When Matt Shonkwiler was named baseball coach at Tree of Life Christian School, he knew it was important to retain his predecessor.
Shonkwiler, 29, took over for Rick Parcher, who coached the Trojans for 18 years and has remained on the coaching staff as an assistant. Shonkwiler, an assistant coach the past four seasons, began being groomed to replace Parcher in 2011.
"He's earned his opportunity to leave when he wants to leave," Shonkwiler said. "We've been working on a transition with me taking over as head coach, but I want him around as long as he wants to be around."
The Trojans were 1-6 overall before playing Columbus West on April 14 and are 0-3 in the MOCAL.
Fairfield Christian and Grove City Christian joined the MSL-Cardinal Division this season, leaving Tree of Life, Gahanna Christian, Granville Christian and Madison Christian in the MOCAL.
Last season, Tree of Life finished 17-8 overall and went 9-1 in the MOCAL to share the league championship with Fairfield Christian. It marked the Trojans' third consecutive league title and seventh overall.
"(Winning the league title is) definitely tops on our list," Shonkwiler said when asked about his team's goals this season. "The MOCAL has changed with Fairfield and Grove City being gone. It's up for grabs and we definitely think we have a shot at it. That's definitely goal No. 1."
The Trojans return seniors Jacob Bing (CF/2B), Phil Borton (C/1B) and Nathan Severance (OF/P/INF), junior Christian Gilbert (P/1B/OF) and sophomores Deven Clarke (2B/C), Samuel Lerch (P/1B/OF) and Robert Nowe (SS/P).
Shonkwiler expects Gilbert, who was named first-team all-district in Division IV and all-league last year, to be the ace of the pitching staff.
Other players include freshmen Connor Frazier (3B/P), Alex Johnson (OF/P), Isaiah Tanner (OF/2B) and Stefan Thompson (OF/1B).
"I feel like we're growing and heading in the right direction," Shonkwiler said.
The Trojans lost five players from last season to graduation, including outfielder and pitcher Donnie Tong, who was named MOCAL Player of the Year and first-team all-district.
Softball team fighting early season struggles
The softball team was 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the MOCAL before playing Delaware Christian on April 14.
The Trojans opened April 9, committing six errors in a 10-0, six-inning loss to Worthington Christian.
"We definitely had a bad case of first-game jitters," 17th-year coach Pat McWherter said.
Tree of Life opened league play with a 6-1 loss to host Granville Christian on April 10 and lost to Berne Union 10-0 in six innings April 11 before sweeping Wellington in a doubleheader April 12, winning 10-2 and 21-13.
The Trojans returned seven players from last year in seniors Morgan Pennington (3B), Kasey Ticknor (P), junior Kyra Peeks (OF) and sophomores Elizabeth Bennett (OF), Shannon Borton (P/utility), Megan King (C) and Abbey Ticknor (2B).
Last season, Kasey Ticknor was second-team all-league and King and Pennington were honorable mention all-league.
Also on the team are senior Mariah Shope (OF), junior Ansley Rothwell (C), sophomores Kaitlyn Brooks (SS), Stephanie Chea (C) and Melanie Tipton (OF) and freshman Emily Fenstermaker (1B/P).
Rothwell is a transfer from Watterson.
"We have a lot of potential," McWherter said. "We just are inexperienced."
Last season, the Trojans finished 8-13 overall and 5-6 in the MOCAL, behind champion Grove City Christian (11-1).
Fairfield Christian and Grove City Christian have joined the MSL-Cardinal and Gahanna Christian isn't fielding a team this season because of low numbers. As a result, Tree of Life has three MOCAL opponents (Granville Christian, Delaware Christian and Madison Christian) and six league games.
"MOCAL is still the MOCAL. It's still where we play for a championship and compete against the teams that we play against," McWherter said. "It's going to be solid."
Track teams looking for return trip to state
The boys track and field team is hoping to return to the Division III state meet this season after earning the program's first state qualifiers last year.
Last season, seniors Aaron Russell (sprints) and Walter Woodard (400/long jump) teamed with 2013 graduates Jaylan Davis and David Burton to finish 13th at state in the 800-meter relay (1 minute, 32.32 seconds).
"My goal is to get my boys team back in position to be back for the (800) relay at state and also for Walter to be in position to be back at regional or state for the long jump," fifth-year coach Nikki Steward said. "I want to have a good, solid year and everybody focusing on PRs."
Woodard finished 12th in the long jump (17 feet, 11 1/2 inches) at regional last year, as the top four finishers advanced to state.
Also back are seniors Daniel Canfield (middle distance) and Joshua Hayes (throws/relays), junior Carl Jones (sprints) and sophomore Isaiah Ebert (800).
Others looking to contribute are sophomores Taiwan Dawkins (400/800/long jump) and Bryan Onwuagba (300 hurdles/400) and freshmen Klayton Bumgarner (distance) and Solomon Hayes (throws/1,600 relay).
Expected to lead the girls team is senior Keirra Sanders (400/long jump/relays).
"She is going to have a good year," Steward said.
Others looking to contribute are juniors Taijanique Dawkins (sprints) and Marcella Longs (sprints), sophomores Taiahnna Dawkins (300 hurdles/400) and Abby Russell (sprints/300 hurdles) and freshmen Tayana Henderson (sprints) and Pia Monagan (sprints).
"We're short in numbers for the girls, but the guys are going to be pretty decent," Steward said.