Watkins Memorial High School boys soccer coach Scott Spangler wants his team's midfielders to serve as a conduit between the back line and the forwards.
The Warriors, who opened with a 4-0 loss to Big Walnut on Aug. 20 and defeated Heath 5-1 in their Licking County League opener Aug. 22, have returned 14 letterwinners, including five starters, from last season when they finished 6-10-1 overall.
"Defensively, we have the potential and the depth to keep a clean sheet in any game," Spangler said. "A lot will ride on the success of our back line and keepers. We're very lucky to have two very talented keepers at our disposal, both of whom will make an impact. We're also returning some firepower and speed up top, which will hopefully translate into goals.
"We have several underclassmen and first-time varsity players in the midfield that will need to step up into big roles for the team. They all have the potential to make for a solid midfield."
The returning starters are senior defenders Zak Blumer and Jerrod Lyon, senior forwards Cole Bartimus and Patrick Murphy and junior goalkeeper Alec Mathew. Junior Hunter Bock also saw time in goal a year ago.
"Jerrod Lyon has been a constant on the back line for the past few years," Spangler said. "We're looking for him to be a leader and shutdown defender every game. He has the potential to be one of the top defenders in the area.
"Alec Mathew and Hunter Bock have both proven to be tough to beat. Either can make a save to change the momentum of a game and energize the team."
Other key players include seniors Austin Dowis (midfielder), Brad McCord (defender) and Blake Park (midfielder), juniors Chance Abbitt (forward) and Liam Leonard (midfielder) and sophomore Michael Theibert (midfielder).
"Our team is really looking for scoring by the dangerous group that will see a bulk of minutes up top, made up of Patrick Murphy, Chance Abbitt and Cole Bartimus," Spangler said. "Abbitt has the speed and endurance to put pressure on the opponents' back line for the full 80 minutes, Murphy has a powerful shot and can score from anywhere and Bartimus is a crafty player that will pose dangers to defenders.
"Going into his sophomore season, we're really looking for Michael Theibert to make a big impact in the midfield. He has the skill and vision to be a great threat for any (opponent) we face."
Completing the roster are seniors Ari Blumer (defen-der/midfielder), Levi Newsom (defender), Marcus Pereira (forward), Adam Tompkins (midfielder) and Richard Tury (defender), juniors Derek Clear (midfielder), Alec Miller (def-ender) and Drew Untch (def-ender), sophomore Nick Spangler (midfielder) and freshmen Sam Blum (midfielder) and Patrick Holmes (defender/midfielder).
"Our goal is to win the Licking County League title and 10 wins would also be a big achievement," coach Spangler said.
The 10-team LCL also includes Granville, Heath, Johnstown, Lakewood, Licking Heights, Licking Valley, Newark Catholic, Northridge and Utica, but Newark Catholic and Utica do not have soccer programs.
Girls soccer teamready for challenge
The girls soccer team is hoping to build on its past two seasons.
However, that won't be easy given that Watkins Memorial lost nine players from a year ago to graduation and has been dealing with several injuries.
The Warriors finished 9-6-3 overall last season after going 10-4-3 in 2011.
"We are young and we are dealing with a lot of injuries," coach Alex Stout said. "As we go along, get healthier and the young girls get experience, we're going to show improvement."
The Warriors have returned eight starters, led by seniors Madi Moore (goalie), Brittnee Stapleton (defender) and Makenzie Lauterbach (midfielder).
Stapleton and Moore are co-captains.
"Madi Moore is a tremendous keeper and very athletic and confident," Stout said. "We also return three defensive starters, so I expect us to be a very good defensive team."
The other returning starters are juniors Maddie Berry (defender), Natalie Buscemi (midfielder) and Samantha Newman (midfielder) and sophomore Rachel Lawwell (defender).
Newman was honorable mention all-OCC-Capital last season.
Watkins Memorial, which went 2-3-1 in the OCC-Capital last season to place fifth behind champion New Albany (6-0), opened with a 2-1 loss to Bexley on Aug. 20 and began LCL play Aug. 22 with an 11-0 win over Heath.
The Warriors play host to Licking Heights on Tuesday, Aug. 27, in a LCL contest and will face Lakewood (Sept. 5), Licking Valley (Sept. 12), Granville (Sept. 19) and Johns-town (Sept. 26) in league play.
The other three LCL teams -- Newark Catholic, Northridge and Utica -- do not have soccer programs.
"I think Granville and Johns-town will be tough," Stout said. "As for us, we just want to play hard as a team and work hard all 80 minutes. We want to play prettier soccer and become closer as a team. We are very positive and everyone is working extremely hard right now.
"Soccer is a game where the best team does not always win. It's who works the hardest and wants it the most."
Football team getting set for season opener
The football team will play host to Briggs in the opener Friday, Aug. 30, in the first meeting between the programs.
Briggs, which is coached by former Ohio State running back and former NFL player Butler By'not'e, finished 1-9 last season. The Bruins' losses were by an average of 50.2 points.
Briggs has returned six starters on offense, including wide receivers Christian Marshall and Dion Leflore, running back/tight end Maleik Gore and three linemen. Gore played quarterback much of last season, but sophomore Tyson Miles is expected to start under center this season in the Bruins' multiple-set offense.
Among the key players for Briggs on defense are linebackers Tyrell Harris and Jacob Hall and cornerback Zach Distelhorst.
Watkins Memorial added Briggs to its schedule to replace Licking Heights, as it will now face the Hornets in league play Oct. 25 at Licking Heights.
"Our goal is to be 3-0 entering league play," coach Jeff Severino said. "We need to gain confidence by winning the non-league games."
Ben Shroyer has returned at quarterback in the Warriors' double-slot veer offense and Hunter Holton is back at wide receiver. Mike Ford is expected to replace 2013 graduate Brenden Kemp as the Warriors' top running back.
Key players for the Warriors on defense include Corbin Lindabury at linebacker, Kyle Hickin and Preston Jenkins on the line and Holton and Travis Hall in the secondary.