Soccer has been a major part of Aaron Linden's life since his childhood.

Soccer has been a major part of Aaron Linden's life since his childhood.

A 1993 Westerville South High School graduate, Linden, 36, has returned to his alma mater to share his knowledge of the sport as coach of the boys soccer team. He replaces Derek Hone, who stepped down following last season.

A member of the 1992 South team that reached the Division I state final before losing to Brecksville-Broadview Heights 1-0, Linden has been a big part of the soccer community in Westerville, having served as director of the Central Ohio Soccer Association for more than six years.

"This is where I wanted to be," Linden said of being named Wildcats coach. "I said all along if I was going to coach high school, this is where I was going to be."

Linden is hoping South can improve on last season, when it finished 7-8-4 overall and 0-5-2 in the OCC-Cardinal Division.

The Wildcats beat Lancaster and Watkins Memorial by a 2-0 score in the first two rounds of the district tournament last year before losing to Westerville North 1-0 in a shootout in a district semifinal.

South, which opened with a 3-1 loss to Upper Arlington on Aug. 20 and played Bexley on Aug. 24, plays host to Clayton Northmont on Saturday, Aug. 27, before opening league play Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Westerville Central.

Last season, the Wildcats finished eighth in the OCC-Cardinal, behind Olentangy (5-1-1), Dublin Jerome (5-2), Central (4-1-2), North (3-2-2), Olentangy Liberty (2-2-3), Marysville (2-4-1) and Dublin Scioto (0-4-3).

South returns 11 players from last season, including senior goalkeeper Ryan McLaughlin, who split time with 2011 graduate Patrick Ladue last season. McLaughlin has verbally committed to play at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. He chose Charleston over the University of Dayton.

"Ryan is going to be very strong," Linden said. "He's incredible and the defense is shaping up very well."

McLaughlin will share captain duties with senior defender Sean Carpenter and junior midfielder Omar Mohamed.

"Coach has definitely changed the program around," McLaughlin said. "He'll take us back to winning again. Our No. 1 goal this year is to go undefeated in the league. Above everything else, we want to win the OCC."

Linden expects Mohamed, sophomore forward Josh McErlean and freshman forward Luke Morais to provide scoring.

Other returnees are seniors Kofi Bonsu (midfielder) and Jamie Roth (defender) and juniors Mohamed Banow (midfielder), Joel Davis (forward), Darien Giordano (midfielder), Henry Kunze (midfielder), Scott Richard (defender) and Patrick Szymczak (midfielder).

Also on the team are seniors Colton Clay (defender) and Sam Mata-Cortez (defender) and juniors Nazir Abdou (defender), David Anane (midfielder), Rich Dahome (midfielder) and Matt Doolittle (goalkeeper).

The Wildcats are seeking their first winning season since 2006, when they finished 12-4-3 and reached a district final before losing to Jerome 5-0.

"We're going to try and get the Westerville standard back at Westerville South," Linden said. "It's been missing for a few years and that's what we're preaching - getting the standard back and putting it on the field."

•The girls team is looking to improve on last season, when it finished 1-16 overall and 0-7 in the OCC-Cardinal to place eighth, behind Scioto (6-0-1), Jerome (5-2), Liberty (5-2), Central (4-2-1), North (3-3-1), Marysville (1-4-2) and Olentangy (1-5-1).

South lost to Marysville 2-0 in the first round of the Division I district tournament last season.

The Wildcats, who opened with a 1-0 win over Olentangy Orange on Aug. 20, play host to Gahanna on Thursday, Aug. 25, and Grove City on Saturday, Aug. 27. They open league play Monday, Aug. 29, at home against Central.

"We have a good core group back, so they understand what it takes to be successful," third-year coach Brandi Tanler said.

Senior midfielder Megan Henderson and senior defender Jessica Wilson have returned and will share captain duties.

Also back are senior Abbey McDonald (defender), juniors Jenna Applegett (midfielder), Annie Beck (midfielder) and Stephanie Redd (defender) and sophomores Cara Calland (goalkeeper), Mikaela Couch (forward), Sami Davis (midfielder), Samantha Roth (midfielder) and Sara Stiles (midfielder).

Beck missed last season with a knee injury.

Also on the team are seniors Atemnkeng Etchi (forward) and Imani King (forward), juniors Nicole Garcia (midfielder), Amanda Goodwin (midfielder) and Katelin Morgan (goalkeeper), sophomores Dominique Dosky (defender) and Casey Kusan (forward) and freshmen Lauren Frank (midfielder) and Merlene Williams (defender).

Dosky and Kusan are transfers from North.

How South fares this season might hinge on their offensive production. Last season, the Wildcats were shut out nine times and scored a total of nine goals.

"We're a lot more experienced this year, but we need to score goals," Tanler said. "Creating goal-scoring opportunities has been one of our main focuses this preseason and keeping possession of the ball."