Whitehall-Yearling High School boys soccer coach Dan Ensign will look to his underclassmen to provide contributions and leadership.
The Rams lost five players to graduation from a team that finished 1-14-1 overall after losing to Granville 9-0 in the first round of the Division II district tournament.
After playing with about 22 players for most of last season, Ensign expects to have about 15 players this season.
"We're low on numbers," said Ensign, who is in his third season. "That is about half the number we had my first year. It's a big concern because we only have two freshmen so far. It has gotten disheartening. You want a good returning class each year and this last one just hasn't really showed up. We can't have any injuries."
The Rams opened Aug. 18 against Wellington. They begin MSL-Ohio Division play Aug. 28 at defending league champion Bexley.
Senior defender Michael Berhanue was second-team all-league last season. Also back are senior forward Yuri Artega and junior defender Mateo Miranda.
Sophomores Natneal Dessa (defender), Branham Kipruto (midfielder), Chala Mosissa (midfielder/forward), Tamagne Shiferaw (midfielder/forward), Joshua Turcios (midfielder) and Angosom Weldu (defender, honorable mention all-league) saw playing time as freshmen and Ensign expects all to contribute.
Other players are senior midfielders Heber Luna and Axel Tello and freshmen midfielders Deborah Meade and Filimon Weldemelak.
Sophomores Daveon Jemmott and Jonathan Melendez have been competing for time in goal in place of 2014 graduate Ethan Miller, who was honorable mention all-league last season.
Both players also will see time on defense.
"Eight of my players are sophomores and those are all guys that stayed the whole time last year," Ensign said. "It's really cool to see them back this year because they're so far ahead from where we started last year."
Another key loss to graduation was midfielder/forward Nahom Hailu, who led the team with four goals and was first-team all-league.
Last season, the Rams went 0-6-1 in the MSL-Ohio. They defeated Patriot Prep 6-0 and tied West Jefferson at 1, and were shut out 10 times.
Ensign expects Bexley, Columbus Academy and Worthington Christian to contend for the league title. He hopes his team can finish .500.
"The main goal is to develop our soccer knowledge and game play as much as possible," he said. "I want to keep the number of goals down as much as possible and just really be competitive and learn how to work the ball around, because last year we had a big problem scoring goals."
Cross country teams also lack experience
The boys cross country team also will look to its underclassmen, as a key loss includes Hailu, who last season finished 32nd (17 minutes, 42.86 seconds) in the Division I, district 1 race.
Key returnees include 2013 district competitors Shiferaw (82nd, 21:11.73), Dessa (86th, 21:31.85) and sophomore Kevin Diaz (89th, 22:19.61).
Other runners are Jemmott, Tello, juniors Natneal Fissehaye, Dazion Huot and Michael Thompson, sophomore Nick Cales and freshmen Emmanuel Akot and Zach Gross.
Fourth-year coach Robert Taylor was expecting junior Ana Abduljelil, who also wrestles, to be a key contributor. But as of Aug. 16, Abduljelil was unsure if he would run this season.
"We'll have a lot of new runners this year, so hopefully they will gain some experience," said Taylor, whose boys and girls teams open Saturday, Aug. 23, in the Whitehall Invitational.
Last season, the Rams competed in Division I for the first time, and the boys finished 13th (360) of 14 teams at district behind champion Hilliard Davidson (29).
Whitehall finished fourth (102) in the MSL-Ohio meet behind champion Bexley (38).
The girls team should be led by junior Claudia Fuentes and senior Ariana Oldham, who also compete on the girls tennis team.
Last season in the district 1 meet, Fuentes was 79th (27:12.93) and Oldham was 82nd (30:50.91).
Other runners are seniors Maryssa Russell and Kacee Utterback, juniors Vivian Akot, Jackie Bravo, Megan Drake and Rocio Gimenez and freshmen Sarah Rubin, Skylar Watts and Hannah Wright.
The Rams did not have enough runners for a team score in the district or league meets last season, but they now have 11 girls on the roster.
"The program is starting to grow," Taylor said. "Between the boys and the girls, I think both teams will be more competitive than they were last year and we'll be able to make a little noise in the league."
Aug. 23 -- Whitehall Invitational
Aug. 30 -- Granville Invitational at Bryn Du Mansion
Sept. 6 -- Northland Invitational at Woodward Park
Sept. 13 -- Newark Invitational at Evans Field
Sept. 17 -- Whetstone Arrowhead Invitational at Park of Roses
Sept. 20 -- Bob Reall Invitational at Lancaster
Sept. 27 -- Erin Nance Fall Distance Classic at London Country Club
Oct. 4 -- Ray Russell Invitational at Jonathan Alder
Oct. 11 -- MSL-Ohio meet at London Country Club
Aug. 18 -- at Wellington
Aug. 21 -- at Groveport
Aug. 26 -- vs. Northland
*Aug. 28 -- at Bexley
*Sept. 2 -- vs. Worthington Christian
*Sept. 4 -- vs. West Jefferson
Sept.. 9 -- vs. Heath
Sept. 11 -- at Mount Vernon Academy
Sept. 16 -- vs. Columbus West
*Sept. 18 -- at Grove City Christian
*Sept. 23 -- vs. Columbus Academy
Sept. 25 -- vs. Patriot Prep
*Sept. 30 -- at London
Oct. 2 -- at Independence
*Oct. 7 -- vs. Grandview
*Oct. 9 -- at Madison Plains