The Watkins Memorial High School boys soccer team seems to have turned around its season.
The Warriors, who were 4-3-1 overall before playing Grove City on Sept. 20, failed to win their first three games but won four of their next five. They improved to 3-1 in the OCC-Capital Division with an 7-0 win over Franklin Heights on Sept. 18 behind two goals from senior midfielder Max Nader.
Watkins Memorial had allowed 10 goals through eight games. During that span, the only two games in which the Warriors allowed more than one goal were a 2-1 loss to Hartley in their opener Aug. 21 and a 4-0 loss to Delaware in their OCC-Capital opener Aug. 28.
"Alec Mathew has really stepped up in goal after the first few games," first-year coach Scott Spangler said. "He's a sophomore who's becoming a lot more aggressive. He's getting off his line and talking to his defense."
Spangler said sweeper Ethan George, stopper Caleb Clark, left back Zak Blumer and right back Jerrod Lyon have done a good job supporting Mathew. Through eight games, the Warriors had two shutouts, including a scoreless tie against Granville on Aug. 23.
"They're doing extremely well against some of the best players in Central Ohio," Spangler said. "Our goal is always a shutout and we haven't gotten many of those, but you take away two games and we've been very good defensively."
Spangler attributed the slow start to the players having to adjust to a new coaching staff and a new possession-oriented style of play as well as the team having to replace nine players who were lost to graduation.
"We're heading in the right direction now," Spangler said. "It takes a while for the kids to see and believe in a new system. Once they see it start to work, they understand the premise and build on the confidence they gain.
"Plus, we lost a lot of stars from last year. We have good players who are playing for the team now. They are playing hard for each other."
The Warriors have eight seniors, but they this is the first season in which they've been asked to take on leadership roles.
"I think these seniors are really stepping up now collectively," Spangler said. "Caleb Clark has a lot of heart and intensity, and all the seniors are sharing and following. The entire team falls into line after that. Everyone's buying into it."
The Warriors are learning the value of possession and patience.
"In this system, you have to make sure you stay aggressive," Spangler said. "You've got to take advantage of the opportunities you get.
"You have to know when to make runs, push it and be aggressive. You want to hold it and make the opponent work on defense. You don't want to force it, but there is a fine line because you've got to know when to strike. It's fun to watch when it's working."
Spangler likes where his team is in terms of the OCC-Capital standings. Next season, the Warriors move into the Licking County League.
"We're in a good position in the league right now," he said. "We're gaining confidence with every match. As a coaching staff, we're not doing a whole lot of motivating. The seniors have taken it upon themselves to get everyone involved and prepared to play. Let's make a statement in our last year in the conference."
Football team posts first victory of 2012
Members of the football team finally got a positive result for all of their hard work.
After losing their first three games by a combined 15 points, the Warriors defeated visiting Delaware 56-28 in their OCC-Capital Division opener Sept. 14.
Watkins Memorial was 1-3 overall before playing Mount Vernon in an OCC-Capital game on Sept. 21 and plays host to Big Walnut in a league contest Friday, Sept. 28. The Warriors are just 2-13 against Big Walnut since the Golden Eagles join the OCC in 1997.
Big Walnut has won the past six matchups, including 21-14 last season. The Warriors' last win in the series came in 2005 (17-16).
"We're very happy to get that first win, but now we've got to build on it," coach Jeff Severino said. "The kids played well (against Delaware) and we needed and deserved the win. Although we started 0-3, the kids never quit, so I'm happy for them to see a positive result."
Big Walnut was 2-2 overall after losing its league opener to Olentangy, 40-24 on Sept. 14. The Golden Eagles lost to Westerville Central 27-0 on Aug. 24 before beating Chillicothe 22-19 on Aug. 31 and Cleveland Collinwood 50-6 on Sept. 7.
"They lost to two really good football teams, but anyone who knows anything about Big Walnut knows that they come to play hard and are always physical," Severino said. "They are just relentless. They come right at you and never back down."
Big Walnut, which shared the OCC-Capital title with New Albany and Olentangy Orange last season, is led by senior quarterback Carson Chatterton, senior wide receivers Seth Myers and Adam Shaheen and senior two-way lineman Julian Simon. Myers also a key member of the Golden Eagles' defense as a safety.
Against Delaware, the Warriors scored a pair of touchdowns in each quarter, as they led 28-7 at halftime and 42-14 after three quarters. Running back Brenden Kemp ran for 225 yards on 23 carries and scored four touchdowns (30, 26, 26 and 21 yards). Also with touchdown runs were Jake Sanders (2 yards) and Connor Severino (9 yards).
Through four games, Kemp had 799 yards rushing on 95 carries (8.4 yards per carry) and had 11 touchdowns, ranking him among the central Ohio leaders in both categories.
"He's running hard and he's making people miss," coach Severino said. "He's reading seams and just does a good job vision running. Plus, one person isn't going to bring him down most of the time. It's going to take three or four."
Quarterback Ben Shroyer completed five of eight passes for 115 yards, including touchdowns to Hunter Holton (60 yards) and Kevin Crawford (12 yards).
"Ben Shroyer played a great game," coach Severino said. "He's been proficient in his passing, but now everything is starting to click. He's reading the tackle and making the right decisions, whether that's give (the ball) to the fullback, pitch it or keep it himself. He's trusting his decisions and when he keeps it, it gives defenses something else to think about."
According to coach Severino, other standouts through four games include Mitch Sanders, Boban Stepanovich and Josh Lyday on the offensive line, Corbin Evans and Sanders at linebacker and Holton in the secondary.