Claire Mitchell of the Upper Arlington High School girls soccer team is the first to admit that last year the Golden Bears followed unorthodox means to a better end than they could have hoped for.

Claire Mitchell of the Upper Arlington High School girls soccer team is the first to admit that last year the Golden Bears followed unorthodox means to a better end than they could have hoped for.

"Last year it seemed like we were working out bumps the whole season and then it came together in the tournament," Mitchell, a senior midfielder, said of UA's run to its first Division I district championship since 2010. "It felt like every time we won in the tournament last year, we were almost surprised. This year, we are going out with the expectation that we will win a lot of games. Our whole attitude is different."

Nine starters and 12 letterwinners return from last season, when UA went 10-6-5 overall and 3-2-2 in the OCC-Central Division and won a district title despite its 21st seed in the tournament before losing to league rival Olentangy Liberty 3-1 in a regional semifinal. All three starting forwards return, as do three midfielders and three defenders.

Among the returnees are UA's top three scorers from 2015 in junior forwards Molly Morgan (eight goals) and Hannah Dible (five goals) and senior forward Mary Bridget Ginn (four goals).

"That front line has skills, speed and strength," third-year coach Chris Merrick said. "They are not just finesse and quickness. They will bully you a little bit, which I like. ...

"The experience is there. Our senior leaders, all eight of them, are great leaders. They are all taking a role in making sure everybody is focused and working hard. That will be one of our biggest strengths this year. That's part of that taste of winning a championship last year. They got that taste and, once you get that, you want more."

UA opens Aug. 27 at Watterson, which it defeated in a district semifinal last year. The Bears' home opener is Aug. 30 against Westerville Central, and they begin OCC-Central play Sept. 13 at Central Crossing.

UA finished fourth in the OCC-Central last year behind Liberty (7-0), which has moved to the OCC-Buckeye as part of OCC realignment.

Mitchell and seniors Riley Royer and Olivia Schildmeyer return to anchor the midfield, ahead of an experienced defense led by seniors Julia Ferraro, Anna Piscopo and Lauryn Wilmarth and junior Abby Wild.

"We are really good in the middle," Piscopo said. "We have a lot of experience and connections and composure in the middle, which will help defensively and offensively. It will help us get up the field to create scoring opportunities."

Freshman Caroline Stehle will be the Bears' starting goalkeeper. UA also has freshman goalies on both of its junior varsity teams.

"(Stehle) has a lack of experience in high school, but she is adjusting and meshing with the team," Piscopo said. "Her communication is getting better. She is coming out of her shell and talking with us. That will help a lot on the field."

Rounding out the roster are senior McKenna Black (forward), juniors Zoe Bellot (forward), Zanovia Criss (midfielder), Alyssa Dunsizer (defen-der), Ava d'Herete (midfielder), Abby Morris (forward), Brenna Smith (midfielder), Brooke Smith (midfielder) and Jenna Timmons (midfielder) and freshman Sydney Lape (forward).

Merrick already admires the businesslike demeanor of his team.

"Some years, you have to coach harder," he said. "These girls, they will take care of business. Whatever success we have will be on their shoulders."

Defense to pace boys soccer team

Four of the boys soccer team's seven returning starters are defenders, but UA will have to replace its top scorers and work in a new goalie as it attempts to advance beyond the Division I district semifinal round in which it has lost each of the past two years.

Seniors Alec Holden and Hans Ooms and juniors Spencer Charlton and Eric Turner are back on defense in front of senior goalie Jack Schoedinger. The Bears finished 6-9-4 overall and 3-3-1 in the OCC-Central last year, losing to league rival Coffman 1-0 in a district semifinal.

"We expect good things (from the defense)," fourth-year coach Mic Rogers said. "They are a strong, solid unit. We have as much experience back there as anywhere on the team. Jack sat behind (2016 graduate) Will Collis for a few years and he is ready for his turn. He's very coachable and agile. He's a strong shot-stopper."

Other returning starters are senior midfielders Matthew Beery and Ian Quinn and junior forward Ryan Burke. UA's top two scorers from a year ago graduated in Santiago Barros (six goals) and Jack Stummer (five).

The Bears open Friday, Aug. 19, at St. Charles, the first of four consecutive road games to start the season. Their home opener is Sept. 1 against Dublin Jerome, and UA begins OCC-Central play Sept. 13 at home against Central Crossing.

UA finished fifth in the league last year behind Hilliard Davidson (5-0-2).

Rounding out the roster are seniors Wes Brown (goalie), Hall Moore (forward), Quinn Hendrix (forward/midfielder), Will Hoffmann (defender) and Micah Schuster (defender), juniors Aidan Cooper (defender), Nathan Hellstedt (forward), Bobby Lynch (forward/midfielder), Matt Marsh (for-ward/midfielder), Nico Slattery (midfielder) and Adam Wade (midfielder) and sophomores Fernando Dapino (forward), Diego Ly (forward/midfielder) and Tristan Moore (midfielder).

"We have the experience. That keeps them driven," Rogers said. "But we haven't set too many long-term goals. I look at the last couple seasons, and we've played our best soccer at the end. The beginning of our season is brutal, but we'll treat that as a character-builder."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 19 -- at St. Charles

Aug. 23 -- at Worthington Christian

Aug. 25 -- at Gahanna

Aug. 30 -- at Westerville Central

Sept. 1 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

Sept. 6 -- vs. Olentangy

Sept. 8 -- at Olentangy Liberty

*Sept. 13 -- vs. Central Crossing

*Sept. 20 -- at Hilliard Davidson

Sept. 24 -- vs. Centerville

*Sept. 27 -- vs. Westland

Oct. 1 -- at Canal Winchester

Oct. 4 -- vs. Westerville North

*Oct. 6 -- at Marysville

Oct. 8 -- vs. Thomas Worthington

*Oct. 13 -- vs. Dublin Coffman

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 27 -- at Watterson

Aug. 30 -- vs. Westerville Central

Aug. 31 -- at Hilliard Bradley

Sept. 6 -- at Olentangy

Sept. 8 -- vs. Westerville North

*Sept. 13 -- at Central Crossing

Sept. 15 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

Sept. 17 -- vs. Olentangy Orange

*Sept. 20 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

Sept. 22 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

Sept. 24 -- at Oregon Clay

*Sept. 27 -- at Westland

Oct. 4 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

*Oct. 6 -- vs. Marysville

*Oct. 13 -- at Dublin Coffman

Oct. 15 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

*League contest

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

FIELD HOCKEY

Aug. 20 -- Home vs. Cincinnati St. Ursula and Cincinnati Ursuline Academy

Aug. 23 -- Home vs. Granville

BOYS GOLF

Aug. 20 -- Cincinnati Moeller Invitational at Walden Ponds

Aug. 22 -- Toledo St. John's Invitational at Inverness

Aug. 23 -- Olentangy Liberty, Pickerington North and St. Charles at Scioto Country Club

GIRLS GOLF

Aug. 22 -- Olentangy Orange and Pickerington North at Turnberry

GIRLS TENNIS

Aug. 18 -- At Westerville Central

Aug. 23 -- Home vs. Olentangy

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 23 -- At Westerville Central

BOYS WATER POLO

Aug. 19-20 -- Early Bird Invitational at Ann Arbor (Mich.) Huron