The DeSales High School football team is set to open its season Friday, Aug. 30, at Westerville Central.
The contest marks the first meeting between the programs.
DeSales and Central both enter the season with an eye toward making the playoffs. Last season, both teams fell one spot shy of qualifying for the postseason, as the Stallions went 5-5 and finished ninth in Division III, Region 10 and the Warhawks went 7-3 and finished ninth in Division I, Region 3.
Central coach John Magistro views the matchup with DeSales -- which had its 18-year playoff streak snapped a year ago -- as an early-season test.
"The thing that is exciting about this is a lot of their players are Westerville kids," Magistro said. "These kids sort of know one another and some of them have even played ball with them somewhere up through the ranks. They have a proud program over there. We all know about their success. When we had the opportunity to play them, I thought it was a nice challenge for our program."
DeSales coach Ryan Wiggins also sees the contest being a stern test.
"We play good people all the time," Wiggins said. "Our team is used to that, but it is a challenge. You're talking about a big school and a team that we know has a lot of talent on it and just being a neighborhood, a local team, it will be crowded. It will be a great atmosphere for our kids. It's very exciting. Both teams are champing at the bit to play."
The Stallions should have a new look offensively, as former Ohio Northern University coach Tom Kaczkowski is serving as the quarterbacks coach. DeSales is expected again run its triple-option offense with a mix of pistol formations.
Brandon Krietemeyer, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Thomas Worthington, is expected to start at quarterback. Another key player on offense should be senior Griff Saunders, who will play H-back and tight end and has made a verbal commitment to Bowling Green.
Central's 4-2-5 base defense features seniors Jordan Bratton and Andy Oppliger at linebacker.
DeSales will face a Central spread offense that averaged 26.1 points last season and is led by senior quarterback Jared Drake, who last season passed for 1,308 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 951 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Warhawks' featured running back is senior Alex Fisher, who rushed for 734 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. Their receiving corps includes seniors David Hatchett, Micah Lowe, Tommy Mansfield and Jalon Talley.
Nick Richardson, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior who has verbally committed to the University of Kentucky, anchors Central's offensive line at left tackle.
DeSales allowed an average of 22.6 points last season. Looking to help improve that defense and contain the Warhawks are Griffin at linebacker and senior defensive backs Sayyid Kanu and Tucker Yinger.
Top three runners return for girls team
Three all-CCL runners from a year ago have returned to pace the girls cross country team, which placed second (53 points) in the five-team league meet behind Watterson (49) last year but did not have anyone advance out of the Division I, district 2 meet.
Sophomore Andrea Coffey, senior Kristin Faulkner and sophomore Jenna Melvin -- who placed third, fourth and 18th, respectively, in the league meet -- lead a team that has only one other senior in Annie Kobermann.
DeSales began its season Aug. 24 in the 16-team Newark Catholic Invitational, finishing 11th (264) behind champion Columbus Academy (91). Melvin led the Stallions, placing 29th in 22 minutes, 37.5 seconds.
"We have a great starting three to build from," coach Bob Lennon said. "We have about six girls in the running for those other spots. It's exciting for me as a coach to see that much competition. I hope it keeps up."
Sophomore Logan Agin is expected to be the team's No. 4 runner. Vying for the other three spots are Kobermann, juniors Bailey Cadena and Lizzie Williams and sophomores Katie Cherrichello, Claire Draminski, Sara Gradenberg and Nina Rupert.
For the first time since 2010, the Stallions will be in Division II. OHSAA realignment this past summer originally kept DeSales in Division I for the third consecutive year, but a calculation error led to reclassification.
Cross country divisions were determined by adding the number of boys and girls per school and dividing by two. With 292 boys and 353 girls, DeSales' enrollment for cross country purposes is 322.5, and the Division II cutoff is 324.
The Stallions have not had a state qualifier since Melissa Thompson in 2009.
"(Division II) gives our girls much better opportunities (to advance in the postseason)," Lennon said. "Either we're just about the largest school in Division II or the smallest in Division I. There's such a big discrepancy in numbers in Division I since we could be running against schools with 1,000 girls and we have 353."
Lawson expected to lead boys runners
Two years ago, the boys cross country team barely had enough runners to field a full team in each meet.
Lennon's grass-roots campaign to grow the program has paid off, as the boys program began this year with 13 runners. The girls team has 19.
Senior Ian Lawson, the team's top runner the past three years, is seeking to clear a hurdle and make the Division II state meet for the first time. He finished 54th in the regional meet as a freshman and junior and 58th as a sophomore.
Lawson is splitting time this year between cross country and soccer -- a pattern followed by DeSales' most recent state qualifier, Pete Ryan, in 2011. Ryan won CCL and district titles that year and placed fifth at regional and 18th at state.
"(Lawson) asked me (about also playing soccer) and it was something he wanted to do. I don't want to deny any of my guys experiences like that in high school," Lennon said. "Ian just has to get over that next hump. It's like an invisible fence. He's been in the low 17s for three years and been an all-league and all-district runner, not to mention a great leader. He's not far from that pinnacle."
Also projected to be in DeSales' top four are sophomore Creighton Barrett, senior Parker Beck and junior Ben Hippler. Behind them is a group that consists of senior Anthony Hayes, junior Pat Palumbo, sophomores Jonathon Desiderio, Eric Myers and Logan Weithman and freshman Jonathan Hayes.
"Any of that group could be in the top seven," Lennon said. "We had five or six new guys come out who are pretty athletic. We can be a competitive team, and I can see us peaking later in the year."
The Stallions placed sixth (180) in the 17-team Newark Catholic Invitational on Aug. 24 behind champion Liberty Union (75). Lawson paced the team, finishing 17th (18:21.4), and Barrett placed 18th (18:21.7).