Westerville South High School boys soccer coach Aaron Linden believes his team, if healthy, can contend with anyone in the Division I district tournament.
Injuries, however, have taken their toll on the Wildcats late in the regular season, with junior forward Josh McErlean and sophomore forward Luke Morais being the biggest losses.
McErlean injured his right ankle during a 2-1 loss to Delaware on Sept. 22 and missed South's next four games heading into an OCC-Cardinal Division contest against Westerville North on Oct. 9.
Morais injured his groin in the first half of a 2-all tie against Dublin Jerome on Oct. 2.
Both players had hoped to return for the game against North.
"I'm proud of the kids, we're playing well," Linden said. "We're playing down to the level of the competition sometimes, which some good teams do. We're doing it too much and it's frustrating, but I'm not going to risk any more injuries going into the tournament. We have a really good chance to go as far as we want to go."
Through 14 games, McErlean and Morais led the team with 11 goals apiece.
"At the end of the day, it's how the team plays, but I think we have a role in it," Morais said of his and McErlean's contributions.
With both players watching from the bench, the Wildcats lost to Reynoldsburg 2-0 on Oct. 4 at home.
"Knowing that everybody was out there fighting for the team, I just want to get out there," McErlean said "I might have been able to play, but it would have been me at 50 percent and it would have made it worse for the next games, so I figured I'll rest and get 100 percent."
Goalkeeper Matt Doolittle made five saves.
"We wanted to win -- we want to win every game -- but I played a lot of kids who haven't played," Linden said. "I thought we dominated the game. We've been doing this to everybody. We're dominating every game."
The Wildcats close the regular season Thursday, Oct. 11, at home against Beechcroft.
"We can go as far as we want to in the tournament," Morais said.
"We have the motivation, we just have to play our game," McErlean said. "When everybody is healthy, we can be unstoppable."
North to face Liberty in finale
North closes the regular season Thursday, Oct. 11, by playing host to Olentangy Liberty.
The Patriots were first in last week's Division I state poll ahead of second-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius.
Last season, Liberty defeated North 2-1 when both teams were in the OCC-Cardinal.
The Patriots were 13-0 overall and had clinched the OCC-Central title at 6-0 before playing Thomas Worthington on Oct. 9.
Coach Mark Price said the Warriors are looking forward to the challenge.
"It's nice because we get to play them right before the tournament," Price said. "If you're looking at the teams right now who are hot in the Central District, it's us and Liberty."
After beginning the season 1-3, the Warriors were 9-4-1 overall before playing South on Oct. 9.
North had won four consecutive games.
"We're on a definite hot streak right now," Price said. "We're ready to go. September has always been our month. We had a great month of September (going 7-1-1) and we've kept it going in October."
Through 14 games, Ross Pfeil led the team with eight goals, and Mike Fragoulis and Pete Kraft each had eight assists.
Central to play host to New Albany
Central will prepare for the postseason by playing host to New Albany on Thursday, Oct. 11.
The Warhawks were 8-4-2 overall and 3-1-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Dublin Jerome on Oct. 9.
Hilliard Darby was first in the league at 5-1 before playing Hilliard Bradley on Oct. 9.
Central coach Dave Pence believes his team is ready for the tournament.
"We play a very tough regular-season schedule every year to prepare for the tournament," Pence said. "The boys are ready and I think we are a dangerous team. Our goals are always the same, win the league, beat Westerville North and Westerville South and win a district championship. We came up just short on out first two goals, but the boys realize that they were close and don't want to be just close on their next goal. To win a championship in the Central District is a great accomplishment and after winning that anything can happen. There are some very good teams in the Central District and we have played the top teams and played well with all of them. We are ready."
Central defeated North 2-1 on Sept. 18 and tied South at 2 on Sept. 25.