The Olentangy Liberty High School boys soccer team won 22 of 23 games last year en route to the program's first Division I state championship, and that loss was by one goal, 2-1 to OCC-Central Division rival Thomas Worthington.
As if third-year coach Rick Collins needed a reminder that this year could be markedly different, each of the Patriots' first three scrimmages ended in ties. One of those was in a shootout against an alumni team that included six of the 2012 team's eight seniors.
"There's been a lot of tinkering putting players in different spots. We're still trying to figure out the right combinations," Collins said. "There's definitely been a different tone this year. Losing the talent we lost is never easy. But we do have a group of guys who know the kind of work it takes to achieve what we have."
Behind the goalkeeping of Anderson deAndrade -- now a preferred walk-on at Georgetown University -- and Wright State-recruit Sam DeRoy, whose 14 goals helped make him the state's co-Player of the Year and the ThisWeek Super 12 captain, the Patriots defeated Sylvania Southview 2-0 in the state final.
Liberty, which also lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 4-2 in the 2011 state final, must replace 23 goals from forward Kyle Baum and 12 from forward Jared Robinson. Robinson scored both goals against Southview.
The Patriots' two returning starters are senior defender Devin Collins and senior midfielder Grant Fisher.
"We're sorting out our defense and figuring things out from there," said coach Collins, whose team opens Saturday, Aug. 24, at Gahanna.
Their home and league opener is Tuesday, Aug. 27, against Central Crossing.
Beyond Devin Collins and Fisher, those who saw regular time last year were senior defender Morgan Rankey, senior defender Nick Scherner, senior forward Taylor Scott, junior forward Travis Baum, junior midfielder Donny Deep and junior forward Anthony Denoi.
Also expected to contribute are junior forward Grant Meeker and junior midfielder Peter Smith.
Senior Nick Bolton, who was deAndrade's backup last year, is trying to win the starting goalie job amid a challenge from junior Sam Nelson.
"We have a lot of options everywhere on the field," coach Collins said. "Figuring exactly where everybody fits is the hard part. We have talent across the board, and luckily for us guys can play multiple positions. But can that apply in big games? That's something we'll have to see."
Pioneers look to gain experience quickly
Sixth-year Orange coach Scott Bryant didn't immediately realize something about the preseason.
The Pioneers, who were 12-5-2 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Capital last year and lost to Westerville North 2-0 in a Division I district final, had eight first-time starters in their first scrimmage, a 3-2 win at Thomas on Aug. 8.
A 1-all tie in a scrimmage Aug. 10 against fellow district finalist Hilliard Darby and a 4-0 win at Pickerington Central on Aug. 14 in their final preseason game further encouraged Bryant, who is trying to replace the entire backfield and last year's goalkeeper.
"It wasn't until after the Thomas Worthington game that I realized we started eight guys who hadn't started a varsity game before," said Bryant, whose team opens Thursday, Aug. 22, against St. Charles. "We're not so much young, but we're inexperienced. Just getting them minutes has been huge in this preseason."
Junior forward/midfielder Connor Blakely scored eight goals last year, sharing the team lead with 2013 graduate Nick Deitsch. Blakely, a second-team all-league honoree, will be joined up top by junior Luke Gabbert and sophomore Oscar Carvajal.
Other expected key contributors include senior midfielders Cory Deitz and Jordan Vinicky, senior defenders Brandon Simon and Jimmy Sturmi and sophomore midfielder/def-ender Isaac Arefi. Seniors Jacob Miller and Andrew Peura are vying to be the starting goalie.
Sophomore Jack Brooks also is expected to start in the midfield.
Also on the roster are senior defender Ethan Ellis, senior midfielders Xavier Gregory, Skyler Siles and Denny Vroom and junior midfielder Brent Schutte.
Orange begins defense of its league title Tuesday, Aug. 27, at New Albany.
"We've thrown a different lineup out every half we've played (in the preseason)," Bryant said. "That's another strength. Different guys can play different positions."
Schwing, Bechtol back to lead Braves
Olentangy returns two of its top scorers from 2012 and the crux of a defense that carried it to a Division I district semifinal, but second-year coach Matt Weiss hopes the loss of 12 players to graduation doesn't create more holes than the Braves can fill.
Senior midfielder Logan Schwing, a four-year starter, will try to build on his eight-goal, five-assist performance from a year ago. Senior forward Jon Bechtol (7 goals) also is back as Weiss moves a few regulars into new positions and others see varsity time after playing j.v. last fall.
"Logan is strong up top and out wide. He basically has permission to roam the field wherever he wants to make things happen," said Weiss, whose team opened Aug. 20 against Dublin Jerome. "He's one of the best players in the area."
Olentangy went 10-7-1 overall last year and won six of seven games down the stretch before losing in the postseason at Darby 2-1 in double overtime. The Braves' only loss in that stretch was 4-2 to Liberty, and they tied New Albany for second (5-2) in the OCC-Capital.
"We have a lot to build on," Weiss said. "We definitely have a strong core back, but we lost quite a bit at center back and in the midfield. But when great players leave, other guys have the opportunity to step up."
Senior midfielder Taylor Jahr will succeed 2013 graduate Joe Morycz (7 goals) in the midfield and will be depended on to help maintain position and push the offense forward. Other top returnees include senior defenders Brock Lam and Eric Renner, junior defenders Jon Cameron and Jared Shriner, junior forward/midfielder Nick Vogel and sophomore forward Zach Whitenak.
Shriner largely was a utility player last year.
Sophomore midfielder Jon Perger is a transfer from Thomas Worthington.
Senior goalkeeper Adam Miller also returns, but is being challenged by senior Donovan McGuire.
The Braves begin OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Aug. 27, at home against Big Walnut.