With eight returning starters, the Centennial High School girls soccer team isn't planning to take a step back following a season in which it broke through with a City League championship.
The Stars, who had lost six consecutive City title games to Whetstone before beating the Braves 2-1 in a shootout for last year's championship at Mapfre Stadium, entered last season on a 10-game losing streak against the Braves.
Both teams went 5-1 in City action to set up the league title game.
Centennial opened with a 2-1 loss Aug. 20 at Licking Valley and lost 6-0 on Aug. 22 at Reynoldsburg.
The Stars finished 9-7-1 overall last fall.
"(They're) demonstrating a better understanding of our system," seventh-year coach Barb Meleg said. "I consider all of them vital to our team's success.
"Our first game could have gone either way. We were evenly matched throughout, but I think conditioning was a factor during parts of the game that had a clear effect on the outcome. Hopefully the girls can learn from (the Reynoldsburg) game and translate what they learned in future games."
Junior Sarah Clifton is in her third season at goalkeeper, with sophomore Sophia Pizzurro at defender and freshman Rachel Schutte at midfielder.
Seniors Gwen Moran (forward/midfielder), Stacey Leach (midfielder) and Danielle O'Leary (midfielder) and junior Yana Napier (midfielder) are other key returnees.
Rounding out the senior class are defenders Sahar Al Ghuri, Bella Hoffman, Maggie Roush and Hannah Wolfe.
Also at midfielder are juniors Cada Dixon, Sarah Thompson and Nina Zimmerman and freshmen Maddie Haring, Brenna Reesman and Zoe Velez.
Junior Lucy Bednar-Warren (forward), sophomore Sabrina Fallon (midfielder/forward) and freshmen Joselyn Rosales (defender) and Nicole Vega (defender) round out the roster.
"I'd like to see the level of commitment increase in the girls, meaning more focus in practice and taking the time outside of practice to continue to work on individual areas of need," Meleg said. "We have a team goal to have a winning record and be undefeated in the City League. Both goals are very much still in play."
The Stars open league play Sept. 13 at Mifflin.
Boys soccer team feeling optimistic
Sixth-year boys soccer coach Scott George wasn't sure what to expect after his team lost nine players to graduation.
So far, he's been pleased with the progression of a team that finished 7-7-2 overall last season and placed fourth (3-2-2) in the City-North Division behind champion Beechcroft (6-0-1).
"With all the losses, we were thinking it was going to be a rebuilding year," George said. "I've always used the phrase 'Next man up' when a guy gets injured, so that's kind of been the theme of our year. We're just asking a lot of our sophomores and juniors to step up and take the spots of guys that might have been playing or were lost from last year, and so far the expectations have been matched and they've actually surpassed some expectations."
Centennial opened by playing Jonathan Alder to a scoreless tie Aug. 23.
Seniors Shawn Jacobsen (defender), Max Lee (midfielder) and Noah Schutte (midfielder), juniors Matthew Jacobsen (midfielder) and Jeremiah Upchurch (defender) and sophomore Nicolas Oberdick (forward) are the top returnees.
Senior Nathan Massey, who was the backup goalie last season, is starting at that position.
Other key players include seniors Mortuza Fnu (forward), Roy Frimpong (defen-der) and Evan Roush (defen-der) and sophomores Kyengo Munywoke (midfielder/forward) and Vinny Slinders (defender). Fnu has returned after last being a part of the program as a freshman.
Centennial opens league play Tuesday, Sept. 11, at home against East.
"These kids are a little undersized, but they're very smart, especially with Noah Schutte and Max Lee and the way they dominate possession," George said. "They work well together to advance it down the field. Noah was our center defender last year and we asked him with all the losses to step into more of an offensive role and he's taken it on himself."
Volleyball squad returns deep nucleus
With just two seniors last year, the girls volleyball team lost to a City opponent for the first time in the regular season since 2012 as it fell twice to Whetstone and once to Northland.
