Despite losing seven starters to graduation, Watterson High School boys soccer coach Chad Smith said his team isn't having to start over.
The Eagles, who finished 18-5 overall last year after losing to Richfield Revere 2-0 in the Division II state final, open Thursday, Aug. 21, at home against Bexley.
"We've been acting more like this is a continuation of last season because we have a lot of the same players back and they already understand our style of play and know what we want them to do," said Smith, who is in his fifth season leading the program. "A lot of the kids we have coming back may not have been starters in the past, but they have been in our program for fours years and they were a big part of the success we had as a program last year."
The Eagles have returned four starters in senior defender Michael Harper, senior midfielders Brad Kanney and Paul Mokrzan and junior defender Matt Pardi.
Mokrzan was named first-team all-district and all-CCL last year.
Other returnees are seniors Anthony Gulla (defender), Jack Heidenthal (goalkeeper), Teddy Hoying (midfielder), Frankie Isabelle (midfielder), Colin Kabealo (midfielder), Sam Magee (forward) and Jared Nation (defender) and junior Mitchell Nation (midfielder).
Rounding out the roster are seniors Adam Vonderwell (goalie) and Jack Weis (defender), sophomores Matt Adams (midfielder), Sam Alves (forward), Ross Kuhns (midfielder), Nate Meyers (defender), Johnny Murray (midfielder) and Nick Rocci (midfielder) and freshmen D.J. Brown (forward) and Bryant Pratt (goalie).
"We only had about 40 kids try out for the team, but there's a lot of good athletes in there," Smith said. "Paul Mokrzan is a fantastic player who has become a big recruit, and a lot of players have a lot of potential."
Watterson would like to defend its league and district titles.
Last season, the Eagles earned a share of their first CCL championship since 2004, going 3-1 in league play to tie St. Charles for the title. They beat DeSales 1-0, marking their first victory over the Stallions in nine years.
Watterson opens CCL play Sept. 9 at home against Ready.
"It's a lofty goal, but we'd like to have a clean slate in the CCL this year," Smith said. "That's a big challenge because DeSales is always tough and St. Charles is a strong Division I team."
The top seed in the district, Watterson defeated second-seeded DeSales 1-0 in overtime in a district final to win its third district title in four seasons. The Eagles went on to beat Coshocton 2-1 in overtime in a regional final to win their second regional title in program history and defeated Cincinnati Indian Hill 2-1 in overtime in a state semifinal to advance to a state final for the first time.
Watterson's other regional championship came in 2010. That season, the Eagles lost to Dayton Carroll 4-1 in a state semifinal.
"Last year was amazing, but it wasn't a complete surprise because we feel like we're good enough to challenge for a district title every year," Smith said. "Reaching the state final just solidified that we need to keep doing what we're already doing with our training and style of play."
Girls soccer team loaded with experience
Eleven players who started or saw significant playing time last year have returned for the girls soccer team.
Those players are seniors Erin Adams (forward), Anita Ferguson (forward), Hannah Manion (defender), Bryn McQuade (defender) and Marissa Wierzbicki (goalie), juniors Sarah Benson (defender) and Abby Demboski (midfielder) and sophomores Emily Ganz (forward), Julianna Rotolo (midfielder), Priscilla Severance (forward) and Regina Severance (defender).
Completing the roster are seniors Lauren Marthese (defender), Maggie McCarthy (midfielder), Jackie Mikula (forward) and McKenna Pitman (goalie), juniors Zoe Clifton (defender), Megan Connors (defender), Lauren Hicks (defender) and Claire Jenkins (midfielder) and freshman Olivia Rotolo (midfielder).
The Eagles, who finished 13-3-4 overall a year ago, opened Aug. 16 with a 3-1 win over Dublin Jerome.
"This is a very strong-willed, hard-working team," sixth-year coach Alyx Portier said. "We have a good mix of personalities and talent and we're really starting to jell."
The Eagles are looking to win their third consecutive CCL title and fifth league championship in six seasons. They went 4-0 in the CCL last year, with DeSales (3-1) placing second.
Watterson also is aiming for its second consecutive Division I district title. Last year, the Eagles defeated Olentangy Liberty 1-0 in overtime in a district final and Hilliard Davidson 2-1 in a regional semifinal before losing to Pickerington North 2-0 in a regional final.
"We have a group of young players back who were part of our tournament run, and they know what it takes to win championships and believe they can do it again," Portier said. "Winning the CCL is definitely not something we can take for granted because DeSales is always a big match, but winning the CCL outright again is our goal."
Aug. 21 -- vs. Bexley
Aug. 24 -- Columbus Academy at Crew Stadium
Aug. 28 -- at Hilliard Bradley
Aug. 30-31 -- Crusader Cup at Cincinnati Moeller
Sept. 6 -- at Canal Winchester
*Sept. 9 -- vs. Ready
*Sept. 16 -- at Hartley
Sept. 18 -- at Westerville South
*Sept. 23 -- vs. St. Charles
Sept. 25 -- at Upper Arlington
Sept. 30 -- at Granville
Oct. 2 -- at Tree of Life
*Oct. 7 -- at DeSales
Oct. 11 -- vs. Columbus International
Aug. 16 -- at Dublin Jerome
Aug. 21 -- at Olentangy Orange
Aug. 23 -- at Olentangy
Aug. 24 -- Columbus Academy at Crew Stadium
*Aug. 26 -- at Columbus School for Girls
*Sept. 3 -- vs. Ready
Sept. 4 -- at Olentangy Liberty
Sept. 6 -- at Perrysburg
*Sept. 10 -- at Hartley
Sept. 20 -- at Gahanna
Sept. 25 -- at Dublin Coffman
Sept. 27 -- vs. Westerville South
*Oct. 2 -- at DeSales
Oct. 4 -- at Hudson
Oct. 9 -- at Marysville
Oct. 11 -- at Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit