The Big Walnut High School girls soccer team knows what a strong defense can do.
Last season, the Golden Eagles reached a Division II state semifinal behind the strength of their defense, posting 16 shutouts and allowing only 15 goals in 23 games.
While first-year coach Chris Allen is watching his group work out the kinks in a new offensive strategy, the defense, which features several returning starters, has been holding strong.
Big Walnut opened Aug. 17 with a 3-0 loss to New Albany in an OCC-Capital Division contest but allowed just one goal in its next four games.
"I think we're going to continue to see growth throughout the season," said Allen, whose team was 2-1-2 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Capital before playing Canal Winchester on Sept. 13. "We return our two center backs, but we did lose some (2018 graduates)."
The returning starters include defenders Rylee Bussen and Morgan Bodker and goalkeeper Payton Carter. Haley Krinn and Alyssa Tarney have been the other starting defenders, while defender Erin Boehm and backup goalie Olivia Ramsey also are contributing.
Following the loss to New Albany, Big Walnut defeated Westerville North 2-0 on Aug. 25 and played Olentangy to a scoreless tie on Aug. 28 before allowing a goal in a 1-all tie with Bellville Clear Fork on Sept. 6.
Big Walnut then defeated first-year Olentangy Berlin 5-0 on Sept. 11.
Allen installed a new 4-3-3 possession-style offense during the offseason, a contrast to the direct style of play under former coach Drew Pitzer, who stepped down after five seasons.
"I think it always takes some time to jell as a team, but I think we're starting to get comfortable with each other," midfielder Grace Bodker said. "We've worked really hard in practice, and coach (Allen) has done a lot to help teach us more about the game and the new formation we're playing."
Avery Schone, Ainsley Thompson and Adelee Gartner also contribute in the midfield, while Emily Neff, Alle English and Alexis Schone are leading the attack at forward.
Morgan Bodker, Schone and English each had two goals through five games.
Allen expects his offense to face tougher tests as the season progresses.
"I think that creates opportunities for us to see areas where we need to get better and areas where we're doing a good job, so that's kind of helping us for the weeks to come," he said.
Football team getting ready for Monarchs
The football team will conclude its non-league schedule Friday, Sept. 21, at Marysville.
Big Walnut, which shared the OCC-Capital title with New Albany last season, begins league play Sept. 28 at home against Newark.
The Golden Eagles, who were 1-2 before playing Olentangy Orange on Sept. 14, have overcome deficits this season, but they also have watched leads evaporate.
"That's huge for us," offensive lineman and linebacker Josh Hageman said when asked about turning in a strong performance against Marysville. "We want to start off strong in our conference, and I think getting that win against Marysville will help us. We need to get out to a quick start and not let teams get back in it. We need to play all four quarters."
Big Walnut held a 13-0 first-quarter lead against Dublin Scioto on Sept. 7 before losing 28-26. The Irish scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter, including a blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
The Golden Eagles drove inside Scioto territory late in the game, only to turn the ball over.
Quarterback Jagger Barnett scored on a 21-yard run and threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jakob Daniels in the first quarter to lead Big Walnut, which outgained Scioto 371-318 in total yards.
Barnett completed 17 of 24 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown, and Andrew VanHouten had 11 carries for 94 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Marysville, which was 1-2 before playing Grove City on Sept. 14, employs a wing-T offense led by quarterback Walker Heard.
Ryan Kern rushed for 111 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown, on 12 carries in the Monarchs' 23-14 loss to Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 7. Marysville's 4-3 defense is led by linebacker Mike Powers.
Boys golfers finish second in league
The boys golf team earned a second-place finish in the four-round OCC-Capital tournament after shooting a 338 to place second behind New Albany (325) in the final round Sept. 12 at Apple Valley.
Kenny Schneider shot an 81 to lead the Golden Eagles, followed by Austen Bennett (82), Kyle Williams (86), Zach Herbert (89) and Tyler Garner (92).
Big Walnut finished 16-4 in the league tournament, behind New Albany (20-0).
The girls team finished fifth (4-16) in the OCC-Ohio tournament, behind Pickerington North (20-0), Gahanna (16-4), Pickerington Central (11-9) and Grove City (9-11) and ahead of Lancaster (0-20).
Sydnie Wright carded a 92 in the fourth and final round Sept. 12 at Royal American to lead the Golden Eagles, who shot a 403 as North (357) finished first.
Jenna Allen (97), Grace Hofer (104), Emily Kuederle (110) and Natalie Klingensmith (133) also competed for Big Walnut.
Boys soccer team struggling to score
The boys soccer team had scored just three goals and was 0-7 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Capital before playing Canal Winchester on Sept. 13.
Anthony Cunningham scored two of those goals in a 3-2 loss to Orange on Sept. 7.
The Golden Eagles were held scoreless in five of their first seven contests.
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 22 -- Celtic Clash at Dublin Jerome
Sept. 17 -- Delaware County Cup at Royal American
Sept. 20 -- Olentangy Berlin at Bent Tree
Sept. 18 -- Westerville South at Bent Tree
Sept. 19 -- Centerburg and Fredericktown at Wyandot
Sept. 18 -- At Hilliard Darby
Sept. 22 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby
Sept. 22 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Olentangy
Sept. 18 -- At Granville
Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Gahanna
Sept. 20 -- Home vs. Worthington Christian
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
*Sept. 20 -- Home vs. Franklin Heights