With 12 seniors on his roster, Olentangy Liberty High School boys soccer coach Rick Collins sees no reason to lower expectations.
The Patriots have been one of the state's premier Division I programs in this decade, advancing to three consecutive state tournaments and winning the championship in 2012. Of this senior class -- the largest in Collins' four seasons -- seven either started or played significant time on the state title team, including first-team all-state senior midfielder Donny Deep.
"These guys have tasted the success of past years and they want that for themselves this year," said Collins, whose team went 17-4-1 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Central Division last fall, losing to Mason 1-0 in a state semifinal. "Our seniors have all played at a high level, and our junior class is really strong as well."
Deep had 14 goals, including six game-winners, and five assists last year.
"He will be a marked man, and he's OK with that," Collins said. "He's used to it, and he has set the bar higher. He might have been a bit hesitant to lead last year, but he took some ownership and we'll need that even more from him this year."
The Patriots begin their season Thursday, Aug. 21, at home against Westerville Central.
Liberty returns two starting forwards in seniors Anthony DeNoi and Joey Tallarico, four other midfielders in seniors Travis Baum, Ben Hagman and Peter Smith and junior Tiger Pham, and senior goalkeeper Sam Nelson, who saved 83 of 93 shots in 2013.
"I think of (Nelson) as one of the best goalkeepers in the state," Collins said. "At the same time, I think he's kind of an unknown commodity."
Hagman is an Ohio Northern University recruit. Tallarico missed the second half of last season because of a back injury.
Returning starters on defense are seniors Grant Meeker and Chris Solomonides and junior Luke Bean.
The rest of the roster consists of senior forward Brady Hagman, senior defenders Tyler Jones and Braden Rankey, junior forward/midfielder Cameron Cantrell, junior forward Trevor Collins, junior defender Austin Deep, junior goalies Thomas Hlika and Jeremy Karr and freshman midfielder Wes Collins.
According to coach Collins, who is not related to Wes Collins, Wes is the first freshman to make varsity in several years. Wes also is not related to Trevor Collins or his older brother, 2014 graduate Devin Collins.
One goal of which Liberty fell short last year was winning the OCC-Central championship. The Patriots tied Thomas Worthington for second behind Dublin Coffman (6-1).
Liberty begins OCC-Central play Tuesday, Aug. 26, at Central Crossing.
Pioneers replacing many key parts
Orange coach Scott Bryant entered his and the program's seventh season facing an unfamiliar problem.
"We lost our whole (defensive) backline and both goalkeepers," said Bryant, whose team has seven seniors. "This is the first time we've had to deal with replacing our goalkeeper with a guy who has pretty much zero experience at this level. The first six years, we were lucky in that guys seemed to always come up the pipeline."
Orange, which went 9-7-1 overall and 5-1-1 in the OCC-Capital last year, began its season Aug. 16 by tying host Westerville Central at 2.
Senior midfielder Luke Gabbert, who helped anchor Orange's defense last year, scored both goals and senior goalkeeper Ben Berlekamp made nine saves.
The Pioneers return one of their top two scorers from last year in junior midfielder Zach English, who shared the team lead of seven goals with Connor Blakely.
Blakely now attends Westerville North.
The rest of the roster consists of senior midfielder Tyler Galloway, senior defenders Andrew Haidet, Brett Schutte and Brandon Thornborough, senior defender/midfielder Quinten Wride, junior midfielders Isaac Arefi, Jack Brooks, Eddie Pauly and Rio Siles, junior forwards Oscar Carvajal, Jason Chugh and Will Johnson, junior defenders Timmy Martin and Sam Morrison and sophomore defender Brian Juttner.
Bryant hopes Orange is able to overcome its inexperience quickly. The Pioneers begin OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Aug. 26, at home against defending league champion New Albany.
"We look good in spurts, and then we tend to do silly things," Bryant said. "Luckily, we had to lean on some younger players the last half of the season last year, and those guys learned. Our only real hiccup was against Olentangy (in a 1-0 loss in the second round of the Division I district tournament)."
