The Thomas Worthington High School girls lacrosse team has elevated its expectations this season, and for good reason.
The Cardinals have returned 10 starters, four of whom earned all-league honors last year when Thomas finished 16-5-1 overall, went 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to place second behind Dublin Jerome (6-0) and reached the Division I, Region 3 final before losing to eventual state champion Upper Arlington 15-8.
"Our expectations are real high this year," fifth-year coach Scott Hamilton said. "We're not afraid to say our goals are to win the (OCC-Cardinal) championship and a state championship. We reached the regional finals last year and we want to pick up where we left off and work hard to exceed that.
"We have a pretty balanced lineup and there's a lot of competition on this team. Their stick skills have improved and they played a lot of summer lacrosse."
The Cardinals, who open April 4 with a league game at Delaware, expect to be led by senior midfielders Tori Banks and Rachel Rinaldi.
Last season, Banks was named first-team all-league and Rinaldi was second-team all-league.
"They are dynamic together," Hamilton said. "Tori is super fast and has great stick skills and Rachel is a wonderful all-around athlete who is great on offense and defense. They play off one another."
Returning on the attack are junior Abbey Midnight and sophomore Mollie Estepp. They will be joined by sophomore Carmen Reis.
"Mollie is outstanding," Hamilton said. "She's a tall, quick girl with excellent stick skills. If you didn't know, it would be difficult to know whether she was right-handed or left-handed. She's also our faceoff specialist."
The defense returns intact, with seniors Reilly Ford and Anneliese Sinclair and sophomore Bella Avila and junior goalkeeper Mackenzie Kneisly. Ford was first-team all-league last year and Avila was second-team all-league.
"With so much experience, we're looking to get a little more motion in the offense and allow more freedom to be creative," Hamilton said. "I think we'll have good ball possession and be able to score a lot of goals. But we want to focus on tempo control.
"I also think we'll be very strong defensively. Reilly and Anneliese are very consistent and also are great leaders. They'll keep us in the right defense."
Other returning letterwinners are seniors Meredith Gnezda (midfielder) and Madison Simeone (defender), junior Megan Cooper (midfielder) and sophomore Hannah Welch (goalie).
Boys lacrosse team shows early progress
The boys lacrosse team is seeking to improve on last season, when it finished 5-14 overall and 3-3 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Early returns have been favorable, as the Cardinals were 3-0 before playing Westerville Central on March 25. They defeated Beavercreek 17-8 on March 16, Gahanna 16-3 on March 21 and St. Charles 9-7 on March 19.
Second-year coach John Haldeman thinks the team has a good mix of classes moving forward and expects the Cardinals to be more competitive.
"The team is young, with five freshmen on the roster and several sophomores," Haldeman said. "But the team should be very competitive with some stud juniors and seniors leading the way.
"We must learn the speed of the game quickly, especially our young guys. The defensive side of the ball and clearing will be our focus for improvement this year. We have already seen great strides in this area."
Four starters have returned in seniors Bennett Fischbach (attacker), Tanner Hunt (midfielder) and Kemauni Peyton (defender) and junior Owen Kehl (goalie).
Fischbach is expected to get help on the attack from senior Zach Schonhiutt, while Hunt is joined in the midfield by senior Nate Endicott and juniors Nick McCarthy and Cole Stiver. Sophomore Eli Short and freshman Owen Ryan also are starting on defense.
"Bennett Fischbach and Nick McCarthy will lead us this year on the offensive side of the ball," Haldeman said. "Bennett uses his knowledge of the game to find the right spot on the field to facilitate, shoot or draw a penalty. He will be vital for the team success. Nick is a top-notch athlete who changes the game, both with his physicality and skill."
Also expected to contribute are senior Nick Schriner, juniors Jack Cochran, Jude Coe, Trevor Law and Ethan Ryan, sophomores Owen Appel, Riley Boots, Cole McDermott and Carson Smith and freshmen Gabe Baker, Sam Guy and Nate Hoover.
Thomas begins league play April 4 at home against Delaware.
Below are the coming schedules for the Thomas baseball, softball, boys tennis and track & field teams:
March 30 -- Home vs. Newark
April 1 -- At Grove City
April 2 -- At Chillicothe
March 28 -- At Licking Heights
*April 1 -- At Hilliard Bradley
April 2 -- At Westerville South
*April 3 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
April 1 -- At Upper Arlington
*April 2 -- At Hilliard Bradley
TRACK & FIELD
March 30 -- Newark Invitational
April 2 -- At Dublin Coffman