If the Pickerington High School Central boys soccer team is to move up the OCC-Ohio Division standings, coach Brad Monhollen thinks the Tigers will have to stick to a few basic principles.
"Our strength will be speed and moving the ball. That has to be our strength," said Monhollen, who is in his 12th season. "We will have to play possession-ball to win games.
"We are never a big team. I had one guy a few years ago who was (6-foot-7 in) Nick Reade (a 2013 graduate who now plays at Capital University), but that was about it."
In any case, Monhollen is confident the Tigers will improve on last year's four-win season and sixth-place league finish. Central was 4-11-2 overall and 1-4-2 in the OCC-Ohio, behind champion Gahanna (7-0).
The Tigers, who opened Aug. 19 against Upper Arlington, return two of their top three scorers in junior forward Steven Bauers and senior midfielder Justin McDermott. They each had four goals a year ago, just behind the team-high five from 2014 graduate Connor Napier.
Bauers, a three-year starter, missed the end of last season because of a broken leg suffered in Central's 1-0 win over Central Crossing in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
Also among the Tigers' top returnees is senior goalkeeper Collin Federer, a four-year starter.
"We have a chance to be stronger than we have been. We're on a good cycle," Monhollen said. "We have some good seniors and we have some good underclassmen coming up. (It's a) good balance, really. It bodes well for the future."
According to Monhollen, other top players this year will include senior midfielders Theo Amaoko, Austin Rieff and Cameron Trott, senior forwards Ramone Crespo and Nick Vandervoort, senior defender Matt Musso, junior defenders Colton Castellon and Ryan Sheets, sophomore midfielders Ryan Blankenship and Dalton McIlwain and sophomore defender Bojan Mitrev, who moved to Pickerington from Macedonia.
Also on the roster are senior midfielder John Bussom, senior midfielders/defenders Matt Evans and Alex Sullivan, senior defenders Cesar Leon, Natnael Mekonnen and Darrin Mosley, junior midfielder Sean Messina, junior defender Nick Rehm, sophomore midfielders Caden Castellon, Nick Stemen and Brandon Vollmer and freshman goalie Tyler Peters.
Central begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Aug, 26, at home against Lancaster.
Panthers' offense kicks it up a notch
North coach Darrin Monhollen expects to have his head on a swivel in his 12th season -- or, at least, he hopes to.
"We've gotten the ball popping and moving around quite a bit, and we've been able to spring some people open," said Monhollen, whose team went 9-6-4 overall last year and placed third (4-1-2) in the OCC-Ohio. "The way we've been moving the ball around, I think we're going to hit the third guy on the play a lot and be able to finish the ball, regardless of who that (third player) might be. I am hoping so, anyway."
Despite losing top scorer Isaac Magnuson and his 10 goals to graduation, North returns junior goalie Peyton Van Kannel for his second year as a starter as well as senior forward Jake Monhollen, who had four goals, and special mention all-league midfielder D.J. Reedus, a junior.
Other returning letterwinners include senior defender Brett Baumann, junior defenders Darion Bright and Pat Durbin and junior forward Mason Duty.
"Last year, it was frustrating at times because we had a pretty young team overall," Monhollen said. "Being somewhat inconsistent can be expected, but it also can pay off in the future. We feel it's starting to pay off and those kids certainly were entitled to their opportunity last year based on the skill level that they had.
"Now they're stronger, faster and wiser."
North opened Aug. 19 at Licking Heights and begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Aug. 26, at home against Newark.
Also expected to see varsity time are senior goalie Austin Glass-Flory, senior defenders Richie Leyland and Matt Nieman, senior midfielders Jordan Rader and Jared Roberts, junior defender Clay Collins, junior midfielders Kam Caminiti, Skylan Gaston and Jake Harr, junior forward Nick Snyder, sophomore midfielders River Allbaugh and Jordan Dees, sophomore mid-fielder/defender Jake Monhollen and sophomore defender Jordan Rix.
Also in the mix are versatile seniors Dimitar Markovski, Abraham Sheriff, Andy Stockard and Trey Wilson.
Aug. 19 -- vs. Upper Arlington
Aug. 21 -- vs. Canal Winchester
*Aug. 26 -- vs. Lancaster
Aug. 28 -- vs. Westland
*Sept. 2 -- at Reynoldsburg
Sept. 4 -- at DeSales
*Sept. 9 -- vs. Pickerington North
Sept. 11 -- vs. Westerville South
*Sept. 16 -- vs. Grove City
Sept. 18 -- at Dublin Scioto
Sept. 20 -- vs. Bexley
*Sept. 23 -- at Newark
*Sept. 30 -- vs. Groveport
Oct. 2 -- vs. Fairfield Union
*Oct. 7 -- at Gahanna
Oct. 9 -- at Lakewood
Aug. 19 -- at Licking Heights
Aug. 23 -- vs. Zanesville
*Aug. 26 -- vs. Newark
*Sept. 2 -- at Lancaster
Sept. 4 -- vs. St. Charles
*Sept. 9 -- at Pickerington Central
Sept. 11 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 13 -- vs. New Albany
*Sept. 16 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
Sept. 18 -- vs. Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 23 -- at Groveport
Sept. 25 -- at Westerville South
*Sept. 30 -- vs. Gahanna
Oct. 2 -- at Northland
*Oct. 7 -- at Grove City
Oct. 9 -- at Canal Winchester