Olentangy Orange High School boys soccer coach Scott Bryant feels confident about his goalkeeping situation regardless of whether Jacob Miller or Andrew Peura is in the game.
The two seniors have been so close in talent through the first month of the season that Bryant has hesitated to name a starter, calling Miller and Peura "our 1A and 1B," though not necessarily in that order.
"I'm sure any coach, and probably the team, would prefer to have one guy in goal all the time. But both of them have trained and deserve to play, and I'm not going to keep anyone off the field who deserves to play," said Bryant, whose team capped an up-and-down week last week by upsetting Beavercreek -- then the top-ranked team in Division I -- 2-0 at home on Sept. 21. "Both of them have size. Andrew has good abilities one-on-one and with breakaways. Jacob is good at distributing the ball. I can't really say either of them has a weakness."
Peura generally starts for the Pioneers, with Miller taking over in the second half. Through Sept. 21, Peura had 31 saves to Miller's 20.
Their veteran presence has been valuable in backing up a rebuilding defense. Orange replaced its entire back four, and the unit now consists of senior Brandon Simon and juniors Isaac Arefi, Brett Schutte and Jimmy Sturmi.
Eight Pioneers had scored goals entering the week. Junior midfielder Connor Blakely and senior midfielder Cory Dietz shared the team led with five each, and sophomore midfielder Zach English had four.
Blakely and English scored a goal apiece against Beavercreek, which is Bryant's alma mater and still is led by his high school coach, John Guiliano. Miller had six saves.
The Pioneers were 5-6 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing at Franklin Heights on Sept. 24.
"We're trying to find our way (on offense)," Bryant said before the Beavercreek game. "It's been a grind. We've played a difficult schedule, but we've been in every game. Connor is dynamic and he usually puts us in good positions to score, whether he's at a wing or striker. The thing is, he's usually going to get the other team's best defender, and sometimes their best two defenders. Cory's been a rock at midfielder, too, and we've benefited from that."
Entering the week, Orange still had a shot at its second consecutive OCC-Capital championship, but the Pioneers needed to win their final three league games and have New Albany and Worthington Kilbourne both lose twice. The Pioneers, who visit Kilbourne for their league finale Oct. 8, entered the week a game behind the undefeated Eagles and Wolves.
Defending state champs hitting stride
After opening the season with a 1-0 loss to Gahanna on Aug. 24, eight consecutive wins entering the week -- including two over highly ranked teams in Kentucky -- had Liberty boys coach Rick Collins thinking the defending Division I state champions had hit their stride.
Despite losing eight players from a year ago to graduation, the Patriots were ranked sixth in Division I in last week's Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association poll. Senior forward Taylor Scott and junior forward Joey Tallarico shared the team lead with five goals apiece before a Sept. 24 game at Hilliard Davidson.
Liberty defeated Louisville (Ky.) Trinity 2-1 on Aug. 30 and Louisville St. Xavier 1-0 on Aug. 31 in Louisville. The Patriots have had a few slow starts as well, falling behind Orange and Westland within the first minutes of games Sept. 7 and 17, respectively, before winning by 2-1 and 7-2 scores.
"If (they're) not playing well, I'll just have this scowl on my face and they'll see that," Collins said. "But I'm pleased with the depth we've shown. I wasn't sure how that would go, but it's been a very competitive environment. We really have quite a few offensive weapons."
Senior defenders Devin Collins and Nick Scherner have teamed with junior goalie Sam Nelson to allow only seven goals entering the week.
"Devin and Nick have given more than I could ask for," coach Collins said. "Every game, somebody new has stepped up on defense. We've rotated on the outside and in the center quite a bit with good results. And we always knew Sam had the ability."
Braves hoping to halt mental lapses
Several opposing coaches have reinforced Olentangy boys coach Matt Weiss' opinion of his team this season.
"Even after the games we've lost, a lot of other coaches have mentioned that we have a lot of individual talent and physically good players," Weiss said. "What we're lacking right now is leadership. I honestly think we can compete with anybody in the area. We just have to stop having a few bad minutes here and there."
The Braves were 3-5-1 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Capital before visiting Kilbourne on Sept. 24. In a handful of those losses, they've allowed goals late. Orange scored the game-winner with about 10 minutes left in a 1-0 decision Sept. 3, and New Albany took a 2-1 lead with the same amount of time left Sept. 17 and held on to win.
Against Division III power Worthington Christian on Sept. 21, the Braves allowed two first-half goals and lost 2-1.
Five players -- senior forward/midfielder Jon Bechtol, senior midfielders Taylor Jahr and Logan Schwing, sophomore midfielder Jon Perger and sophomore forward Zach Whitenak -- shared the team scoring lead with two goals each though nine games. Senior goalie Adam Miller had 61 saves to senior Donovan McGuire's nine entering the week.
"We're fully capable of putting up offense," Weiss said. "Jon's been solid for us. He's back now after missing a week-and-a-half with an injury. Just like any team halfway through the season, we're banged up a bit. We feel like we have some dynamic options in the attack. It's just about getting the results we're hoping for."