The Stars return a much more experienced roster under second-year coach Brittani Lewis and were 2-2 overall and 2-0 in the City-North after beating Northland 25-16, 25-18, 25-19 on Aug. 30. Their league match Aug. 28 against International was postponed and no makeup date has been set.
"The girls are showing the potential to be a force," Lewis said. "They're needing to find the continued grit and fire to finish games with no let-up on themselves and their opponent."
Senior middle hitter Akea Hunter is in her fourth season on varsity.
Other returnees are seniors T'Anna Collins (right-side hitter) and Vena Triggs (defensive specialist) and juniors Sky Harris (outside hitter), Rhian Jones (right-side hitter), Naa Dromo Korley (middle hitter), Jayana Harley (right-side hitter) and Izabelle Segovia (defensive specialist).
New to the team are senior Shamara Bridges (middle hitter/right-side hitter) and junior Nikita Reynolds (outside hitter).
"I want the girls to find their chemistry on the court and individually," Lewis said. "(We're) hoping for the City championship this season. They have the skill. It's finding the grit within that will get them through."
Football team to face Nubians
The football team will face its second consecutive City-South opponent Friday, Sept. 7, when it plays host to Africentric.
After opening with a 27-0 loss Aug. 24 against Grandview, Centennial played West on Aug. 31.
Africentric opened with a 46-0 loss to Bainbridge Paint Valley on Aug. 24 and faced Grandview on Aug. 31.
The last time Centennial and Africentric met was in 2008, with the Stars losing 38-0 on their way to a 0-10 finish and the Nubians going 5-5. The Nubians have won just 16 games since, including going 1-9 last year while the Stars are coming off a 4-6 season.
Africentric's strength could be the size of its offensive line, which includes junior Malachi Rash (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) and senior Deair Respress (5-10, 270).
Aug. 23 -- vs. Jonathan Alder
Sept. 8 -- vs. Grandview
Sept. 10 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
*Sept. 11 -- vs. East
*Sept. 13 -- vs. Beechcroft
*Sept. 18 -- vs. Linden-McKinley
*Sept. 20 -- vs. Northland
*Sept. 25 -- at International
*Sept. 27 -- at Mifflin
*Oct. 1 -- at Whetstone
Oct. 3 -- at Hartley
Oct. 4 -- at Olentangy Berlin
Aug. 20 -- at Licking Valley
Aug. 22 -- at Reynoldsburg
Sept. 4 -- vs. West Jefferson
Sept. 6 -- vs. Mifflin
*Sept. 13 -- at Mifflin
Sept. 15 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
*Sept. 20 -- at West
Sept. 22 -- vs. Jonathan Alder
*Sept. 25 -- at Briggs
*Oct. 1 -- at Whetstone
*Oct. 2 -- vs. International
Oct. 9 -- vs. Hamilton Township
Aug. 21 -- vs. Licking Heights
*Aug. 23 -- at Linden-McKinley
Aug. 27 -- vs. Westerville South
*Aug. 28 -- vs. International
*Aug. 30 -- vs. Northland
Sept. 1 -- Worthington Christian Invitational
*Sept. 4 -- at Beechcroft
*Sept. 6 -- at East
*Sept. 11 -- vs. Whetstone
*Sept. 13 -- vs. Mifflin
*Sept. 18 -- vs. Linden-McKinley
*Sept. 20 -- at International
*Sept. 25 -- at Northland
*Sept. 27 -- vs. Beechcroft
*Oct. 2 -- vs. East
*Oct. 4 -- at Whetstone
*Oct. 9 -- at Mifflin
Below are the coming schedules for the Centennial cross country, boys golf and girls tennis teams:
Sept. 8 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 6 -- Walnut Ridge and Whetstone at Raymond Memorial
*Sept. 11 -- League match at TBA
Sept. 6 -- At DeSales
*Sept. 10 -- At Beechcroft
Sept. 11 -- Home vs. Village Academy
*Sept. 12 -- At Whetstone