The Watterson High School football team has had only seven losing seasons in its 57-year history despite the fact that its schedule consists almost entirely of opponents in larger divisions each year.
Last season while competing in Division III, Region 10, the Eagles played four Division I programs and two in Division II, going 4-2 in those games.
They literally couldn't face a larger opponent from Ohio in terms of numbers than the one they will meet Friday, Sept. 6.
Watterson, which has dropped to Division IV, Region 13, in the first season of the OHSAA's seven-division format, will travel to Mason for its first meeting with the southwest Ohio program.
According to the OHSAA, Mason has 1,266 boys in grades nine through 11, making its boys enrollment the largest in the entire state. Watterson's boys enrollment for those same grades is 277.
"We've got a fair amount of seniors, and our classes are fairly balanced," Eagles coach Dan Bjelac said. "We are limited some by our numbers in terms of depth. We're never huge, but we've got decent size."
Mason represents the second of three road games to begin Watterson's season. The Eagles opened Aug. 30 at Walnut Ridge and Mason, which finished 6-4 last season, opened Aug. 30 at home against Springboro.
While Watterson has several experienced players on defense, including Cody Calhoun (DB), Kyle Fada (DL) and Eli Kirk (LB), Mason has both of its quarterbacks and its top wide receiver back from last season.
Senior Jensen Harris and junior Rodney Hutchison passed for 761 and 646 yards, respectively, last season while splitting time under center.
Senior wide receiver Joey Thomas led the Comets with 19 receptions for 345 yards and two scores a year ago.
Mason's top player on defense is senior linebacker Matthew Stewart, who has Division I scholarship offers from Buffalo and Kent State. He was the Comets' second-leading tackler a year ago.
Watterson is led offensively by senior running backs Walter Green and Calhoun. Heading into the Eagles' opener, senior Patrick Pirrman and junior Sam Maglicic were battling for the starting job at quarterback.
Volleyball coach still confident despite start
The girls volleyball team lost its first three matches, falling to Erlanger (Ky.) St. Henry 16-25, 25-15, 25-17 and Cincinnati McAuley 26-24, 25-19 on Aug. 24 and Dublin Coffman 25-21, 25-16, 14-25, 25-21 on Aug. 26.
Despite the start, first-year coach Max Miller is confident his team will contend for CCL and Division I district titles this season.
Last year, Watterson finished third (4-4) in the CCL behind DeSales (7-1) and Hartley (6-2) and lost to Gahanna 25-20, 25-17, 14-25, 25-11 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
"I don't think you're going to find anyone else in our district who is playing a schedule as tough as the one we play," Miller said. "We're not going to win every match, but I think we have a great shot at winning a district title.
"DeSales won the CCL last year and didn't lose much to graduation, so they are the front-runner in the CCL. Hartley has a lot of power coming back, too, so our chance of winning the CCL depends on how well we play against those two schools."
The Eagles have returned five letterwinners in seniors Caroline Canute (middle hitter), Gabby Dean (defensive specialist), Lauren Frilling (outside hitter) and Kelly Strayer (setter) and junior Mary Patton (opposite hitter).
Frilling, a fourth-year starter and Xavier University recruit, was named first-team all-league and all-district for the second consecutive season last year. She finished with 295 kills, 29 blocks, 18 aces and a .930 serving percentage.
Patton was second-team all-CCL last year and Canute, a third-year starter, had 115 kills and 28 blocks.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Jenna Gaffer (libero), Maggie Hamrock (libero) and Abby Malone (opposite hitter) and sophomores Elena DeJaco (outside hitter), Caroline Leitch (middle hitter) and Mallory Rabe (setter).
"The strength of our team is the renewed effort we're getting out of our players, especially our upperclassmen," Miller said. "They have set high goals and they are chasing after them every day in practice."
Boys runners move up to Division I
The past four seasons in Division II, the boys cross country team won two district titles and advanced to regional three times.
Watterson will compete in Division I this season.
"We lost six of our top eight runners to graduation, so we already had our work cut out for us to make it to regional," coach Matt McGowan said. "But by bumping us up to Division I, we now probably have no chance at all."
Watterson opened Aug. 24 by placing sixth (190 points) in the 17-team Newark Catholic Invitational behind champion Liberty Union (75).
Freshman Nick Haley paced the Eagles, finishing 22nd in 18 minutes, 38 seconds. Sophomore Max McClelland (26th, 18:41.5) was next, followed by senior Michael Guza (32nd, 18:58.2), freshman John Britt (50th, 19:51.8), senior Danny Lucia (64th, 20:22.5), senior Joey DiOrio (70th, 20:30.1) and senior Kevin Becker (84th, 21:04.7).
Guza and McClelland are the only returnees who competed in the postseason last year.
Watterson scored 51 points to win the eight-team district 2 meet at Watkins Memorial, edging runner-up Buckeye Valley (58), and went on to place eighth (212) in the 16-team regional meet at Troy behind champion Springfield Shawnee (40).
Guza was the Eagles' top finisher at regional, placing 34th (17:48.24) of 123 runners.
Watterson placed second (56) in the CCL meet last year at Otterbein University behind St. Charles (19).
"St. Charles has more than twice the number of boys we have at their school, so our goal has always been to finish second in the CCL," McGowan said. "Other than that, we just want to get (the boys) in as good of shape as possible to run their best at the end of the year."
The girls team also opened in the Newark Catholic Invitational, placing fifth (163) behind champion Columbus Academy (102) as 17 teams competed.
Sophomore Meghan Connors (26th, 22:16.7), led the Eagles, followed by sophomore Kaleigh O'Reilly (33rd, 22:54.5), sophomore Clare Aman (34th, 22:57.9), senior Abbie McClelland (39th, 23:07.5), sophomore Claire DiOrio (49th, 23:39.3), senior Hanna Merklin (54th, 24:06.5) and junior Olivia Britt (55th, 24:06.5).
Aman, DiOrio, McClelland, Merklin and O'Reilly competed in the 14-team Division I, district 1 meet last year at Watkins Memorial, as the Eagles finished eighth (247) behind champion Hilliard Davidson (35).
"We have 60 girls out and those are good numbers considering we don't have a feeder program," McGowan said. "We ran well at Newark Catholic, but we've got to be more competitive as the season progresses."
The Eagles' top priority is defending their CCL title. Last season, they scored 49 points in the league meet to edge runner-up DeSales (53).
"It's always tough to win the CCL, and Columbus School for Girls (finished third with 107 points to) beat us at Newark Catholic, so they're probably the favorite to win it this year," McGowan said. "But CSG beat us at Newark Catholic and we were able to beat them in the CCL race last year, so we just need to keep improving and make sure we do our best in the CCL meet."