In retrospect, Riley Paxton thinks a nine-day stretch in late September in which the DeSales High School boys soccer team lost three of four games and gave up 11 goals after eight shutouts to start the season wasn't the worst thing that could have happened.

Given that the Stallions earned the top seed in the Division II district tournament and were 14-3 before playing host to eighth-seeded Hartley in a district semifinal Oct. 24, the senior defender might have been right.

"I think we needed it," Paxton said. "As a defense, we weren't trying our hardest and losing a few games really reinforced that we always had to give our all. We all have to work together to get things done. We wanted to keep that streak (of not allowing a goal) alive and when it happened, we wondered, 'What do we do now?'

"We have grown closer as a unit. We are working together better. The midfield is dropping back and helping us more."

A second-year starter, Paxton has been key to the defense's success. The 11 goals DeSales allowed in losses to Hilliard Bradley (2-1 on Sept. 20), St. Charles (4-1 on Sept. 25) and New York City Martin Luther King Jr. (5-1 on Sept. 29) were the only ones they gave up through 17 games as they pursue their second consecutive state championship and third in four years.

Seniors Josh Conroy, a three-year starter, and Alessandro Conte, an exchange student from Italy, are the center backs. Paxton plays left back, and sophomore Vigo Bertolo is the right back.

Paxton moved to central Ohio from Katy, Texas, after his freshman year and played mostly junior varsity as a sophomore when DeSales lost in a state semifinal.

Paxton has played everywhere on defense and in the midfield and saw limited action at forward as a junior.

"I don't care where I play. I just want to be wherever I am needed," he said. "I like moving around because it makes me a better player. I know what each position needs from the other positions. If I'm at center mid, I know what I want from my left back."

According to coach Domenic Romanelli, Paxton would have been good enough to play varsity as a sophomore if not for the defense already being led by multiple-year starters such as Zach Garrett and Anthony Salmeron.

"We knew he'd help us eventually," Romanelli said. "The thing with him is the possibility of using him at different positions. He could be the defensive midfielder because he's a go-getter and he hustles.

"I am a big believer in that once I have a set defense, I don't change. I don't mind giving breaks here and there, but to me, backs are not where you sub. That's my personal opinion. A midfielder, I can sub. (It is the) same for the forwards, but when a defense is playing well and is set in its ways, my view on that is I'm not touching that."

Conroy said a defense he called "somewhat old and somewhat new" lived up to his expectations through 17 games.

"I've been a lot more vocal, more like a leader. Since I can see most of the field, I just try to make sure everybody knows what's going on," Conroy said. "Riley has grown physically, but he's been more confident, too, even since last year. He gets into the offense and has had some assists. That's exactly what we need. We're getting that kind of play from a lot of guys."

Giuliano Iacobone and Will Shaffer each scored two goals in DeSales' 10-0 rout of visiting and 15th-seeded Beech-croft in a second-round game Oct. 20.

The DeSales-Hartley winner will play fourth-seeded Bloom-Carroll or sixth-seeded Hamilton Township in a district final Saturday, Oct. 27, at a neutral site. The district champion will play Lisbon Beaver, Minerva, Warsaw River View or Zanesville in a regional semifinal Wednesday, Oct. 31, at a neutral site.

The regional final is Nov. 3.

Shoemaker heads to cross country regional

John Shoemaker of the boys cross country team admitted that he did not feel his best during the Division II, district 2 meet Oct. 20 at Hilliard Darby, but he still had enough to qualify for his first regional.

Shoemaker finished seventh in 17 minutes, 20.5 seconds, earning an individual berth to regional Saturday, Oct. 27, at Pickerington North. The top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced.

DeSales finished sixth (139 points) of 11 teams, behind champion Jonathan Alder (46).

"It wasn't my best race, but I gave it my all," Shoemaker said. "I wanted to go under 17 minutes. I wasn't feeling all that great; my legs were kind of sore. This was a big goal of mine going into the season. Now, I just need one more race to get to state."

Also scoring for the Stallions were Jonathan Pusateri (25th, 18:07.8), Ian McCandlish (26th, 18:10.1), Matt Stone (37th, 18:42.5) and Isaiah Rush (44th, 19:15.5).

At regional, the top seven teams and top 28 individuals advance to the state meet Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway.

The girls team's season ended when it finished 12th (315) of 15 teams in the Division I, district 3 meet, behind champion Hilliard Davidson (25). The top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to regional.

Scoring for DeSales were Bre Callahan (43rd, 21:00.3), Anya Vanasdale (53rd, 21:16.5), Cate Leithauser (67th, 21:48.3), Audrey Callahan (72nd, 21:11) and Gracey Wilson (80th, 22:53.5).

Volleyball team wins tourney opener

The 11th-seeded girls volleyball team came from behind to prolong its season, defeating host and 10th-seeded Upper Arlington 19-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-18 on Oct. 17 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.

Emma Brown had 14 kills and 12 assists, Bella D'Amico had 10 kills and 19 assists and Tara Mnich added six kills as the Stallions improved to 15-8. DeSales, which had taken a first-round bye, also got four aces and 10 blocks from Lainey McGonigle.

The Stallions played ninth-seeded Dublin Scioto in a district semifinal Oct. 23 at Franklin Heights. The winner will take on top-seeded Olentangy Liberty or 17th-seeded Bradley in a district final Saturday, Oct. 27, at Franklin Heights. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal Nov. 1.

DeSales lost to Liberty 24-26, 25-20, 25-22 on Oct. 6 at Darby.

Girls soccer team falls to Cardinals

For the second consecutive year, the girls soccer team's season ended without a postseason win.

DeSales finished at 5-11-1 overall with a 2-0 loss at 26th-seeded Thomas Worthington in the first round of the Division I district tournament. The Stallions, who were seeded 28th in the 44-team tournament, had played the Cardinals to a scoreless tie Sept. 1 in a game called early in the second half because of bad weather.

Senior forward Madison Rennie, a University of Kentucky commit, scored a team-high nine goals. Senior midfielder/defender Lindsay Plymale added six goals and senior forward Gabby Elliott scored four.

DeSales played the second half of the season without junior defender Reese Elliott, who tore her left ACL and meniscus during a 4-3 loss to UA on Sept. 1.

The Stallions fell just short of defending their CCL championship, going 3-1 to finish second behind Watterson (4-0).

Other key players eligible to return include junior midfielder Nicole Miller, sophomore defender Gabby Mahaffey and freshmen Abby Groff (goalkeeper) and Kylie Hast (midfielder). Groff split time in goal with senior Katie Kiser.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave