Aaron Linden began his third season as Westerville South High School boys soccer coach with high expectations.
"The mentality is we want to get back to where we were years ago," said Linden, whose program won the Division I state title in 1989 and was state runner-up in 1992. "We want to win a state title. Our main goal is to get to the final four this year at state. Out of my three years, this is the best team I've ever had."
The Wildcats, who finished 7-4-7 last season and 8-6-5 in 2011 under Linden, should be led by senior forward Josh McErlean. He had 12 goals last season and was first-team all-district and all-OCC-Cardinal Division.
"We'll have a good team," said McErlean, whose squad opened Aug. 20 against Worthington Christian. "We're more of a team this year, more than any other (since) I've been here. We may have had more individual talent other years, but as a team we're for sure better and that makes us better."
Also back is junior forward Luke Morais, who led the team with 15 goals last year and was second-team all-league. Senior defender Cameron Ferguson was honorable mention all-league.
Junior Leland Klein and freshman Kyle Morais are contending for playing time in goal in place of 2013 graduate Matt Doolittle.
Ferguson, McErlean, Luke Morais and sophomore defender Massillon Myers are captains.
Other seniors are Mike Barr (goalie), Jackson Bandy (defender), Ben Gannon (defender), Melesio Mata (midfielder), Dexter McNabb (defender) and Phillip Wenzinger (midfielder).
Other players are juniors Myles Bumgarner (midfielder), Joey Freeman (defender), Jack Spiller (defender) and Ulises Villegas (defender), sophomores Kingsley Amoakohene (midfielder), Zach Capretta (goalie), Luke Houston (midfielder), Brennan Lawrence (midfielder), Tyler Linden (midfielder) and Adler Rolfes (defender) and freshmen Isaac Bumgarner (midfielder), Ty Chapman (forward) and Brandon Frank (forward).
In the OCC-Cardinal last season, South was fourth (3-1-3) behind champion Hilliard Darby (6-1).
"The league will be competitive, but if we're playing to our capability, I truly feel that we can go very far," coach Linden said.
Central coach likes team's potential
Although he realizes his team has some inexperience, Central coach Dave Pence likes its potential.
The Warhawks are looking to build on last season, when they reached a Division I district final before losing to Dublin Coffman 2-1 to finish 11-6-2. They were second (4-1-2) in the OCC-Cardinal.
Central opened by defeating Reynoldsburg 4-1 on Aug. 17.
Junior forward Chewy Gordon scored two goals and senior midfielder Hunter Robertson and junior Lucas Dutch each scored one. Dutch is an exchange student from Switzerland.
Sophomore goalie Zane Hamoui had two saves.
"We're not a team that can turn it on and off. We're a team that has to be committed the entire time," Pence said. "We're a very young team, we're a very inexperienced team and we just have to be focused all the time. We can't be messing around."
Last season, Robertson led the team in scoring with eight goals and eight assists. He was first-team all-league and second-team all-district.
"I've been playing on varsity for four years now and last year I felt like a leader as well," said Robertson, who is team captain. "This year I have the most experience on varsity. I really feel like this is my team and they look up to me."
Also back is senior forward Sam Sharifi, who had eight goals and two assists last season. Gordon had seven goals and five assists.
Junior Jeremy Shown and Hamoui are competing for time in goal in place of 2013 graduate Griffen Gordon, who was second-team all-league.
Other returnees are juniors Abdi Mohamed (midfielder), Tyler Stills (midfielder) and Gabe Whitaker (forward) and sophomore Nesta Hejduk (defender).
Other players are juniors Michael Denzel (defender), Kenyon Feenstra (midfielder), Grant Hagglund (defender), Trevor Mack (defender), Scott McNenny (midfielder) and Jeremy Shown (goalie), sophomore Jacob Gates (defender) and freshmen Bradley Annis (forward) and Nick Neville (midfielder).
"I'm liking what I'm seeing," Pence said. "We're young and we're going to make mistakes. I'm fine with making the mistake once, just don't repeat it."
Other key players lost to graduation were defender Aaron Smith and midfielder Mike Reed. Smith was first-team all-district and all-league, and Reed was second-team all-league.
"This is what you love as a coach is a challenge because we lost a lot of talent last year to graduation," Pence said. "We don't look to rebuild, we look to reload and we have a great opportunity to do that."
North coach happy with work ethic
North returns 11 players from last year's team, which won the program's first district title since 2005.
After defeating Olentangy Orange 2-0 in a Division I district final, the Warriors lost to Olentangy Liberty 3-1 in a regional semifinal to finish 12-6-2 overall.
North, which was third (4-2-1) in the OCC-Cardinal a year ago, opened Aug. 20 against Logan.
"I like that coming off such a successful season, some teams could feel entitled and think they're on top of the world," coach Mark Price said. "These guys know that we've lost a lot. They're just coming to work every day. The fact that we (had) practice every day at 6 a.m. and they're ready to go at 5:30 just tells me that they're really excited to be here and want to work hard."
Back is senior defender Jimmy Randall, who was special mention all-league last season. Junior goalkeeper Tristin Doone also returns.
"We're a young team, but we have talent," Randall said. "It will be a strong season."
Randall and Doone are captains.
Other returnees are seniors Ian Lybarger (forward) and Carter McKinley (midfielder), juniors Dakota Burridge (forward), Griffin King (defender) and Joey Moler (midfielder) and sophomores Mark Just (forward), Alec Lithiluxa (def-ender), Eli Lithiluxa (forward) and Matt Roldan (midfielder).
Other seniors are Abdinoor Aden (forward), Mohamed Aden (forward), Abdulkadir Bashir (forward), Tekle Berhane (forward), Mason Crager (defender) and Alikadar Mohamed (defender).
Other players are juniors Carson Coyle (midfielder), Brandon Horn (forward) and Connor Thompson (midfielder), sophomores Ty Bealer (midfielder), Brian Randall (midfielder) and Nick Smith (defender) and freshman Josh Grant (defender).
The Warriors lost 10 players from a year ago to graduation, including eight starters.
Key losses were forward Mike Fragoulis, midfielder Jacob Pulliam and forward Ross Pfeil. Pulliam was OCC-Cardinal Player of the Year and first-team all-district. Pfeil was first-team all-league and third-team all-district, and Fragoulis was second-team all-league.