best soccer.

Regardless, Watts doesn't want this team feeling sorry for itself, especially with so much soccer left to play.

"We told the girls that just like in life, when you face adversity or things don't go quite as planned, you have to be able to adapt and push ahead and move on with what we have," Watts said.

"We still believe we're capable of doing what we set out to do this year."

What Watts and his staff have set out to do is change the attitude within the Darby program. Watts said he is looking to build the program into a state title contender, and that was a message that caught some players by surprise early on.

"At first we were like, 'Wow, this guy means business,'" Karno said.

"But we've gotten used to it. I'm actually jealous of the girls who are going to see the long-term effects of it. The progress that we've made, the mentality in practice, the work rate overall -- we've definitely taken massive steps forward."

The Panthers haven't necessarily turned the corner after a rough start, but they do seem headed in the right direction. A 5-0 win over Dresden Tri-Valley, typically a strong Division II program, on Sept. 3 gave the Panthers some confidence, particularly on the offensive end and that led to the recent hot stretch.

The roster has gotten even younger, as Watts has moved up five more freshmen, giving the Panthers six on the active roster. Midfielder Kaylin Lewis has been on varsity since the start of the season, and she has been joined by Jenna Seagle, Casey Gross, Kacie Goodwin, Mia Cherwien and Audrie Wolfe.

The Panthers have also had to make some positional adjustments. Karno, who began the season as a defensive midfielder, has moved back to sweeper, where she had played for most of her career before this season. Junior Leah Spangler moved from sweeper to the midfield spot White had occupied.

Junior Sami Atkinson is one of a number of players the Panthers have used at the center midfield spot, along with junior Angie Kim. Kim has "shown an ability to be very creative" at that position, and Watts said she can be very effective when she plays consistently.

From the beginning of the year, the Panthers have played tight games against some of the area's best teams, including Watterson (1-0 loss on Aug. 21), Westerville North (1-0 loss on Aug. 19) and Dublin Scioto (1-0 loss on Aug. 28).

According to Watts, turning just one of those close losses into a win could change the entire mindset of his team.

"It seems like teams overcome that hurdle only by winning. Winning seems to cure everything," Watts said. "You go into a game with a Westerville North or a Watterson, a traditional power, and until the girls prove to themselves that they can defeat a team of that caliber, we're still going to have those issues of not having enough confidence or not being certain of ourselves."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Darby boys and girls soccer teams:

BOYS

*Sept. 9 -- Tied Upper Arlington at 2. Tony Chindavong and Nathan Glaze scored.

*Sept. 16 -- Game vs. Dublin Coffman postponed

Sept. 18 -- Defeated Pickerington Central 1-0. Ray Olavarria scored.

*Last Tuesday --Played Thomas Worthington

Today -- At Olentangy. The Braves were 2-6-1 before last Tuesday.

*Tuesday -- Home vs. Westland

Oct. 2 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto. The Irish were 3-5-2 before last Tuesday.

Of note: The Panthers were 4-2-2 overall and 1-1-1 in the OCC-Central before last Tuesday.

GIRLS

*Sept. 9 -- Lost to UA 4-0

Sept. 11 --Def. Jonathan Alder 2-1. Sami Atkinson and Korinne Culley scored.

Sept. 18 -- Def. Westerville South 1-0. Atkinson scored.

Last Saturday -- Def. Olentangy Liberty 1-0. Jenna Seagle scored.

*Last Tuesday -- Played Thomas Worthington

*Tuesday -- At Westland. The Cougars were 2-7-1 overall and 0-3 in the OCC-Central before last Tuesday.

*Oct. 6 -- At Coffman. The Shamrocks were 6-0-1 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Central before last Tuesday.

Of note: The Panthers were 5-5-1 overall and 0-2-1in the OCC-Central before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Central game