The pain of winning a combined three games the past two seasons isn't dampening what the Worthington Kilbourne High School girls soccer team believes it is capable of this fall and beyond.
There are 52 players in the program, which is nearly twice as many as a season ago when the Wolves went 2-12-2.
About half of the members on the junior varsity A team are freshmen, and third-year coach Meghann Moore also had two juniors come out for the first time.
Performances like Kilbourne produced Aug. 23 during a 4-1 victory over Grandview -- a Division III state semifinalist last season -- are other reasons for optimism.
The Wolves, who opened Aug. 21 with a 2-0 loss to Westerville Central, played defending OCC-Cardinal Division champion Dublin Jerome on Aug. 28 in their league opener.
"We won two games last year and one the year before that, but we were extremely young," Moore said. "This year, there's been a ton of growth. Against Grandview, our kids looked fantastic and their movement off the ball was fantastic. They're thinking big and they're driven to win. They're very cohesive. The girls like each other, and it creates this really awesome flow."
There are 10 returning starters, including senior defender Grace Tefend and sophomore defender Elly Bally, who were second-team all-league and honorable mention all-league honorees last season, respectively.
The other returning starters are seniors Jill Baumgardner (goalkeeper), Kayla Morris (midfielder), Emma Philipps (forward) and Courtney Ream (forward), juniors Sasha Estice (forward), Maddie Feldhaus (midfielder) and Lauren Lickman (defender) and sophomore Abby English (defender).
Also on the roster are seniors Eleni Alexander (defender), Tori Blake (midfielder/defender), Natalie Guist (forward/midfielder) and Alexis Hancock (defender), juniors Taylor Leachman (midfielder) and Brooke Taylor (forward) and freshmen Molly Humphrey (midfielder) and Celeste Sloma (goalie).
"Our offensive line is fantastic," Moore said. "Our first game against Westerville Central was not our best showing. We were in our offensive half for probably 80 percent of the game. We're in a really hard conference. Jerome is always good and (Hilliard) Darby is very good this year."
Volleyball team again has high expectations
The girls volleyball team already has picked up where it left off last season when it went 21-4 and won the OCC-Cardinal title.
Before playing Hilliard Bradley on Aug. 28, Kilbourne was 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the league with wins over Jerome (25-12, 25-16, 25-12 on Aug. 21) and Darby (25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 25-14 on Aug. 23).
After finishing as a Division I district runner-up in 2016, the Wolves had their season end in a district semifinal last fall.
They'd like to go deeper into this year's postseason.
"We've been pretty strong the last couple years," 15th-year coach Meladee Hopkins said. "I've had the same corps of kids. I lost four seniors last year, one who got significant playing time, but I started a freshman, a sophomore and two juniors so I have almost all my starters back. At times, we haven't played exactly where we need to be, but we've been able to ride out the storm and still finish. We're getting used to playing with each other again."
The top returnee is senior libero Amber Beals, who has been a key player since she was a freshman and has committed to play for the University of Michigan.
Maddie Reeve, a 6-foot senior, is one of the setters along with senior Abby Nichter, and both also will figure into the offense as right-side hitters.
Senior Casey Knuth (right-side hitter), junior Olivia Karhoff (outside hitter/defensive specialist) and sophomore Lauren Bair (middle hitter) also are key returnees.
Bair is joined at middle hitter by senior Sarah Baxter, who is the team's tallest player at 6-2.
Lexi Bair (outside hitter) and Taylor Katz (outside hitter) round out the senior class.
Others on the team are juniors Allie Simmons (defensive specialist) and Jackie Wolford (outside hitter/defensive specialist) and sophomores Grace Cummings (right-side hitter) and Rachel Simmons (outside hitter).
"We've got some decent hitters, but we're pretty scrappy," Hopkins said. "We just find a way to put the ball away at some point. We're trying to win another league title. Our theme for this year is 'unfinished business.' We didn't go as far as we wanted last year. This year, I feel like we're deeper than we were last year because we've got some younger kids that have really improved."
Boys soccer team eyeing big picture
Last season was a perfect example of one of boys soccer coach Jon Sprunger's philosophies.
"It's not where you are in August that counts," said Sprunger, who is in his 16th season. "It's where you are at the end of the season. Our goal is to be in the top five to 10 teams in the district every year."
