When Watterson High School boys soccer coach Chad Smith noticed his team was relatively quiet during the first week of practice, he asked his three captains to become more vocal leaders.
Since then, senior goalkeeper Trevor Funk, senior forward Tommy Geraghty and senior midfielder Mich-ael Gilbert have heeded his message.
"To be honest with you, we didn't have a lot of natural leadership when we started," Smith said. "Our kids were extremely hard-working, but they were quiet, so we had to work to develop more leadership from our players. It took a little while, but our captains have all stepped up recently, and I've been hearing a lot more chatter from them. (Last) week, the kids even started warming up without me asking them to before practice, so we're heading in the right direction."
Watterson, which opens Thursday, Aug. 22, at home against Centennial, features a trio of third-year starters in Funk, Geraghty and senior midfielder Mitch Werner.
Other returning letterwinners are Gilbert, seniors Michael Guza (midfielder) and Zach Storc (forward) and juniors Michael Harper (defender), Frankie Isabelle (defender), Brad Kanney (midfielder), Sam Magee (forward) and Paul Mokrzan (midfielder).
Completing the roster are seniors Sam DeCocker (defender) and Griffin Maxwell (midfielder), juniors Anthony Gulla (defender), Jack Heidenthal (goalie), Teddy Hoying (midfielder), Colin Kabealo (midfielder) and Jared Nation (defender) and sophomores Mitchel Nation (forward) and Matt Pardi (midfielder).
"I believe this team is just as talented, if not more talented, than last year's team," said Smith, whose team finished 12-5-3 overall last season and reached a Division II regional semifinal before losing to Cincinnati Indian Hill 1-0. "Our defense and our goalkeeping are our strength overall because we've got some big, quick players in the back. The second-biggest thing is our work rate. Our guys practice and play hard."
Watterson opens CCL play Sept. 5 at Hartley. Last season, the Eagles went 2-1-1 in the league to tie DeSales for second behind St. Charles (4-0).
"Our seniors have won two district titles (in three years) but haven't won the CCL, so that's something they want to check off their lists," Smith said. "The CCL is as strong as always, so we'll need to play well in every game to accomplish that goal."
Girls soccer team looking to repeat
The girls soccer team is aiming for another CCL title this season.
Watterson, which opened Aug. 20 against Dublin Jerome and plays host to Olentangy on Saturday, Aug. 24, finished 12-6 overall and 4-0 in the CCL last year, capturing its third league title in four years.
"We lost seven seniors who started for us since their freshmen or sophomore years, but our goals haven't changed," coach Alyx Portier said. "We play one of the toughest schedules around, but we want to be competitive in every game. We also want to defend our CCL title and win a district championship."
The Eagles, who lost to Hilliard Davidson 2-1 in a Division I district final a year ago, return five starters in senior Ellie Gantz (midfielder), juniors Erin Adams (forward), Bryn McQuade (defender) and Marissa Wierzbicki (goalie) and sophomore Abby Demboski (midfielder).
Other key players include senior Kate Jones (forward), junior Hannah Manion (defender), sophomore Sarah Benson (defender) and freshmen Emily Gantz (forward), Julianna Rotolo (midfielder), Priscilla Severance (forward) and Regina Severance (defender).
"We're really young this year," Portier said. "We have more freshmen on varsity than we've ever had. But the girls are talented and the leadership of our seniors is fantastic, so I feel good about this season."