With 11 returning letterwinners, including seven starters, the Worthington Kilbourne High School girls soccer team is looking to build on last season when it finished 11-7-1 overall and was a Division I district runner-up.
The Wolves, who defeated Westland 6-1 and Olentangy Liberty 2-1 in the postseason a year ago before losing to Dublin Jerome 7-0 in a district final, opened Aug. 20 at Gahanna and travel to Westerville North on Thursday, Aug. 22.
"We want to win an OCC championship and at least reach a district final again," coach Courtney Irwin said. "Our biggest assets this year will be our height, our overall fitness and our back line. We are returning our keeper and three of four starting defenders."
Among the key returnees are seniors Celeste Fushimi-Karns (defender) and Kelley Zebrowski (forward). Last season, Fushimi-Karns was named first-team all-OCC-Cardinal Division and Zebrowski was honorable mention all-league.
"They have been on varsity since they were freshmen," Irwin said. "Celeste is a natural born leader. She leads with her presence on and off the field. Her knowledge and vision as a defender is unparalleled.
"Kelley's passion for the game is evident in her effort and tenacity up top. She is confident with the ball and is an important playmaker."
Fushimi-Karns and Zebrowski are sharing captains' duties with another returnee, junior defender Mia Greco.
The other returnees include seniors Erin Mahaffey (midfielder) and Erika Simpson (defender), juniors Claire Chilcoat (forward), Alex Lawrence (goalkeeper) and Katie McIntyre (midfielder) and sophomores Carli Taute (midfielder) and Julia Tout (defender).
Sophomore goalie Sarah Johnson also is back and will serve as Lawrence's backup.
Taute was second-team all-league last season.
Also on the team are senior Alison Wirt (defender), sophomores Kylee Kott (midfielder), Margaret Link (midfielder), Anne Mosca (midfielder) and Erin Wesolowski (forward) and freshmen Abby Eymann (midfielder) and Rylee Miller (defender).
Mosca is starting in the midfield along with Mahaffey, McIntyre and Taute.
Kilbourne went 3-4 in the OCC-Cardinal last season to place fourth behind champion Jerome (7-0). This season, the Wolves are in the OCC-Capital along with Big Walnut, Delaware, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany, Olentangy and Olentangy Orange.
Franklin Heights, however, does not have a girls soccer program.
"I think the toughest competition will come from Olentangy Orange and New Albany," Irwin said. "Both have high-caliber players and are well coached. I also expect Olentangy to bring a lot to the table under their new coaching staff."
Kilbourne begins league play Tuesday, Aug. 27, at home against Delaware. New Albany won the OCC-Capital title last season, going 6-0 to finish ahead of Olentangy (4-2), Orange (3-1-2), Big Walnut (3-3), Watkins Memorial (2-3-1), Delaware (1-4-1) and Mount Vernon (0-6).
Watkins Memorial has moved to the Licking County League.
Cardinals looking for more offense
Thomas coach Tim Barton said the key for his team to improve on last season, when it finished 6-10-2 overall and lost to Hilliard Davidson 4-1 in a Division I district semifinal, is to put the ball in the net more frequently.
Last fall, the Cardinals were shut out seven times, scored more than one goal only three times in 18 games and went 3-6 in games decided by one goal.
"We gave up 20 goals last season with a new keeper in the net (in then-junior Bethany Geiser)," Barton said. "She did a great job, but we only scored 26 during the regular season. The key for us is scoring more goals than our opponents. For us, it really is that simple."
That's not to say that Barton doesn't have any concerns about his defense, which posted seven shutouts last year. The Cardinals lost all four of their starting defenders from a year ago to graduation, including two who were first-team all-OCC-Central selections in Karly Boehm and Maddie Maxwell.
"We have to replace all four and those defenders had been with us for a while," Barton said. "It will be critical that we get some type of symmetry in the back line very quickly."
Thomas returns six starters in Geiser, seniors Fatima Said (forward), Jasmin Singh (defender) and Julia Smith (midfielder), junior Jenna Szabo (forward) and sophomore Maddie Hamilton (midfielder).
Singh played in the midfield a year ago but has moved back to defense. Also expected to play a big role on defense is junior Jordan Fischbach, who is a co-captain this season along with Said and Singh.
Hamilton was a forward last season.
"We are excited to see how well Bethany Geiser does her second year in goal after a solid performance last year," Barton said. "We will be leaning on Jasmin Singh in the back to get us organized quickly on the defensive side with many new faces.
"Said and Szabo have developed some good chemistry up top and will lead the offensive campaign."
Last season, Said had nine goals and assists and was second-team all-league, and Szabo had four goals and a team-high six assists.
Also on the team are seniors Delaney Clayton (defender), Kelen Jones (midfielder) and Kenda Revis-Nixon (midfielder), juniors Tara Banks (defender) and Brea Weber (forward), sophomores Jessica Schweickart (defender), Grace Smith (midfielder), Madelyn Snyder (defender) and Marissa Weiner (midfielder) and freshman Grace DeLuca (forward).
The Cardinals, who went 3-3-1 in the OCC-Central last season to place fourth behind champion Dublin Coffman (6-0-1), open Thursday, Aug. 22, at Olentangy and begin league play Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Upper Arlington.
"We want to improve in the (league) standings and try to stay in the top 10 in the area (coaches) poll all season," Barton said.