Faced with replacing mainstays at forward and on defense, Upper Arlington High School girls soccer coach Chris Merrick knew he would need several players to fill those roles in his fifth season with the Golden Bears.

Still, Merrick thinks this year's team could be among his most talented, ranking alongside or near the 2015 squad that won a Division I district championship despite being seeded 21st of 41 teams.

"We'll be good defensively even though we have to replace Abby Wild (a four-year starter)," Merrick said. "We have some younger girls who are hungry for some minutes. You look at forward, it's definitely something where you can't replace Molly (Morgan) with one player. She was so dynamic. You can't replace that with one or two players, but luckily for us we have a deep group of forwards who can pick up the slack.

"There's a lot to look forward to, and we're excited. There's definitely a lot of team talent. We've had talented teams here and this one is right up there, but we need to make sure that's how we play on the field."

Morgan, who led the Bears with 13 goals last season, now plays at the University of Richmond.

Twelve letterwinners, including five starters, are back from last year's team that went 8-5-4 overall and 2-1-2 in the OCC-Central Division, losing to New Albany 3-1 in the second round of the district tournament.

The returning starters are senior Sarah Poling (forward) and juniors Sydney Lape (defender/forward), Katerina Regules (defender), Carolyn Stehle (goalkeeper) and Grace Wild (defender).

UA was 2-1 before playing Westerville North on Aug. 28.

A deep group of forwards also includes junior Rachel Ooms and sophomore Hailie Clark.

Stehle, a third-year starter, will be backed up by freshman Abby Reisz.

"(Stehle) has matured and her leadership skills have grown and grown," Merrick said. "She never stops working to perfect her craft. She loves to get better. She'll take every chance she can to work with the team or with our goalie coach. She'll never stop asking questions, and now we have a varsity backup for the first time in a few years. Usually, we'd have our (junior varsity) goalie be the backup."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Julia Corna (midfielder), Madison Heck (midfielder), Colleen Moore (midfielder), Jenna Poling (defender), Elizabeth Stoeckinger (defender) and Jamie Stummer (midfielder/defender), juniors Morgan Clark (forward), Ellena Schildmeyer (defender) and Jackie Yerke (forward), sophomores Bailey Farrell (defender) and Piper Farrell (defender/midfielder) and freshman Camryn Callaghan (forward).

The Bears, who played their first four games at home, opened with a 1-0 win over Thomas Worthington on Aug. 17, lost to Granville 4-0 on Aug. 20 and beat Sylvania Southview 4-2 on Aug. 25.

UA begins OCC-Central play Sept. 13 at Central Crossing. The Bears finished third in the league last year behind champion Dublin Coffman (3-0-2).

Volleyball team changing approach

Even with five starters returning from last year's team that went 13-11 overall and 7-3 in the OCC-Central, girls volleyball coach Chris Van Arsdale thinks the Bears might not look the same as they did the past few years.

"I think we will have more of a defensive-minded team," said Van Arsdale, who is in his fourth season. "We'll be more of a ball-control, passing, defensive-oriented bunch, more so than in the past. Those things can change from year to year. Defense is how you win games anyway."

The returning starters are seniors Piper Crotty (outside hitter), Kiersten Grimm (right-side hitter), Maddi Mardas (middle hitter) and Elizabeth McKenna (outside hitter) and sophomore outside hitter Lexy Owens, who led UA in kills (164) last season and was second in both digs (158) and aces (38).

McKenna had 163 kills and 129 digs a year ago and Crotty added 113 kills for UA, which was 2-2 before playing Westerville North on Aug. 28.

Rounding out the roster are juniors Jen Gomez (outside hitter) and Catherine Hayek (setter) and freshmen Jenna Harold (defensive specialist) and Macy Medors (libero/outside hitter).

"I really like this team," Van Arsdale said. "We have a solid senior class to work with and we have a few incoming freshmen who are going to help us. Lexy has all the tools and she has become more consistent. She knows exactly what to do with the ball."

The Bears split two home matches to start the season, edging Westerville Central 10-25, 25-21, 21-25, 25-22, 17-15 on Aug. 21 before losing to Olentangy 25-12, 25-10, 25-18 on Aug. 23. They then split a tri-match Aug. 25 at New Albany, defeating the host Eagles 25-12, 25-14 and losing to Worthington Kilbourne 25-17, 25-19.

UA begins league play Tuesday, Sept. 4, at home against Central Crossing. The Bears tied Hilliard Davidson for second in the OCC-Central last year behind Coffman (10-0), which went on to reach its third consecutive Division I state tournament.

Boys soccer team off to better start

Second-year boys soccer coach Kevin Donovan said he didn't feel like his team returned only three starters from last year, when UA played its best in the second half of the season, and early results seemed to bear that out.

The Bears, who started 0-5 and 1-6-1 a year ago, were 2-1 before playing Westerville North on Aug. 28.

