Upper Arlington High School boys soccer coach Carlos Bonilla is all too familiar with mitigating circumstances.
In their two worst losses of the season, 7-2 setbacks against Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 4 and Marysville on Sept. 25, the Golden Bears were missing key personnel. Senior goalkeeper Josh Jackson was injured against Liberty and serving as a counselor at a youth camp during the Marysville game, and various other ailments rendered UA shorthanded in those games and others during the past few weeks.
Four consecutive losses dropped the Bears to 3-6-3 overall and 1-3-1 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Westland on Oct. 2.
"We went to Marysville and we got outworked. That's the only reason I can find," Bonilla said. "(Senior defender) Spencer Witt was not available because he's struggling with a concussion. So right there, we're down two defenders."
UA, which according to Bonilla also will be without sophomore defender Will Myers for the rest of the season because of a broken nose, has been playing stingy defense despite the injuries. The Bears had allowed 23 goals through 12 games, with 14 coming in the losses to Liberty and Marysville. They had allowed nine goals in the other 10 games.
Entering the week, the 6-foot-2 Jackson, whom Bonilla thinks has the necessary skills to play at the college level, had stopped 34 of 42 shots in 10 games. His backup Sean Garrett, a junior, had stopped nine of 15 shots in two games.
According to Bonilla, the defense has been led by Witt, senior Luke Boyer, junior Griffin Turnbull and sophomore Doug Bannon. The onus on them has increased because the offense hasn't hit its stride. Through 12 games, the Bears had scored a total of 13 goals, with senior forward/midfielder Eli Weldon and junior forwards/midfielders Juan Barros and Joey Jentgen each having two goals to tie for the team lead.
In 18 games last season, UA had three players with five or more goals in midfielder Rhodes Moore (10), forward Ryan Abbruzzese (7) and midfielder Noah Grumman (5). All three graduated last spring.
"That puts a huge burden on the defense," Bonilla said. "They basically have to be the ones to keep us in every match. We've played well and we controlled a lot of those games. Basically, the team that controlled the tempo and the game didn't score the goals. The other team did."
Bonilla expects UA's final three games to be challenging. After playing host to Hilliard Bradley on Thursday, Oct. 4, the Bears travel to Dublin Coffman on Tuesday, Oct. 9, for an OCC-Central contest before playing host to Worthington Christian on Oct. 11.
Coffman was 8-3-1 before playing Liberty on Oct. 2 and Worthington Christian is the defending state champion in Division III and was ranked third in the state last week.
The Division I district tournament draw will be held Sunday, Oct. 7, with the tournament beginning Oct. 17.
"The Tuesday (league) games are key, and the kids want to get good results there so they can finish well in the OCC," Bonilla said. "The other two (remaining) games, especially the one with Worthington Christian, will be a great gauge heading into the tournament against that quality of an opponent. It'll put the pressure on us, but at the same time we need to welcome it. If we do well there, it's going to give us a boost."