With no senior starters on defense and a pair of sophomores seeing the bulk of the action in goal, the Worthington Christian High School boys soccer team used a ball-control approach to make it to the Division III state tournament for the eighth consecutive season.
The youth on the Warriors' back line has contributed in recent weeks as well.
Worthington Christian, which was 13-5-3 before playing Cincinnati Summit Country Day in a state semifinal Nov. 7 at Centerville, posted three shutouts during the district tournament and then beat Peebles 7-0 in a regional semifinal Oct. 31.
Junior defenders Mason Highman, Mark Parsell and Isaac Sayre all have stepped up their play to support rotating sophomore goalkeepers Jake Kress and Wes Murray, according to coach Dan Roads.
"We have three juniors back there," said Roads, whose team had a 3-0 halftime lead en route to beating Berlin Hiland 4-2 in a regional Nov. 3 at Zanesville. "The two goals we gave up (against Hiland) were the first two we've given up the whole tournament, so they'd gone through quite a long period without giving up a goal. Mark and Mason were hurt most of last season and Isaac was a forward."
The Worthington Christian-Summit Country Day winner will play Toledo Ottawa Hills or Gates Mills Hawken in the state final at noon Saturday, Nov. 10, at Crew Stadium.
Summit Country Day was ranked third in the final state poll, Worthington Christian was fourth and Hawken was fifth. Ottawa Hills was among the other teams that received votes for the state poll.
Since 2000, the only years Worthington Christian hasn't advanced to the state tournament were in 2001 and '04. Last season, the Warriors defeated Cincinnati Madeira 5-3 in a state semifinal and shut out Hawken 2-0 in the championship game.
The Warriors haven't played Ottawa Hills since losing 1-0 to the Golden Bears in the 2008 state final.
Worthington Christian posted five shutouts during the regular season, including a 2-0 win over Summit Country Day on Aug. 25 behind goals by Sam Condon and J.J. Phillips.
The Warriors shut out Marion Pleasant (9-0 in the second round Oct. 20), 10th-seeded Fairbanks (5-0 in a district semifinal Oct. 24) and sixth-seeded Tree of Life (4-0 in a district final Oct. 27) en route to winning the district title.
Worthington Christian was the top seed in the district.
Highman broke his left ankle in a 4-2 loss to Westerville North on Sept. 17, 2011, and missed the remainder of last season. He was a midfielder as a freshman and sophomore but is a defender at the club level.
"It means a lot to get back (to state)," Highman said. "It's just such a team effort and we definitely don't take it for granted. We're excited about it.
"We don't really have a very experienced defense, but the guys have been willing to listen to me as a junior captain and we've played hard as a team."
Against Peebles, Condon and Phillips both scored two goals, Kress had three saves and senior Thomas Holman had two saves.
Holman had eight saves in the state final a year ago but has spent most of the season in the field.
Joe Long, Albert Miller, George Miller and Quinn Miller all scored against Hiland, with Kress making one save.
Worthington Christian beat Hiland 4-3 in overtime in a regional semifinal a year ago.
"We felt great," Roads said of this year's win over Hiland. "It was just a great, great game for us. We made some adjustments during the game. We got up on them 3-0 and they came back to get two goals, one on a throw-in and the other on a corner kick, but we were able to weather the storm.
"They have an amazing facility (at Zanesville) and the boys really like playing there. It was two great teams with two great fan bases and we were excited to see them again."