When he was introduced as Big Walnut High School girls soccer coach last winter, Chris Allen knew the "get-to-know-you" period might take some time.
Allen, a native of St. Catherine, Jamaica, had never been a head coach of a high school program or even coached girls. He spent last fall as an assistant with the Otterbein University men's team. Prior to that, he served as an assistant for the Olentangy Liberty boys team in 2016 and his alma mater, Mount Vernon Naza-rene, for four seasons.
"The big thing for me was knowing where the girls already were and knowing I'd have a different style and philosophy than what they were used to," said Allen, whose team opened Aug. 17 with a 3-0 loss to New Albany in an OCC-Capital Division contest. "But I know what it takes to be playing at the next level."
Allen has taken over a program that made history last season, winning its first regional championship before losing to Cincinnati Indian Hill 4-0 in a Division II state semifinal to finish 16-3-4 overall.
The Golden Eagles went 3-1-1 in the OCC-Capital to place third behind Canal Winchester (4-0-1) and New Albany (3-0-2).
Former coach Drew Pitzer, who stepped down after five seasons, compiled a 52-30-16 record with the Golden Eagles and was named Central District Coach of the Year and ThisWeek's Girls Soccer Coach of the Year last fall.
Big Walnut, which was 0-1 before playing Westerville North on Aug. 25, recorded 16 shutouts on its way to the state semifinal last season.
The Golden Eagles return a pair of starting defenders in senior Rylee Bussen (first-team all-league) and sophomore Morgan Bodker (honorable mention all-league) as well as their starting goalkeeper in junior Payton Carter, who was injured during the preseason but was expected to start practicing last week.
Juniors Haley Krinn and Alyssa Tarney are the other starting defenders. Senior defender Erin Boehm and sophomore goalie Olivia Ramsey also will be contributors in the back.
Senior Grace Bodker and junior Avery Schone (second-team all-league) are returning starters in the midfield, where sophomore Ainsley Thompson also is starting and senior Adelee Gartner will contribute.
Gartner scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 shootout win over Granville in a district final last season.
Seniors Emily Neff and Alle English and junior Alexis Schone (special mention all-league) are leading the attack at forward, with contributions from junior Kimberly Serna.
Big Walnut lost six players from last season to graduation, led by forwards Emma Padgett (first-team all-league) and Kaitlin Meade (second-team all-league).
Allen, who also has been a club coach with Classics Eagles FC since 2013, has brought with him a new style of play, which includes more passing and more strategy.
"Last year was more direct, kicking (the ball) forward and chasing it," he said.
Boys soccer team facing 'building year'
A 6-0 loss to New Albany in the Aug. 17 season opener showed second-year boys soccer coach Adam Gatton what he's up against in developing an inexperienced group.
The Golden Eagles lost nine players to graduation after finishing 9-8 overall last season and going 3-2 in the OCC-Capital to place third behind New Albany (5-0) and Canal Winchester (3-1-1).
"Obviously, we're very young," said Gatton, whose team was 0-1 before playing Pickerington Central on Aug. 23. "I've got a lot of new players on varsity this year. Even some of my older guys are still learning varsity. New Albany brought back a lot of guys, and we lost nine seniors from last year, guys who played meaningful minutes."
Seniors Anthony Cunningham (midfielder), Hunter Blair (forward) and Jared Flowers (forward) and junior Landen Rutkowski (defender) are back after earning playing time last season.
Gatton's starting lineup also includes seniors Max Muhlbaier (defender) and Caleb Meade (midfielder), juniors Ryan Kline (goalie), Jayden Thomas (defender) and Tyler Pearson (midfielder), sophomore Cody Lumby (midfielder) and freshman Alex Siewert (defender).
Juniors Ian Kroninger (utility player) and Camden Andrian (defender) and freshman Nicholas Varta (forward) also are expected to contribute.
"We built a lot of chemistry and foundation last year," Gatton said. "Coming into year two, a lot more guys know what to expect and how to go about it. This year isn't as much of a learning year as it is a building year."
That includes replacing the top scorers in 2018 graduates Jon Mickley (7 goals) and Michael Reardon (5 goals).
Also gone are 2018 graduates Chase Geddis (midfielder), Niklas Iezzi (defen-der) and Sam Mason (midfielder) as well as Geddis' younger brother, Chris, a top contributor last season who decided not to return for his junior season, Gatton said.
Big Walnut started last season 2-7 before winning seven in a row.
Football team preps to face Barons
The football team will play host to Buckeye Valley on Friday, Aug. 31.
The Golden Eagles opened Aug. 24 at home against Johnstown.
Buckeye Valley, which opened against Delaware on Aug. 24, went 7-3 last season and finished 11th in Division III, Region 11, three spots shy of a playoff berth.
"Anytime you're playing a Delaware County school, it's a bittersweet rivalry," coach Joe Weaver said. "(Buckeye Valley) is a team that reloads, and they have a lot of good athletes over there."
The Barons are expected to be led on offense by senior quarterback Grant Owens, who was named second-team all-district a year ago after completing 126 of 203 passes for 1,624 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Buckeye Valley's defense returns only three full-time starters in defensive back Beau Ewing and linemen Wyatt McGraw and Rance Wycoff.
Weaver has been impressed by the senior leadership of his team, including Nicky Henderson (DL), Wes Coey (OL/DL), C.J. Rockwell (OL), Josh Hageman (OL/LB) and Mitchell Truax (DB).
"Your leaders model the way with the expectations for others to follow," Weaver said. "We have great senior leadership this year."
*Aug. 17 -- at New Albany
Aug. 23 -- at Pickerington Central
Aug. 28 -- vs. Olentangy
Aug. 30 -- vs. Mount Vernon
Sept. 4 -- at Marysville
Sept. 6 -- at Dublin Scioto
Sept. 11 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*Sept. 13 -- vs. Canal Winchester
Sept. 18 -- at Hilliard Darby
Sept. 22 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Sept. 25 -- vs. Newark
*Sept. 27 -- vs. Franklin Heights
Oct. 4 -- vs. Westerville Central
*Oct. 9 -- at Groveport
Oct. 11 -- vs. Westerville North
*Aug. 17 -- at New Albany
Aug. 25 -- vs. Westerville North
Aug. 28 -- at Olentangy
Sept. 6 -- at Bellville Clear Fork
Sept. 8 -- vs. Central Crossing
Sept. 11 -- vs. Olentangy Berlin
*Sept. 13 -- at Canal Winchester
Sept. 15 -- vs. Hartley
Sept. 18 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
Sept. 22 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
*Sept. 25 -- at Newark
Sept. 27 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 28 -- vs. Marysville
*Oct. 2 -- at Franklin Heights
Oct. 4 -- at Westerville Central
*Oct. 9 -- vs. Groveport
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut cross country, boys golf, girls golf, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 1 -- Granville Invitational at Bryn Du Mansion
Aug. 29 -- OCC-Capital at Turnberry
Aug. 29 -- OCC-Ohio at Westchester
Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Westerville North
*Aug. 28 -- At New Albany
*Aug. 30 -- Home vs. Newark
Aug. 28 -- Home vs. Olentangy
Aug. 30 -- At Marysville