The inevitable turnover that impacts every high school sports team has hit the Pickerington North girls soccer squad a little harder than expected.
The Panthers lost seven starters on the heels of losing in a Division I state semifinal for the second consecutive year, and have just five returning in senior defender Alex Baldwin, senior midfielders Kelly Eisenhauer and Aubrey Lukacsko, senior forward Megan Marasco and sophomore defender Izzy Reibold.
Two more, senior forward Emily Thomas and junior defender Paige Matijasich, will not play this year.
Thomas, who recently committed to play basketball for the University of North Carolina-Wilmington will miss the season because of a torn right ACL sustained in December while playing basketball. She re-tore the same ACL as well as her right meniscus in early August.
Matijasich opted to skip this season to focus on basketball.
"It'll be interesting, a challenge," said coach Greg Van Kannel, whose third season begins Saturday, Aug. 23, at home against Thomas Worthington.
North was 19-1-1 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division last year, losing to Mason 1-0 in a state semifinal for the second year in a row.
That leaves the Panthers having to replace 33 goals, thanks to the graduation of first-team all-state and OCC-Ohio Division Player of the Year Morgan Bittengle (23 goals, 10 assists) and loss of Thomas (10 goals, 11 assists). Some offense does return, as sophomore forward Cameron Shedenhelm had 17 goals off the bench, Marasco had 13 goals and five assists and Lukacsko added 10 goals and nine assists.
Bittengle now plays for Ashland University.
"We're trying to figure out exactly where everyone fits the best," Van Kannel said. "What are the best lines together? We'll see. We are not being really creative right now. We will get better."
Joining Marasco and Shedenhelm as forwards are juniors Kassie Kiley and Emma Warns, and freshman Makenzie Kelly.
Midfielders are seniors Aryn Collier, Jordan Swackhammer and Ashley White, and sophomore Nikki Anderson. Another midfielder, sophomore Ally Holter, will see time in the defense with seniors Brooke Baldwin, Cece Bickham, Lexi Heberle; juniors Kim DeVore, Caroline Heberle and Matti Wenger; and sophomore Karmen Sigman.
Junior Val Henne will play forward and defender.
Senior Rachel Kronk was expected to be North's starting goalkeeper, but she is nursing an ankle injury and hopes to return by September. Junior Morgan Conklin will start in the meantime.
"It's good to have options," Van Kannel said. "The last few years we've always had Heather Laeufer (a 2013 graduate now playing at Central Michigan) or Hannah Wilson (who was North's starting goalie last year). If someone went down, we always had at least one quality keeper. We've just been blessed in that way."
The Panthers begin league play Tuesday, Aug. 26, at Newark.
Tigers hope to keep thriving under Cornwell
While Central returns its leading scorer from 2013 in senior forward Aisha Suhaiba, a three-year starter, the Tigers have a new coach in Molly Cornwell.
Cornwell, a 2006 North graduate, was hired in March to replace Jillian Walters, who was 20-13-2 in two seasons. She resigned shortly after the 2013 season for personal reasons.
Suhaiba had 10 goals last year as Central went 10-6-1 overall, losing to visiting Olentangy 3-1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. Senior forward Lea Reynolds added four goals.
The Tigers open Thursday, Aug. 21, at Canal Winchester. Central begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Aug. 26, at Lancaster.
Cornwell coached North in 2011, guiding the Panthers to records of 12-3-2 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio. She attended Central as a freshman in 2002-03, when it was known as Pickerington, before attending North for the rest of her high-school career.
Cornwell was a two-time first-team all-state player for North and two-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Year at the University of Toledo.
Aug. 21 -- at Canal Winchester
Aug. 23 -- at Dublin Coffman
*Aug. 26 -- at Lancaster
Aug. 28 -- vs. DeSales
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
Sept. 4 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley
Sept. 6 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*Sept. 9 -- vs. Pickerington North
*Sept. 16 -- at Grove City
Sept. 20 -- at Columbus Academy
*Sept. 23 -- vs. Newark
*Sept. 30 -- at Groveport
Oct. 4 -- vs. Granville
*Oct. 7 -- vs. Gahanna
Oct. 9 -- vs. Johnstown
Aug. 23 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
*Aug. 26 -- at Newark
Aug. 28 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Lancaster
Sept. 6 -- vs. Whitehouse Anthony Wayne
*Sept. 9 -- at Pickerington Central
Sept. 13 -- vs. New Albany
*Sept. 16 -- at Reynoldsburg
Sept. 18 -- vs. Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 23 -- vs. Groveport
Sept. 27 -- at Sylvania Northview
*Sept. 30 -- at Gahanna
Oct. 2 -- at Hilliard Bradley
Oct. 4 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*Oct. 7 -- vs. Grove City
Oct. 9 -- vs. Granville