Grace Bodker and other members of the Big Walnut High School girls soccer team remember last season's postseason run to a Division II state semifinal.
While the Golden Eagles believe they have the defense and the talent to advance through the bracket again this season, the attention remains on their first matchup.
Second-seeded Big Walnut opens at home against 14th-seeded Heath on Monday, Oct. 15, with the winner playing ninth-seeded Licking Valley or 10th-seeded Centennial in a second-round game Thursday, Oct. 18. That winner likely will face third-seeded Jonathan Alder, fourth-seeded Bloom-Carroll or fifth-seeded Bexley in a district semifinal Oct. 23.
"We're trying to stay focused," said Bodker, a senior midfielder. "We know we have a big target on our back, but we can't let that affect us. We have to train as hard as we did last year and be prepared for whatever adversity is thrown at us."
The program made history last season, winning its first regional championship before losing to Cincinnati Indian Hill 4-0 in a state semifinal to finish 16-3-4.
Big Walnut improved to 9-2-4 overall and finished 4-1 in the OCC-Capital Division with a 9-0 victory over Groveport in its regular-season finale Oct. 9. The Golden Eagles finished second in the league behind New Albany (5-0), which beat Big Walnut 3-0 on Aug. 17.
The Golden Eagles were ranked ninth in last week's Division II state poll. Top-ranked Granville is the district's top seed.
"We have to take it one game at a time and see what happens," first-year coach Chris Allen said. "But I also think we have a lot of confidence going into the tournament, especially being the No. 2 seed."
Led by defenders Morgan Bodker, Rylee Bussen, Hailey Krinn and Alyssa Tarney and goalkeeper Payton Carter, Big Walnut is allowing an average of 0.62 goals per game and has posted eight shutouts.
Avery Schone is the team's top scorer with six goals, followed by Alexis Schone with five and Alle English and Emily Neff with four apiece.
"We're really excited for the tournament, but we can't get ahead of ourselves," Grace Bodker said.
Boys soccer team prepping for Braves
The boys soccer team is seeded 43rd in the 48-team Division I district tournament and will open the postseason at sixth-seeded Olentangy on Wednesday, Oct. 17.
The winner plays host to 48th-seeded Marion Harding in a second-round game Saturday, Oct. 20, with that winner advancing to a district semifinal Oct. 24.
The Golden Eagles lost to Olentangy 5-0 on Aug. 28.
"Obviously, they're a great team," coach Adam Gatton said of the Braves. "We saw that firsthand in August. But we've learned a lot about ourselves since then, and we're doing much better playing to our strengths."
The Golden Eagles were 2-12-1 overall before playing Westerville North in their regular-season finale on Oct. 11 and finished 2-2-1 in the OCC-Capital.
Big Walnut has been led in scoring by Anthony Cunningham and Darwin Marcia, both of whom had three goals through 15 games.
Last week in league action, the Golden Eagles played Groveport to a 2-all tie on Oct. 9 after beating Franklin Heights 8-2 the previous night.
"I think we've built some confidence, and we're looking at the tournament like it's a new season," Gatton said. "We're ready to turn the page and tackle whomever comes our way."
Football team getting set to face Cruisers
The football team will be facing a strong running game when it plays host to Groveport on Friday, Oct. 19, in an OCC-Capital contest.
The Cruisers' offense features 5-foot-10, 240-pound fullback Ja'Shaun McGraw, who runs behind an improving offensive line, according Groveport coach Bryan Schoonover. The Cruisers were 3-4 overall and 1-1 in the league before playing Newark on Oct. 12.
Big Walnut was 3-4 overall and 2-0 in the league before facing New Albany on Oct. 12. In their previous two games, the Golden Eagles allowed just seven points in victories over Franklin Heights (24-0 on Oct. 5) and Newark (37-7 on Sept. 28).
Quarterback Jagger Barnett threw for more than 200 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score against Franklin Heights. The sophomore's 43-yard pass to Nathan Montgomery put Big Walnut up 21-0 in the third quarter.
Tyler Crotinger scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter.
Volleyball team earns second seed in district
The girls volleyball team is seeded second of 25 teams in the Division II district tournament and will open the postseason Wednesday, Oct. 17, at home against 15th-seeded Columbus East or 19th-seeded Marion-Franklin in a second-round match.
The winner advances to a district semifinal Oct. 25.
Big Walnut was 17-4 overall and 9-0 in the OCC-Capital before playing Groveport in their regular-season finale on Oct. 11. The Golden Eagles earned their 15th league championship in 19 seasons.
Runners getting set for district meet
The cross country teams are preparing for the Division I district meet Saturday, Oct. 20, at Hilliard Darby.
The boys and girls teams both will compete in district 3, where the top six teams and top 24 runners advance to the regional meet Oct. 27 at Pickerington North.
Both teams competed in the OCC-Capital meet Oct. 13 at Lancaster.
Season ends for girls tennis team
Lindsay Hill of the girls tennis team went 2-1 in singles in a Division I sectional held Oct. 5 and 6 at Pickerington Central, falling one win shy of advancing to the district tournament.
The senior lost 6-3, 6-1 to Marion-Harding's Maggie Pitts in the qualifying match, as the top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to district Oct. 11 and 13 at Reynoldsburg.
Senior Ava Boldizar and freshman Kina Ehlers both went 1-1 in singles at sectional.
In doubles, sophomore Lindsey Stevens and freshman Addy Smith lost in the first round, as did senior Hannah Kiser and junior Allyson Stevens.
The Golden Eagles finished 6-11 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Capital.