With the bulk of its roster having returned from last year when it finished 10-4-2, Watkins Memorial High School girls soccer coach Alex Stout was confident his team would have another strong season.
However, he also knew that his team wouldn't surprise anyone this season and the Warriors were facing a more challenging schedule.
That's why Stout is pleased with what he has seen thus far from the Warriors, who were unbeaten through six games before losing to Big Walnut 4-2 on Sept. 11 and Pickerington Central 3-2 on Sept. 13 to fall to 5-2-1.
"I do not think we expected to be unbeaten after six games because the teams we were playing were very good teams," he said. "We thought we were capable of being unbeaten after six games, but the girls knew they would have to bring their absolute best to every game to be where we are now.
"Our goals were simple: Win more games than last year and win a (Division I district) tournament game."
Through eight games, the Warriors had outscored their opponents 20-12, had posted two shutouts and had allowed more than one goal just three times, including in a 3-2 win over Bexley in their opener Aug. 20.
Stout said senior defenders Melissa Spurbeck and Jesi Homer and sophomore defender Maddie Berry have been solid in front of junior goalkeeper Madi Moore.
"We are sound defensively," Stout said. "The back line and goalie work very well together and comprise a strong unit. The midfielders and forwards also do very well at getting back behind the ball, which allows us to play defense as a team."
Watkins Memorial played Granville to a scoreless tie on Aug. 23 and defeated Delaware 1-0 on Aug. 28.
Stout said he is still experimenting with his lineup.
"We are still moving people all around the field to see what works and who works well together," he said. "We are lucky to have a very good group of girls who can play multiple positions and are willing to play wherever we ask them to play."
Amber White scored off an assist from Rachel Lawwell against Delaware and Olivia Kuhn scored twice in a 3-1 win over Mount Vernon on Sept. 4 and Kuhn, Stephanie Robb, Amberly Knox, Britnee Stapleton, Natalie Buscemi and Deja Scott scored in a 6-1 win over Newark on Sept. 6.
"We love how someone different is stepping up every game to give us the push we need," Stout said. "The girls are pushing themselves and each other and staying very positive, which is huge. We can definitely get better, and with the way the girls are working in practice every day, we will continue to get better.
"We have been creating a lot of scoring opportunities, which is exciting. We could always do better at finishing on more of our chances, but what team can't do better at that?"
There are other areas of the game the Warriors can work on, as well.
"I think we can improve on all aspects of our game," Stout said. "We can always get better at communicating, making good runs, good passes, smarter decisions on and off the ball, etc. ...
"Our biggest strength is how hard our ladies work. They kill themselves for each other, both in games and in practices. We also are blessed we have a very unselfish team. No one cares who is scoring the goals or stepping up as long as someone is doing it. Our leadership is great. Everyone is staying very positive and encouraging."
Football team looking to finish games better
The football team headed into its OCC-Capital Division opener against Delaware on Sept. 14 looking for its first win.
The Warriors, who were 0-3 before playing Delaware, travel to Mount Vernon on Friday, Sept. 21, for a league contest. They lost their first three games by 14 total points. All three games were decided by eight points or fewer -- 13-12 to Licking Heights on Aug. 24, 62-54 to Athens on Aug. 31 and 25-20 to Mifflin on Sept. 7.
"It's frustrating to be so close and the kids are playing so hard," coach Jeff Severino said. "We are truly three plays away from being 3-0. We need to continue to stress working hard every day, working on the mental part of the game and believing that eventually good things are going to happen."
Mount Vernon was 2-1 before playing Franklin Heights in its league opener Sept. 7. The Yellow Jackets beat Marion Harding 27-0 on Aug. 24 and Cambridge 27-24 on Aug. 31 before losing to Mansfield Madison 21-0 on Sept. 7.
"They do a nice job in their power-spread offense and they have a few linemen back with some new skill-position players," Severino said. "One thing I know for sure is that this matchup usually is a close one that comes down to the wire. They got us the past two years (21-14 in 2011 and 28-21 in 2010) and we'd like to turn that around this season."
Watkins Memorial led Mifflin 20-13 late in the third quarter until its punt ricocheted off a blocker's helmet right to Punchers returner Kamaron Green, who returned it 83 yards for a touchdown.
"When it hit a helmet, almost everyone paused for a second, but (Green) saw it, broke on it and was off in an instant before anyone knew what happened," said Severino, whose team led Mifflin 20-19 after the Punchers missed the ensuing extra-point attempt.
"He's a terrific athlete who made a great play."
With nearly five minutes remaining, Mifflin running back Derrick Pope escaped from a slew of Warriors for a 58-yard run. Pope, who finished with 240 yards rushing, scored the winning points two plays later on a 19-yard run.
"We knew Pope was a great runner and we knew he was a pile-spinner," Severino said.
"We had him bottled up with about six guys but didn't wrap up and he spun to make a big play and set up the winning touchdown. It was one of those plays where you say, 'How'd he get out of that?' But you've got to grab cloth, too, and we stressed that going into the game."
The Warriors failed to fully capitalize on the Punchers' five turnovers, as Hunter Holton, Corey Derugen, Jake Sanders, Travis Hall and Isaac Morrison each had an interception. Holton returned his for an apparent touchdown, but a penalty wiped out the return.
"When you get five interceptions, you should win," Severino said. "But we only got 10 points out of those turnovers. We've got to start blocking and tackling better and we've got to take advantage of our opponents' mistakes."
Kevin Crawford led the Warriors' defense against Mifflin with 11 tackles, and Collin Cruikshank and Sanders both had 10 tackles. Running back Brendan Kemp led Watkins Memorial's offense, rushing for 129 yards, and slotback Connor Severino had two catches for 46 yards and ran for 31 yards.