The returning starters are seniors Pete Edwards (goalie) and Diego Ly (forward) and junior Joe Cannon (defender).

UA lost 15 players to graduation from a team that finished 6-8-2 overall last season.

"The strengths thus far have been in our cohesion," Donovan said. "This team is probably less talented in terms of soccer ability than last year's team, but there is a togetherness about this group that was missing from the team last year. We have a lot of new guys on varsity, and we haven't really felt that yet with how we've played."

UA opened with a 3-2 win at Westerville Central on Aug. 17. The Bears lost their home opener Aug. 21, 2-0 to Olentangy Liberty, but bounced back with a 2-1 win at Reynoldsburg on Aug. 23.

Donovan emphasized having a more potent offense this year. UA was shut out six times last year and scored more than two goals only twice.

"We have changed the way we want to go about things," Donovan said. "Our tactical approach requires more energy and togetherness, and if we can maintain that level of energy and effort throughout the season, we could put together a pretty decent year."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Jeremie Boyaka (goalie), Brian Colgan (defender), Niko Constantinides (forward), Liam Henley (forward), Richard Jinschek (defender), George Koloski (forward/defender), Luke Marshall (midfielder), Yanni Patitsas (forward), Nicholas Porterfield (defender), Carson Ruscilli (midfielder/forward), Mason Verhoff (defender) and Jacob White (defender), juniors Joe Cannon (defender), Cole Milliken (defender) and Anthony Reisman (midfielder/forward) and sophomores Nate Erre (defender), Sergio Ly (midfielder), Sam Milburn (defender), Perry Stevenson (forward/midfielder) and Alex Woods (forward).

The Bears begin OCC-Central play Sept. 13 at home against Central Crossing. They went 2-2-1 in the league last year, finishing fourth behind champion Coffman (4-0-1).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 17 -- at Westerville Central

Aug. 21 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

Aug. 23 -- at Reynoldsburg

Aug. 28 -- at Westerville North

Aug. 30 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

Sept. 4 -- vs. Westerville South

Sept. 6 -- at Hilliard Bradley

Sept. 11 -- vs. Thomas Worthington

*Sept. 13 -- vs. Central Crossing

*Sept. 20 -- at Hilliard Davidson

*Sept. 25 -- vs. Westland

Sept. 27 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

*Oct. 2 -- at Marysville

Oct. 6 -- vs. Watterson

*Oct. 9 -- vs. Dublin Coffman

Oct. 11 -- at New Albany

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 17 -- vs. Thomas Worthington

Aug. 20 -- vs. Granville

Aug. 25 -- vs. Sylvania Southview

Aug. 28 -- vs. Westerville North

Sept. 4 -- at Westerville South

Sept. 6 -- vs. Olentangy Berlin

Sept. 8 -- at Olentangy

Sept. 11 -- at DeSales

*Sept. 13 -- at Central Crossing

Sept. 15 -- at Gahanna

Sept. 18 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

*Sept. 20 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*Sept. 25 -- at Westland

*Oct. 2 -- vs. Marysville

*Oct. 9 -- at Dublin Coffman

Oct. 13 -- at Lexington

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 21 -- vs. Westerville Central

Aug. 23 -- vs. Olentangy

Aug. 25 -- at New Albany with Worthington Kilbourne

Aug. 28 -- at Westerville North

Aug. 30 -- vs. Westerville South

*Sept. 4 -- vs. Central Crossing

*Sept. 6 -- at Hilliard Davidson

Sept. 11 -- at Big Walnut

*Sept. 13 -- vs. Westland

Sept. 15 -- at Dublin Scioto with Mount Vernon and Teays Valley

Sept. 18 -- vs. Gahanna

Sept. 19 -- at Hilliard Bradley

*Sept. 20 -- at Marysville

*Sept. 25 -- vs. Dublin Coffman

*Sept. 27 -- at Central Crossing

*Oct. 2 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*Oct. 4 -- at Westland

*Oct. 9 -- vs. Marysville

*Oct. 11 -- at Dublin Coffman

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Upper Arlington cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, girls tennis, boys water polo and girls water polo teams:

CROSS COUNTRY

Sept. 1 -- Boys: Asics Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson; Girls:

Westerville Classic at Westerville North

FIELD HOCKEY

Sept. 5 -- Home vs. New Albany

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 1 -- Pinnacle Classic at Pinnacle

Sept. 4 -- Lancaster Invitational at Lancaster Country Club

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 1 -- Lady Thunderbird Invitational at Lost Creek Golfers Club

Sept. 4 -- New Albany Invitational at New Albany Country Club

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 30 -- Home vs. Westland

*Sept. 4 -- At Marysville

BOYS WATER POLO

Sept. 5 -- At Thomas Worthington

GIRLS WATER POLO

Aug. 31-Sept. 1 -- McDowell Cup at Erie (Pa.) McDowell

*League contest