The Hilliard Davidson High School boys soccer team switched to a 4-5-1 formation this season and the change has paid dividends.
The Wildcats finished 6-6-5 last season using a more traditional 4-4-2 formation, but they were 7-1 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Upper Arlington on Sept. 17 with the new system, which utilizes four defenders, three center midfielders, two outside midfielders and one forward.
Through eight games, Davidson had outscored its opponents 26-2. Its lone setback was a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati Elder 1-0 on Sept. 14.
"We've been playing a new system this year and it has made us stronger, both offensively and defensively," senior defender Riley Moore said. "With an extra guy in the center of the midfield, we've been creating a lot more (scoring) chances and getting an average of about 20 opportunities per game. And our defense is playing well in the new system, too."
Davidson had six shutouts through eight games after totaling four shutouts in 17 games last season. Moore, Scott Harmanis, Ryan Schoener and Brandon Woo are the starting defenders and Philip Ferguson is the starting goalkeeper.
"Our goalie and defenders are doing really well and making it tough for other teams to get good chances," junior central midfielder Andrew Chiou said. "We definitely have better team chemistry across the field and we're moving the ball better this year."
Davidson opened OCC-Central play with a 2-0 win over Dublin Coffman on Aug. 27, as midfielders Jake Felicity and Robert LeFevre scored and Ferguson had nine saves. The Wildcats had lost to the Shamrocks 3-0 last year.
Another key win came Sept. 5, when Davidson beat Darby 1-0 on a goal by midfielder Jake Etnyre. The teams had tied at 1 last year.
"Coffman was our first big test and it was nice to open the OCC with a win over our rivals," Chiou said. "Darby was a big win because they are our crosstown rival."
Davidson can clinch the Hilliard Cup with a victory Thursday, Sept. 19, at Bradley.
Darby beat Davidson and Bradley to win the Hilliard Cup last season and the Jaguars and Wildcats were co-champions in 2011, as they both defeated the Panthers and played to a 2-all tie.
Darby plays host to Bradley on Oct. 8, but the contest will be for second place if Davidson beats the Jaguars.
"Winning the Hilliard Cup is a huge goal for us because we want (community) bragging rights," Moore said. "We all know Bradley's players pretty well. (Midfielder) Spencer Bumpus, (goalie) Matt Martin and I play club soccer with two of their better players, (center midfielders) Jeff Ireland and Riley Uhrin, so we know what to expect.
"We just need to keep doing what we've been doing. We need to keep a high line with our defense so they can't get out of their end of the field and we can stop them from scoring."
Panthers looking to end losing skid
The Darby boys team lost to Thomas Worthington 4-2 on Sept. 12, marking its fourth consecutive loss.
The Panthers were 2-6 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Westerville South on Sept. 17.
"We're not close to hitting the panic button because most of our players are still relatively inexperienced and we play one of the toughest schedules in the area," coach Johnny Ulry said. "We lost to teams like Dublin Coffman (4-2 on Aug. 23) and Westerville North (2-0 on Aug. 27) who are some of the best teams in the area. I don't think most of these teams are better than us. They're just finding ways to win. Once we put everything together, we're going to be a dangerous team."
Forward Ryan Kasprzak was the team's leading scorer through eight games with seven goals and five assists. He scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win over host Dublin Jerome on Sept. 3 and scored three goals in a 4-0 win over Delaware on Aug. 20.
"Every coach in the area knows they have to stop Ryan to beat us, and he's still scoring even though he's been getting double- and triple-teamed," Ulry said.
Ulry also lauded the play of defender Luke Geisey, midfielder Brian Lee and forward Trey Bogurt.
"Luke's been standing out for us," Ulry said. "He had a tooth go through his lip when we played Canal Winchester (a 4-0 loss on Sept. 10) and he had to get three or four stitches to repair the wound afterward, but Luke didn't tell anyone because he didn't want to come out of the game. He's the kind of player coaches dream of having on their team."
Darby travels to Worthington Kilbourne on Thursday, Sept. 19, for a league game. The Wolves were 5-1-2 before playing Franklin Heights on Sept. 17.
"We're just concentrating on getting better and (the game against Kilbourne) is a great opportunity for our kids to test themselves against a very good team," Ulry said.
Jaguars entered week unbeaten
The Bradley boys team was 4-0-5 overall and 1-0-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Canal Winchester on Sept. 17.
Last week, the Jaguars tied Westerville Central at 2 in league game Sept. 10 and played Beavercreek to a scoreless tie on Sept. 12.
Against Central, midfielders Robert Castillo and Riley Uhrin each had a goal and goalie Jorge Morales had five saves.