Many teams facing challenges with new divisional lineups
In its third season, the Hilliard Bradley High School girls soccer team won its first league title by earning the OCC-Capital Division championship last fall.
But no matter what happens this season, the Jaguars won't defend that title because the OCC has realigned for the eighth time since 1995.
Bradley left the OCC-Capital to join the OCC-Cardinal with Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Hilliard Darby, Westerville Central, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne.
The transition hasn't been easy for Bradley. After going 6-0-1 last season in the OCC-Capital, the Jaguars were 0-1-1 in their first two OCC-Cardinal games, losing to Jerome 3-1 on Aug. 27 and playing Westerville South to a scoreless tie Sept. 4.
"It's been a big change for us with our new division having some big hitters," Bradley coach Dan Hoover said. "But we're glad that we've switched divisions, because it should only make us better.
"You've got to beat the best to be the best, and playing the defending Division I state runner-up (Jerome) is a great opportunity to play one of the best programs in the state. All of these teams are going to be tough competition for us."
The realignment has affected every OCC league but the OCC-Ohio.
Olentangy moved from the OCC-Cardinal to replace Bradley in the OCC-Capital, which also includes Big Walnut, Delaware, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany, Olentangy Orange and Watkins Memorial.
The OCC-Central added Marysville and Olentangy Liberty from the OCC-Cardinal in place of Darby and Kilbourne. The OCC-Central also includes Central Crossing, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington and Westland.
The OCC-Ohio remained the same with Gahanna, Grove City, Groveport, Lancaster, Newark, Pickerington Central, Pickerington North and Reynoldsburg.
"In my opinion, the (OCC-Cardinal) may be the strongest of all of the leagues because every school is, from top to bottom, (from) communities that have been traditional soccer powers with the Hilliards, the Westervilles and the Dublins," Kilbourne boys coach Jon Sprunger said. "But the OCC, in general, is very tough to win. You don't win it going 7-0 very often. There will be a loss or a tie in there and that's the parity I think they are looking for when they move the teams around."
Coffman boys coach Steve Watts said some of the programs have changed, but the OCC-Central still lives up to its ominous nickname.
"We have always considered our division of the OCC to be the 'group of death' with several traditional powers," he said. "One of those was Kilbourne, and Darby had been much-improved over the past couple of years. The division certainly didn't get any easier with Marysville, which is another program that's been much-improved.
"But for us, adding (defending Division I state runner-up) Liberty is adding another rivalry game. They will contend for the OCC year in and year out, and we've had some tough battles against each other in the tournament the last few years. We expect them to be a key team that we have to get through this year to win the OCC, and we'll probably meet again to get to the state tournament as well."
UA girls coach Mark Wise said the OCC-Central remains a powerhouse.
"They bring in Liberty ... and Marysville is no pushover (after tying perennial state-power Coffman at 1 on Sept. 4)," Wise said. "It's going to be pretty much six of one, a half dozen of another with the new teams being as tough as the teams they replaced. And you still have to play Coffman and Davidson."
The Liberty girls edged UA 1-0 on Sept. 4.
"It's really tough now that you move into a league with UA, Davidson and Coffman," Patriots coach Lisa Saiben said. "We left a tough (OCC-Cardinal) division where you had to contend with teams like Jerome, but changing things around can be good. Having new faces to go up against and playing teams we haven't seen before always makes things interesting."
New Albany girls coach Chad Schuler said the realignment has been good for his program.
"With the change, they try to put some parity between schools," he said. "We're in the small-school division and it's the way they have of making things equal after school sizes change over the years."
Sprunger already is preparing for Kilbourne's move to the OCC-Capital next year. The Wolves will replace Watkins Memorial, which is moving to the Licking County League. The open spot in the OCC-Cardinal will be taken by Canal Winchester, which is leaving the MSL-Buckeye.
The OCC plans to re-evaluate its alignment before the 2014-15 school year.
"We'll move to the smaller OCC-Capital Division next year, which is good for us," Sprunger said. "We have 1,200 kids, which seems like a lot until you go up against the Hilliards, the Dublins and the Olentangys, which have 2,000 kids. It's tough to compete against schools that are almost twice the size that you are."