If the Olentangy High School boys soccer team is going to improve on last season, it's going to have to rely on its defense.

If the Olentangy High School boys soccer team is going to improve on last season, it's going to have to rely on its defense.

The Braves finished 8-9-1 overall last year and went 3-3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to tie Westerville North for third behind Dublin Jerome (7-0) and Liberty (4-2-1) and ahead of Westerville Central (3-4), Dublin Scioto (2-4-1), Marysville (2-5) and Westerville South (2-5).

Olentangy lost to Liberty 5-1 in a Division I district semifinal after opening the tournament with a 3-1 win over Mount Vernon in the second round.

"We're not going to be beating many teams 7-5 this year," said coach Dave Sebek, whose team opens today at Delaware before playing host to St. Charles on Saturday. "We're not going to have a player scoring 25 goals. For us to be successful, we're going to need to play good defense and have everyone contribute to the goal scoring."

The defensive corps includes senior Simon Hoellerbauer, juniors Alex Bechtol and Ryan Olson and sophomores Matt Cameron and Jon Martin. Taylor Smith is in his first season as the starting goalie.

Seniors Nick Cameron, who missed five games last year with a broken leg, and Ryan Stephens will be in the midfield along with juniors Kyle Culbertson and Zach Anderson. Stephens was a defender last season.

Junior Matt Cannon and sophomore Chase Parker lead the group of forwards.

Olentangy graduated nine players from a year ago, including midfielders Chad Barson and Eric Newman and goalie Tim Nelin. Barson, who is playing for the University of Akron, made first-team all-league and all-district last season. Newman was first-team all-league and third-team all-district and Nelin, who is playing for Trinity College in San Antonio, made second-team all-league.

The Braves want to avoid a slow start like last season, when they stumbled to a 1-5-1 start before winning five of their last seven.

"The beginning of the season is hugely important every year, but it is especially this season," Sebek said. "A lot of the team has not played at this level before, and we need to get some confidence early on."

Olentangy opens OCC-Cardinal play Tuesday at Scioto. The league was represented well in the tournament last year, as Jerome, Liberty, Marysville and Westerville Central all reached a district final, with Jerome being the only one to win a district title. The Celtics also won a regional title before losing to Beavercreek 1-0 in a state semifinal.

•First-year girls coach Kristen Schreiber faces a major challenge. The team's fifth coach in the last six years, she inherits a team that graduated nine players after finishing 1-10-5 overall last season.

The Braves went 0-5-2 in the OCC-Cardinal to place eighth behind Jerome (6-1), Westerville North (3-1-3), Westerville Central (4-3), Westerville South (3-2-2), Scioto (2-2-3), Marysville (2-3-2) and Liberty (1-4-2) and lost to Reynoldsburg 1-0 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

Olentangy, which was 1-4 in one-goal games last season, plays host to Watkins Memorial on Saturday before opening league play Tuesday at home against Scioto.

"We have a limited amount of experience, but the girls are motivated," said Schreiber, whose team opened last Monday against Lexington and plays today at Pickerington Central. "They want to get out of the rut they were in last year."

Stacy Culbertson, who led the Braves with 11 assists, and Taylor Owens, who had a team-high five goals, graduated from a team that scored 15 goals -- 0.93 goals per game -- and was shut out five times.

Schreiber is building her offense around seniors Nicole Bean and Christa Bender and freshmen Catie Crumb and Megan Landon at forward and senior Carson Wagner, juniors Julie Arcara and Natalie Milliron, sophomore Carmen Allen and freshmen Kate Huter and Natasha Ustaszewski in the midfield.

Junior Shannon Schneider takes over as the starting goalie for graduate Kate Valaitis and senior Lauren Feyh will serve as the backup. Senior Courtney Hilty, juniors Audrey Miller and Emily Rutledge and sophomores Bailey Andres and Emily Bechtol anchor the defense.

"Our strength is going to be our heart," Schreiber said. "After last year, they want to be better, and they've done everything I've asked them to do without complaining."

Schedules

BOYS

Aug. 27 -- At Delaware

Aug. 29 -- vs. St. Charles

*Sept. 1 -- At Dublin Scioto

*Sept. 8 -- vs. Marysville

Sept. 10 -- At Thomas Worthington

*Sept. 14 -- vs. Liberty

Sept. 17 -- At New Albany

Sept. 19 -- vs. Upper Arlington

*Sept. 22 -- At Dublin Jerome

Sept. 24 -- At Hilliard Bradley

*Sept. 29 -- vs. Westerville Central

Oct. 1 -- At Hilliard Darby

*Oct. 6 -- At Westerville South

Oct. 8 -- vs. Worthington Christian

*Oct. 13 -- vs. Westerville North

Oct. 17 -- At Olentangy Orange

GIRLS

Aug. 24 -- vs. Lexington

Aug. 27 -- At Pickerington Central

Aug. 29 -- vs. Watkins Memorial

*Sept. 1 -- vs. Dublin Scioto

*Sept. 8 -- At Marysville

*Sept. 15 -- At Liberty

Sept. 17 -- vs. New Albany

Sept. 19 -- At Thomas Worthington

*Sept. 22 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

*Sept. 29 -- At Westerville Central

Oct. 3 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley

*Oct. 6 -- vs. Westerville South

Oct. 8 -- At Big Walnut

*Oct. 13 -- At Westerville North

Oct. 15 -- vs. Delaware

Oct. 17 -- At Lancaster

*OCC-Cardinal game