The Centennial High School boys soccer team was dangerous when the ball was in the air last season, as it found success scoring off corner kicks, free kicks and defender Trace Watkins' flip throw-ins.
After losing Watkins and most of his taller players to graduation, coach Scott George said the Stars must find different ways to score the majority of their goals.
"We're a lot different size-wise than we've been in the past," said George, whose team opens Friday, Aug. 23, at Watterson. "We had a lot of players who are over 6-feet tall last year, but now we only have two, so we're not going to be able to win the ball in the air as much. And Trace's flip throw could travel up to 50 yards in the air, much like a corner kick, and we don't have anyone capable of doing that this year.
"So now we're working a lot on keeping possession on the ground and methodically playing the ball through the midfield to set up our scoring chances, instead of just playing the ball in the air and making a run at the goal."
Three starters have returned in senior sweeper Luka Brkljacic, senior center midfielder Alexis Martinez and junior forward Gus Ricksecker.
Last year, Brkljacic was first-team all-district and all-City League, Martinez was second-team all-league and Ricksecker was honorable mention all-league.
Junior Mason Pennington is the starting goalkeeper and sophomore Manny Kankam starts in the other forward position.
Senior Tim Montgomery starts at left fullback and junior Lake Wilburn starts at right fullback.
Timothy Weishaupt is the other starting center midfielder, while senior Wasik Rahman is the starting right midfielder and senior Abdi Ali is at left midfielder.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Callum Cree (goalkeeper), Alex Heer (midfielder), Hayden McGuire (defender) and Shafeek Shafeek (defender), junior Andy Briss (midfielder), sophomores Hashim Ali (defender), Ardian Koliqi (midfielder) and Saidu Bah (midfielder) and freshman Sam Benson (forward).
George said the Stars are looking to challenge for the City League championship.
Last year, Centennial went 8-7-1 overall and finished fourth in the City at 8-3-1, behind Walnut Ridge (10-1-1), Whetstone (9-2-1) and Columbus International (8-2-2). Whetstone went on to defeat Walnut Ridge 2-1 in the City championship game.
The fifth-seeded Stars then opened the Division II district tournament with a 2-0 loss at home to ninth-seeded Granville.
The City League will be divided into North and South divisions this season, with the winners of each division meeting in the championship game.
The Stars will compete in the North Division against Beechcroft, Brookhaven, International, Mifflin, Northland and Whetstone.
"Our program is always shooting to at least be in the City League championship game, and I think we have the players in place to make a run at it," George said. "Other than winning the City, we'd like to get as far in district play as possible."
Girls soccer team aims for league title
The girls soccer team is aiming for a third consecutive appearance in the City championship game.
Returning to lead the Stars are seniors Megan Clifton (defender), Manal El Hayba (midfielder), Charity Harrison (goalkeeper), Asime Lika (midfielder), Ishrat Sanjida (midfielder) and Alex Wells (defender), juniors Donnasia Allen (defender), Glorianna Flemming (midfielder), Kelli Grove (defender), Ann Marie Hewlett (forward), Tieisha Impton (forward) and Kira Watkins (defender) and sophomores Kaitlynn Morefield (defender) and Carly Scheel (midfielder).
Rounding out the roster are seniors Vianey Lopez-Sanchez (midfielder) and Hannah Oas (midfielder), sophomores Dominique Brown (defender), Felicity Johnson (defender) and Sidney Stephens (goalkeeper) and freshmen Hannah Flemming (midfielder), Sarah Hangen (defender) and Mariah North (defender).
"I have a solid core group of girls returning this year and their experience will help to drive the team forward and help the younger girls steadily improve," said coach Barb Meleg, whose team opened Aug. 20 at Buckeye Valley. "The girls have worked hard in the offseason and have shown great pride in wanting to improve their physical fitness."
Centennial went 6-11 overall last season and finished second in the City League at 4-1, behind Whetstone (5-0), before losing to the Braves in the championship game 3-2 in overtime.
In the first City championship game in 2011, Centennial lost to Whetstone 2-1.
Last year in the first round of the Division II district tournament, the 11th-seeded Stars lost at fifth-seeded Bexley 7-0.
"This year we have changed our schedule to face teams that we know will challenge our present level," Meleg said. "Our schedule is still challenging, but we'll walk into every game knowing that we can play with our opponent and win."