Coming off his team's first OCC-Capital Division championship and a Division I district runner-up finish, Canal Winchester High School girls soccer coach Alex Wentz admitted he entered this season with uncertainty.
That was not because he did not see his team as talented, but rather that the amount of talent made picking a starting lineup difficult, especially on defense.
One thing of which Wentz was certain was that the entire defensive unit would be a strength. With few exceptions, it has been as the regular season winds down.
A deep unit led in part by senior Morgan Reeb and junior goalkeeper Keely Snode, a first-year starter, recorded six shutouts in the Indians' first 14 games and gave up more than two goals just three times. Canal Winchester, which beat Olentangy Orange 2-1 on Oct. 6, was 8-5-1 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Capital before wrapping up league play Oct. 9 at Newark.
"The biggest thing is all the experience we had coming back, especially with our center backs," Wentz said. "You have to have center backs who are solid and used to playing with each other. With Morgan and Sydney (Byrd) both back now for their third year of playing together, that chemistry helps quite a bit. Keely stepping in has been tremendous, not just in terms of shot-stopping and making saves, but also in communicating on the field and not faltering under pressure."
Wentz has platooned several outside backs, including juniors Cassie Kolonchuk and Angela Postage and freshman Payton McKinley. Senior Megan Rinehart was injured during a 5-0 win over Logan on Sept. 6 and is expected to return as soon as this week.
"We've stepped up our communication, especially with Keely in goal. She talks to us and our (center defensive midfielders) have helped out a lot defensively," Reeb said, citing junior Tori Auld, sophomore Elle Howard and Postage. "We all expected our defense to be really good this season with our experience. Our outside backs all win their battles and take advantage of their playing time."
Snode played junior varsity the past two seasons but became the starting varsity goalie this season after the graduations of Delaney Hippler and Alaina Reher, who split time in goal the past two years. Snode's season-high in saves through 14 games was 16 in a 2-0 loss to Granville on Sept. 11. The Blue Aces were ranked second in last week's Division II state poll.
"The last two years were really fun, but stepping into this role has been so much better, working with the girls I know really closely," said Snode, who has been a goalie since age 8. "I feel like I'm good with quick saves. My shot-stopping is pretty solid, I think. I've worked on this so much. I really enjoy it."
A 7-2 loss to New Albany on Oct. 2 cost the Indians a chance to repeat as league champions, as they fell two games behind the Eagles with one game remaining.
Canal Winchester is seeded 11th in the 48-team district tournament and will open against 18th-seeded Dublin Scioto or 40th-seeded Marion Harding in a second-round home game Oct. 18.
"We just haven't been as consistent as we would like," said Wentz, whose team concludes the regular season Saturday, Oct. 13, at home against Hilliard Bradley. "When we are able to sustain possession, especially in the attacking third of the field, getting our outside backs to overlap and create some overloads, it's a good way to create scoring chances."
Runners prepare for league meet
Cross country coach Jeff Kline hopes to have his entire lineup healthy for the OCC-Capital meet Saturday, Oct. 13, at Lancaster, not to mention prepared.
Will Butler and Brett Smithers of the boys team as well as girls runners Bonnie Butler and Allena Klamorick recently missed time because of various injuries. All four sat out the Panther Invitational on Sept. 29 at Pickerington North but were expected to return in time for the Marion Harding Invitational on Oct. 6.
"We've had a few kids banged up so we raced shorthanded, but it's been a good chance for other people to step up and take a spot," Kline said. "I never like to hold kids out of a meet, but ultimately, if it will keep us healthier for league and district meets, then that's what we'll do."
Kline scheduled his team to compete in the Don Hardin Invitational on Sept. 22 at Heath and the Marion Harding Invitational to acclimate them to the courses at Lancaster and Hilliard Darby, the latter of which will play host to the Division I district meets Oct. 20.
"We went to Heath just to give us a hillier course and prepare us for what we will see at Lancaster," Kline said. "Marion ... is a nice, flat course that should prepare us for what we will see at the district meet. (Darby) has a fast course. It will be a different kind of district meet, for sure."
The boys and girls teams will try to improve on last year's third-place finishes in the OCC-Capital meet. The boys scored 79 points to finish behind Newark (31) and New Albany (35) and ahead of Big Walnut (102) and Groveport (121), and the girls had 56 points to finish behind New Albany (40) and Big Walnut (46) and ahead of Newark (109) and Groveport (126).
Hatley competes at district in girls golf
A Division I sectional tournament Oct. 2 at Westchester went about as well as Rachel Hatley of the girls golf team could have hoped.
The senior shot a 76 to advance to the district tournament Oct. 9 at Cooks Creek. Hatley tied New Albany's Morgan Pankow and Olentangy Liberty's Kavya Manocha for third place out of 55 individuals.
Hatley also competed at district as a freshman, when Canal Winchester qualified as a team. On Oct. 2, the Indians finished eighth (386) of 11 teams, behind champion New Albany (302).
The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district.
"Overall, it was a solid round. I thought I needed to shoot at least a 77," said Hatley, who had two double bogeys and a birdie at sectional. "It's exciting to keep my season going. I didn't want it to end (at sectional). I easily could have had just a bogey where I had the double bogeys, but I got over that and ended up with a good round."
Also scoring for the Indians were Abby Vaughan (95), Erin Booher (104) and Amanda Gleadle (111).
At district, the top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state Oct. 19 and 20 at Ohio State's Gray Course.
Liberty (327) and Pickerington North (345) earned the other team berths to district.
Boys golf season ends at sectional
One item might top the boys golf team's offseason to-do list as far as coach Rick Maharry is concerned.
Putting gave the Indians a tough time in a Division I sectional Oct. 2 at Turnberry, in which they shot a 370 and finished last of 13 teams, behind champion Liberty (303). The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 9 at Apple Valley.
"It was like there was a lid over the cup. We had tons of lip-outs. I can count 20-some shots that lipped out," Maharry said. "Vincent had a very good round for him. He's striking the ball well. All of them played better as the season went on. The putting was just not there (Oct. 2). That's what was frustrating. But overall this year, our scores definitely decreased throughout the year. We have three guys coming back, so if they can improve over the summer, I really like where we could go."
Seniors Jake Eggleston and Trevor Mays each shot a 90 at sectional to lead Canal Winchester. Also competing were junior Vincent Vatri (93), sophomore Noah Cox (97) and junior Joshua Fair (106).
Gahanna (304), Pickerington Central (307) and Pickerington North (311) earned the other team berths to district.
Tennis team ends season at sectional
Freshman Amayah Gentry was the only member of the girls tennis team to win a match during a
Division I sectional Oct. 5 at Pickerington Central.
Gentry went 1-1 in singles.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to the district tournament Thursday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 13, at Reynoldsburg.
Also in singles, senior Courtney Cowgill and junior Ellie Stedman both went 0-1, as did the doubles teams of seniors Lydia Angel and Makayla Neely and senior Callie Tate and sophomore Erin Duckworth.
Canal Winchester finished the regular season at 11-3 with a 4-1 win over Hamilton Township on Oct. 1.
Below are the coming schedules for the Canal Winchester boys soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 17 -- Home vs. 19th-seeded Grove City in first round of Division I district tournament. The Indians are seeded 14th.
Oct. 15 -- At 29th-seeded Groveport in first round of Division I district tournament. Winner plays at top-seeded Olentangy Liberty in second round Oct. 17. The Indians are seeded 33rd.