Orange was third in the OCC-Capital last year, behind New Albany (6-0-1) and Worthington Kilbourne (5-0-2) and ahead of Olentangy (4-3).
Perger leads large senior class for Braves
First-year Olentangy coach Pat Shick hopes his transition is eased by the return of nine seniors, including last year's co-leading scorer in midfielder Jon Perger.
"We're going to be OK. Not having an out-and-out starting 11 is a good problem to have," said Shick, whose team opened Aug. 19 at Dublin Jerome. "We had three scrimmages and went 2-1, and the beauty of it was that we really didn't have a drop-off no matter who we had on the field. The guys have battled every day to prove themselves."
Perger had six goals, sharing the team lead with first-team all-district forward and 2014 graduate Logan Schwing. The Braves were 9-9-1 overall.
Shick replaced Matt Weiss, who coached the Braves for two seasons. Shick is a 2004 Olentangy graduate who served as a graduate assistant for Otterbein University's men's soccer team the past two seasons as he pursued a master's degree in health and wellness.
"It's a good way to stay involved in soccer," Shick said. "I started out not really interested in coaching. But I got the (graduate assistant) position while I was going for my master's, and the program made me want to stay involved (with soccer). I'm enjoying working with the team and watching them develop."
Junior Collin Hoffmann is the Braves' starting goalie. His backup is freshman Trent Trees.
The rest of the roster consists of senior midfielders Kyle Burgan and Nick Vogel, senior defenders John Cameron, Brock Lam, Adam Lee and Jared Skinner, senior forwards Logan Olson and Brian Zimdars, junior midfielder Carter Hoffman, junior defender Carter Kinnaird, sophomore midfielders Nick Antronica, Nick Celona, Rohan Charles, Nick Conway and Matt Vogel, sophomore forward Luke Bergman and freshman midfielders Nick Miller and Ryan Renner.
Olentangy begins OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Aug. 26, at Big Walnut.
Aug. 21 -- vs. Westerville Central
*Aug. 26 -- at Central Crossing
Aug. 29 -- at Louisville (Ky.) St. Xavier
Aug. 30 -- Louisville (Ky.) Trinity at Louisville St. Xavier
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Upper Arlington
Sept. 6 -- at Mason
*Sept. 9 -- vs. Marysville
Sept. 11 -- at Olentangy
Sept. 13 -- at Orange
*Sept. 16 -- at Westland
Sept. 18 -- vs. Gahanna
*Sept. 23 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 27 -- vs. Cleveland St. Ignatius
*Sept. 30 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
Oct. 2 -- At Dublin Jerome
*Oct. 7 -- at Thomas Worthington
Aug. 19 -- at Dublin Jerome
Aug. 23 -- at Hilliard Darby
*Aug. 26 -- at Big Walnut
Aug. 30 -- vs. Westerville Central
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Orange
Sept. 4 -- at Hilliard Bradley
*Sept. 9 -- at Franklin Heights
Sept. 11 -- vs. Liberty
Sept. 13 -- at Gahanna
*Sept. 16 -- at New Albany
*Sept. 23 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 27 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
*Sept. 30 -- at Mount Vernon
Oct. 4 -- vs. Westerville South
*Oct. 7 -- vs. Delaware
Oct. 9 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
Aug. 16 -- at Westerville Central
Aug. 19 -- at St. Charles
*Aug. 26 -- vs. New Albany
Aug. 28 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
*Sept. 2 -- at Olentangy
Sept. 4 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
*Sept. 9 -- at Mount Vernon
Sept. 13 -- vs. Liberty
*Sept. 16 -- vs. Delaware
Sept. 18 -- vs. DeSales
*Sept. 23 -- at Franklin Heights
Sept. 27 -- at Gahanna
*Sept. 30 -- at Big Walnut
Oct. 2 -- vs. Marysville
*Oct. 7 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Oct. 9 -- vs. Briggs