Steve Palmer enters his eighth season as Big Walnut High School girls lacrosse coach with the largest roster in program history.
The Golden Eagles have 42 players in their program. In addition, the middle school team has 25 players and a fifth- and sixth-grade team has 22.
Last year was the first that Big Walnut fielded a junior varsity, and two years ago the Golden Eagles had just 18 players on varsity.
Palmer is hoping those growing numbers translate into greater depth and success for his squad, which set the program record for victories last season when it finished 6-10-1 overall and posted its first postseason win.
"I think the last couple years we would hang with teams until about halftime, and then once we got into that second half, little by little by little we would tail off," said Palmer, whose team opens Wednesday, March 28, at home against Centennial. "We'd be down three to four goals and then, all of a sudden, it would be nine or 10."
The Golden Eagles opened the Division II, Region 7 tournament last season with an 11-3 victory over Centennial before falling to eventual state champion DeSales 21-2 in the second round.
In the OCC-Buckeye Division, Big Walnut went 1-6 to finish seventh behind champion New Albany (7-0).
"It's time for us to take that next step," Palmer said. "Everything combined is pushing us in the right direction. But at the same time, it's still a process and we're working toward building on top of that foundation."
Having lost only two players from a year ago to graduation, Big Walnut's lineup will look very similar to last year's. However, the Golden Eagles must replace 2017 graduate Emily Hall, a four-year starter at goalkeeper who finished with 417 career saves. She is now playing for Ursuline College.
Sophomore Aubrey Logue, who started on j.v. last season, will take over the position.
The Golden Eagles have a strong group of upperclassmen, including last year's leading scorers in junior midfielders Cassady Becker (43 goals, 11 assists), Megan Helber (18 goals, 12 assists) and Meri Buckles (15 goals, 8 assists).
Becker has committed to Birmingham-Southern College.
The offense also includes junior attackers Laurel Erik and Audrey Rice.
Seniors Alex Williams and Becca Fitch and junior Gabrielle Mellen are expected to lead the defense.
"We're looking at pretty much (having) a sub at every position ... so I'm excited for this year," Palmer said.
Boys lacrosse team must reload attack
Even though Michael Brunner is his first season as boys lacrosse coach, he knows the program well.
Brunner spent the past three seasons with the Golden Eagles as an assistant under former coach Roger Allen, who stepped down after compiling a 16-31 record in three seasons.
Last season, Big Walnut finished 8-7 overall, went 1-6 in the OCC-Buckeye to finish seventh behind champion Olentangy Liberty (7-0) and lost 11-9 to seventh-seeded Dayton Oakwood in the second round of the Division II, Region 7 tournament as the 10th seed.
This is Brunner's first head coaching job at the prep level. He coached Bethel University's club team in 2009 and 2010 after playing for the club team at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.
"I had never played before then and really nobody had ever played before, so we were all learning together," said Brunner, whose team opened March 17 with an 11-8 win at Licking Valley. "I bring some of that teaching experience, the fundamentals and things like that."
Brunner will be looking to develop skill and experience to replace eight 2017 graduates who accounted for more than half of the team's scoring last season, led by Campbell Allen (25 goals, 42 assists) and Seth Daniels (15 goals, 10 assists).
Two 2017 graduates, Isaac Swartz and Simon Srisong-kham, led the defense that held opponents to 9.9 goals per game, an improvement from 2016 when the Golden Eagles allowed nearly 12 goals per game.
Big Walnut returns last season's starting goalie in senior Josh Hageman, who averaged nearly 12 saves per game. He had 19 against Licking Valley.
Outside of Hageman, senior Tanner Daniels is the only returning starter on defense. Senior Luke Melvin, junior Aidan Rond, sophomore Tanner Merdeath and freshman Sam Smith also are expected to contribute.
Junior midfielder Nathan Montgomery (27 goals, 6 assists), junior attacker Judah Lozano (15 goals, 12 assists) and sophomore midfielder Sam Metzger return as leaders on offense.
Joe Blubaugh (16 goals, 2 assists) transferred to DeSales for his sophomore season.
Against Licking Valley, senior midfielder Nathan McVeigh had three goals and Montgomery and sophomore attacker John Grumpy each scored two.
"I think we have younger guys who are going to step up and fill the shoes of the graduating class," Brunner said. "Last year, we generated so much of our scoring out of the attack. We graduated two of our three attackers."
March 17 -- at Licking Valley
March 27 -- at Pickerington North
April 3 -- at Gahanna
*April 5 -- vs. Westerville North
April 7 -- at Marysville
*April 9 -- at Olentangy Liberty
*April 12 -- vs. Westerville Central
April 16 -- vs. Johnstown
April 21 -- vs. Jonathan Alder
*April 24 -- at Olentangy
*April 26 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
April 28 -- vs. Licking Valley
*May 1 -- at New Albany
May 4 -- vs. Buckeye Valley
*May 5 -- at Westerville South
March 28 -- vs. Centennial
March 29 -- at Delaware
April 3 -- vs. Marysville
*April 5 -- at Westerville North
April 7 -- at Bexley
*April 10 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
*April 12 -- at Westerville Central
April 14 -- at Centennial
*April 17 -- vs. Westerville South
April 19 -- vs. Gahanna
April 21 -- Hinsdale (Ill.) Central and Worthington Kilbourne in Hannigan-Galipault tournament at Thomas Worthington
*April 24 -- vs. Olentangy
*April 26 -- at Olentangy Orange
*May 1 -- vs. New Albany
May 5 -- vs. Buckeye Valley
May 9 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut baseball, softball and track & field teams:
March 27 -- At DeSales
March 28 -- Home vs. Saline (Mich.)
March 29 -- Home vs. Fredericktown
March 31 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
March 26 -- At DeSales
March 28 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
March 31 -- At Sparta Highland
TRACK & FIELD
March 27 -- At Highland
March 31 -- Newark Invitational