The season has been "magic" for the Grandview Heights High School girls soccer team.
Thanks in part to the roles played by three seniors, the Bobcats were perfect through 10 games and ranked second in last week's Division III state poll behind Cincinnati Summit Country Day.
Forward Maddy James had 11 goals to lead Grandview, which outscored opponents 66-1 in its first 10 contests. Anna Dobies and Kirsten Lower have led the way for the defense, which has been flawless other than in a 2-1 victory over Worthington Christian on Aug. 30 in the MSL-Ohio Division opener. Goalkeeper Ruby Gentile had four saves against the Warriors.
"We have jelled super-well together and we really get along with our teammates," Dobies said. "We have a new flat-back defense where the defenders go into a straight line. That has worked well for us and (the defenders) have been able to transition into both the offensive and defensive ends of the field."
James said that compatible nature extends to the offense.
"Our whole offensive line has been pretty solid right now as well," she said. "Our offensive midfielders, Olivia Girardi and Carlie Orr, have been putting in a lot of work. The other forward is Taylor Pierce, who is only a freshman but she's aggressive and has a great shot.
"The whole offensive line is like magic at times. We're all club players and our minds seem to work in a similar way. That helps a lot."
While the defense had nine shutouts in the first 10 games, a balanced offense also has been giving opponents fits. In addition to James' production, Pierce had nine goals, and the Bobcats have eight players with four or more goals.
"As coaches, we talk about what we would do to defend (our team) and we don't know where to start," coach Mike Merna said. "If you take away Maddy James, then we have Taylor to deal with. If you take away those two, then we have four midfielders that can score goals. I think that's one of the things that makes us good.
"Just like with Fairbanks (in a 5-0 victory Sept. 18), (the Panthers) had a couple of kids who were really good. But if you take them out then you're 9-on-9, and that's where we beat teams. In the first 15 to 20 minutes they were beating us, but we made some tweaks and in the last 60 minutes we were solid."
After playing poorly during preseason scrimmages, Merna believed this might be a transition season. His players have stepped up to prove him wrong.
"When we scrimmaged in the summer, we weren't very good, and now we have bought into playing good defense first," he said. "That (defensive mindset) came along a lot quicker than we thought it would. We were doing that in week one and week two. They absorbed that information really fast and figured out what we had to do to play well."
James said the players weren't sure how good they were until they defeated Worthington Christian. The Bobcats surprised themselves at what they could do on the field.
"That was a crazy game because I don't think we had high expectations," said James, whose team was 4-0 in the MSL-Ohio before playing Bexley on Sept. 27. "We didn't expect to beat (the Warriors) like that. We were up two goals and they scored late on us. We got some momentum early and played well. After that (game), we thought we might be a good team."
However, that success could result in at least one negative, as Lower points out.
"I feel like one of the challenges is that we have never been down (in the score) and I'm not sure how we will react to that," she said. "We have to be able to handle that. Sometimes our energy drops on the field and we have to get that back up. The (postseason) can be stressful and we have to handle those kinds of situations."
Although Merna might have thought differently during the preseason, the Bobcats have become typical in their approach to the game.
"We're kind of like the teams that we were in the past, just with different personnel," he said. "We work hard, we defend well, we're pretty organized. One thing that is a lot different is that a lot of these players weren't on varsity last year and it's a new system for them. Often there are growing pains with that, but we seemed to have skipped that stuff."