With that in mind, the Wolves are taking in stride that they opened with losses to Westerville Central (2-1 on Aug. 23) and West Chester Lakota West (3-0 on Aug. 25) before beginning league action Aug. 28 against Jerome.
Although Kilbourne finished 7-9-4 overall last fall, three wins came in the Division I district tournament before the Wolves fell to top-seeded and eventual regional champion Dublin Coffman 4-1 in a district final.
Kilbourne, which was seeded 27th in the district last season, has key returnees in every area of the pitch.
Sophomore forward Chris Guerra led Kilbourne with 11 goals last season and added four assists. He and junior defender Jimmy Sauder were second-team all-league, while senior midfielder William Wiet was honorable mention all-league.
Also returning on defense are senior Wyatt Hackathorne and junior Braydon Biehn. Seniors Carter McAllister and Kevin Stone and juniors Bobby Barklay, Max Kott, Keagen McDonough and Griffin Wilson are others on defense.
Also playing at forward are seniors Josh Blankenship, Erik Freiheit and Jack Smullen, junior Logan Evans and sophomore Gabe Porter.
Others in the midfield are senior J.D. Burnett, juniors Ethan Nestingen, Keegan Smith and Joe Sprunger and sophomore Brandon Kim.
Sophomore Tyler Katz is the starting goalie, with junior J.B. Barcikowski serving as his backup.
"We've given up five goals in (our first) two games, which would suggest we're not very strong (defensively). But through the preseason, we gave up very little," coach Sprunger said. "Lakota West is always one of the better teams out of Cincinnati. You get better by playing better people and I try to keep a challenging schedule. We've got a number of players back and we've got a large varsity team, so we're counting on a lot of people to work hard and come through."
Aug. 23 -- at Westerville Central
Aug. 25 -- at West Chester Lakota West
*Aug. 28 -- at Dublin Jerome
Aug. 30 -- at Olentangy
*Sept. 4 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
Sept. 8 -- vs. Hudson
*Sept. 13 -- Hilliard Bradley
Sept. 15 -- vs. Chillicothe
Sept. 18 -- at Olentangy Orange
*Sept. 20 -- at Dublin Scioto
Sept. 22 -- at Big Walnut
*Sept. 25 -- at Delaware
Sept. 27 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*Oct. 2 -- vs. Olentangy Berlin
*Oct. 9 -- at Thomas
Oct. 11 -- vs. Mount Vernon
Aug. 21 -- at Westerville Central
Aug. 23 -- at Grandview
*Aug. 28 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
Aug. 30 -- at Reynoldsburg
Sept. 1 -- vs. Teays Valley
*Sept. 4 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
Sept. 11 -- vs. Westerville South
*Sept. 13 -- at Hilliard Bradley
Sept. 15 -- at Whitehouse Anthony Wayne
Sept. 18 -- at Buckeye Valley
*Sept. 20 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
*Sept. 25 -- vs. Delaware
Sept. 27 -- at Big Walnut
*Oct. 2 -- at Olentangy Berlin
Oct. 4 -- vs. Grove City
*Oct. 9 -- vs. Thomas
*Aug. 21 -- at Dublin Jerome
*Aug. 23 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
Aug. 25 -- at New Albany with Upper Arlington
*Aug. 28 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley
*Aug. 29 -- at Dublin Scioto
*Sept. 4 -- at Delaware
*Sept. 6 -- vs. Olentangy Berlin
Sept. 10 -- at Buckeye Valley
*Sept. 13 -- at Thomas
Sept. 15 -- Kilbourne Invitational
Sept. 18 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*Sept. 20 -- vs. Jerome
*Sept. 25 -- at Darby
*Sept. 27 -- at Bradley
*Oct. 2 -- vs. Scioto
Oct. 3 -- vs. Watterson
*Oct. 4 -- vs. Delaware
*Oct. 9 -- at Berlin
*Oct. 11 -- vs. Thomas
Below are the coming schedules for the Kilbourne cross country, field hockey, boys golf and girls tennis teams:
Sept. 1 -- Westerville North Invitational
*Sept. 5 -- At Hartley
Sept. 1 -- Pinnacle Classic
Sept. 4 -- Lancaster Invitational at Lancaster Country Club
*Aug. 30 -- At Delaware
*Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Olentangy Berlin