The Westerville Central High School girls soccer team has renewed optimism heading into the season.
The Warhawks finished 8-8-2 overall last season, losing to Dublin Scioto 3-0 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Central finished fourth in the OCC-Cardinal Division last year, behind Scioto (6-0-1), Dublin Jerome (5-2) and Olentangy Liberty (5-2) and ahead of Westerville North (3-3-1), Marysville (1-4-2), Olentangy (1-5-1) and Westerville South (0-7).
Second-year coach Adham Schirg expects another tight battle in the league.
"Our goal is to compete for an OCC championship," he said. "There are good teams in our division. There's not an easy out in any of our league games."
Three of the Warhawks' bigger tests in the league will be at home, as they play host to North on Sept. 6, Scioto on Sept. 20 and Jerome in the regular-season finale Oct. 11.
Central, which opened with a 5-0 win over Groveport on Aug. 20, plays host to Worthington Kilbourne on Thursday, Aug. 25.
Schirg has been pleased with his team's senior leadership. Among the returnees are a fourth-year varsity player, senior Taylor Wells (midfielder), and a third-year varsity player, junior Morgan Johnson (midfielder).
Other key returnees are seniors Carly Morris (defender), Cara Parrish (defender), Kendra Terry (forward) and Ariel Wiley (midfielder) and junior Abby Rothney (midfielder).
Morris, Parrish, Wells and Wiley are captains.
"We're working to have a better record than last year," Wells said. "We're just trying to work each day and keep getting better. We want to work on team goals and team chemistry, work on all those things to make them stronger and better than they were last year."
Junior Megan Gray, who took over as goalkeeper midway through last season, also returns.
"Megan did really well," Schirg said. "For someone who hadn't played at the varsity level consistently and to be thrown in there, we said she got baptized by fire. The girls rallied around her. She has the confidence of her teammates and her coaches."
Rounding out the team are seniors Allie Gatto (forward), Stephanie Janecek (midfielder) and Cassie Rush (midfielder), juniors Shae Feenstra (defender), Caroline Fruhling (midfielder), Athena Nehez (defender), Regan Pollard (defender), Kristen Post (forward) and Andrea Robinson (defender) and sophomores Danielle Kesling (forward), Alex MacLeod (midfielder), Brista Phillips (midfielder) and Allison Ruman (midfielder).
•The boys team is looking to build on its second Division I district championship in the past four seasons.
Central finished 12-6-2 overall last year after losing to Gahanna 3-2 in a regional semifinal.
The Warhawks went 5-2 in the OCC-Cardinal to tie Jerome for second, behind Olentangy (5-1-1) and ahead of North (3-2-2), Liberty (2-2-3), Marysville (2-4-1), Scioto (0-4-3) and South (0-5-2).
Central, which opened Aug. 22 with a 1-0 loss to Dublin Coffman, plays host to Kilbourne on Thursday, Aug. 25.
"It's all about getting ready for tournament time and the reason we're always ready to play tournament time is because we play a tough schedule," ninth-year coach David Pence said. "Every one of our games is like a tournament game. It's always been that way. I like it that way. We don't have any cake games. It keeps the boys on top of things."
The Warhawks will be led by senior midfielders and captains Nate Gallup and Joel Sutphin. Last season, Gallup was honorable mention all-league.
"The goal is to at least match last year's team," Gallup said. "That team set a high standard and we'd like to at least match that."
Other returnees are senior Alex Holtom (defender), juniors Curtis Baker (midfielder) and Craig Martin (defender) and sophomores Hunter Robertson (midfielder) and Aaron Smith (forward).
Sophomore Matt Cisneros is the leading candidate to replace 2011 graduate Connor Johnson as the starting goalkeeper.
Seniors Cody Bond (midfielder), Abdul Jalloh (forward) and Jon Krempasky (defender), juniors Brandon Rapp (defender), Matt Hughes (midfielder), Mike Reed (midfielder) and Mohamed Adan (forward), sophomore Sam Sharifi (forward) and freshman Abdi Mohamed (forward) round out the team.
Among the keys for the Warhawks is filling the void left by 2011 graduate Emmanuel Appiah, who is the program's all-time leader in games played (77), career goals (35) and goals in a season (19).
"Our first goal is to win our league and then our second goal is to win a district title and go on from there," Pence said. "We want to be playing our best soccer at the end of the year, be healthy at the end of the year, so that's what we strive for every season."