Three years ago, Wes Ryan started as a freshman on a Grandview Heights High School boys soccer team that fell one win short of a Division III state championship.

Now a senior, the forward entered this postseason hoping to lead the top-seeded Bobcats to a fourth consecutive district championship and possibly a state title.

It's not far-fetched, according to Ryan, who sees similarities and differences between the 2017 and 2014 teams.

"We have a lot of talent, and most people compare us to the 2014 team, but actually we're fairly different from them," said Ryan, who started at defender when the Bobcats lost to Mansfield Christian 4-3 in overtime in the 2014 state final. "We have had coaching changes and I feel like we have more skill than that team did.

"They had a lot of dedication and put a lot of time in and they all wanted it a lot. I feel like it's the same with this team. We want it a lot, but I feel like we have more talent overall. Most of us on this team have played club soccer and we keep that intensity going during practice."

The Bobcats entered the postseason at 12-0-4. They were tied for third with Independence, a Cleveland-area school, in last week's state poll behind Cincinnati Summit Country Day and Toledo Ottawa Hills.

Grandview opened the district tournament Oct. 18 with a second-round home game against 19th-seeded Cristo Rey or 21st-seeded Patriot Prep.

"We have to keep working hard," Ryan said. "We have an amazing team this year and we're all skilled individually. We have a lot of (speed), we work really close for each other and we know we have each other's backs."

Ryan led the Bobcats in scoring during the regular season with 24 goals and 10 assists. Junior forward Manny Day was next with 17 goals and nine assists.

"I know I can score goals and I like to get my teammates as many goals as possible," said Ryan, who was second-team all-state last fall as well as first-team all-district and all-MSL-Ohio Division. "Most people consider me as a player who is creative when I have the ball, and I can score, but I like being unselfish. We're better when more people are involved."

Coach James Gerdes said Ryan never stops trying to learn about the game.

"It's mostly his work rate and his continual search for self-improvement that makes him good," Gerdes said. "It's his ability to take on information that the coaches have given him."

Ryan has not made a college selection but expects to play at the NCAA Division II or Division III level.

"Right now he has the physicality, the speed and the balance that sets him apart from a lot of the high school players he goes against," Gerdes said.

"When he gets to college, almost every player is going to have a similar level of speed and strength, so what sets players apart is their soccer IQ. That ability to see a play before it happens, to be at the right place at the right time, to understand how to manipulate space and also how to make (teammates) better."

In postseason play, the second-round winner advanced to a district semifinal Tuesday, Oct. 24, against 11th-seeded Tree of Life or 14th-seeded Columbus International at the home of the better seed. The Bobcats defeated Tree of Life 8-1 on Oct. 14.

The district final is Oct. 28 at a site to be determined.

"(Soccer) is the one sport that I truly feel passionate about, and it's because of these guys," Ryan said. "It's because of this team. We're like a family. I have been with them since I was little and they were there every step. We're all in it together. Having that sense of community when you're playing makes it a lot better."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen