The Worthington Kilbourne High School girls soccer team had to call on its younger players last year during an injury-plagued season.

The Worthington Kilbourne High School girls soccer team had to call on its younger players last year during an injury-plagued season.

As a result, the Wolves went through growing pains, finishing 5-10-2 overall after losing to Gahanna 1-0 (3-2 in a shootout) in the second round of the Division I district tournament. They had beaten Hilliard Bradley 1-0 in the first round.

"Last year (injuries) took away the opportunity to ease the younger players into the varsity level," ninth-year coach Courtney Irwin said. "They were thrown right into the fire."

That could the benefit the Wolves this fall, however.

Kilbourne opened with a 2-1 loss to Big Walnut on Aug. 20. The Wolves play Thursday, Aug. 25, at Westerville Central and visit Pickerington Central on Saturday, Aug. 27, before opening OCC-Central Division play on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Hilliard Darby.

The Wolves tied Thomas Worthington for fourth in the OCC-Central Division last year at 3-3-1, behind Hilliard Davidson (6-0-1), Dublin Coffman (5-0-2) and Upper Arlington (5-1-1) and ahead of Darby (2-5), Westland (1-6) and Central Crossing (0-7).

Irwin hopes the experience gained last year will help the offense be more productive this year. The Wolves averaged only 1.6 goals a game last season and were held to fewer than two goals nine times.

Senior Frankie Perito, juniors Selena Fushimi-Karns and Paige Martinski and sophomores Kara Hines and Kelly Zebrowski lead the forwards, with seniors Emily Limpert and Jaclyn Pout, junior Naomi Barker and Hanna Vincent and sophomores Erin Mahaffey and K.C. Starks comprising the midfield.

"We have to find some kids who are goal hungry and have what it takes to put the ball in the back of the net," Irwin said.

Seniors Marissa Elliott and Meredith Ulle are vying to replace Devon Tabata, a three-year starter, as starting goalkeeper. Senior Grace Barker, junior Lindsey Bauer and sophomores Manda Cash and Erika Simpson are defenders.

"I have a lot of faith and confidence in both my goalkeepers," Irwin said. "They have big shoes to fill, but if they continue to develop their confidence, we're going to be fine."

Last season, three OCC-Central teams advanced to a Division I district final. Coffman beat Davidson 1-0 in a district final and beat UA 1-0 in a regional semifinal before losing to Pickerington North 1-0 in a regional final.

"Other people might argue, but I think our (league) is, if not the toughest, one of the toughest (leagues) in the OCC for girls soccer," Irwin said.

Thomas is looking to improve on last season, when it finished 8-6-5 overall after losing to Coffman 2-0 in a Division I district semifinal.

Last year marked the first time since 2007 that the Cardinals had a winning season and advanced past the second round of the tournament.

"(The nine seniors) realize this is their team and they want to make the most of it," fourth-year coach Tim Barton said. "We're deep from top to bottom. We could put anyone in and not have a drop-off in talent."

The Cardinals, who opened Aug. 23 at Mansfield Madison, play host to Olentangy on Thursday, Aug. 25, before opening OCC-Central play Tuesday, Aug. 30, at UA.

Thomas must replace two key offensive players in 2011 graduates Hayley Cross (3 goals, 4 assists) and Rebecca Sheldon (10 goals, 6 assists). Cross was a forward and Sheldon was a midfielder.

The Cardinals have three forwards in senior Kim Hoerauf, junior Morgan Kingseed and sophomore Nya Cason, who had eight goals and three assists last year. Expected to be their top midfielders are seniors Robin Gwin, Kendall Kwiatkowski (3 goals, 2 assists), Taylor Lawwell and Mollie Scholl, who was named special mention all-league last season.

Also looking to contribute in the midfield are juniors Kat Cross, Leighann Holcomb and Maddy Smith and sophomores Fatima Said, Jasim Singh and Julia Smith.

"Offensively, we have more team speed than we've had in the last three years," Barton said. "Hopefully, we can take advantage of that and finish our opportunities."

Seniors Rachel Chizever and Makenzie Howell are vying for time at goalkeeper and seniors Megan Insley (7 goals, 5 assists) and Taylor Yeates and juniors Karly Boehm, Maddy Maxwell and Annie McFarland are defenders. Maxwell was first-team all-league and second-team all-district last year.

"(How we fare) will come down to our work rate on the field," Barton said. "We have the talent, the speed and the right ideas, but how hard are they willing to work for each other on the field?"