DeSales boys soccer coach Domenic Romanelli kept going back to one word in describing this year's team, one which has just two returning starters and battles for playing time at nearly every position.
"Inexperience," said Romanelli, whose 13th season opens Thursday, Aug. 22, with a home game against Marysville. "Having the nine starters we lost, it's a challenge, but so far, so good. We're young. These are all kids who have played club soccer so they know the game. Now, it's all mental. A few times (during scrimmages), I had three sophomores out there. They're good players, but against a seasoned (opposing) senior, that's a challenge."
Senior midfielders Jack Francisco and Will Shaffer are back from last year's team that went 18-4 overall and 3-1 in the CCL and lost to eventual state champion Cincinnati Summit Country Day 1-0 in a Division II state semifinal.
Among the Stallions' losses to graduation were its top scorer in Mike Cockerell, who had 15 goals; Cristian Gomez, who was named Ohio Mr. Soccer; and its starting goalkeeper in Thomas Sauer.
Francisco had 12 goals and nine assists last season.
"I don't want to overuse Jack, but he is our strength," Romanelli said. "We'll put him on an island and let him go one-on-one. We can break a defense down. If we can get Jack the ball, he can take a defender one-on-one."
Other returnees who saw considerable playing time last year include seniors Giuliano Iacobone (forward) and Dominic Verne (defender) and juniors Vigo Bertolo (defender) and Gabe Weikert (goalie).
Rounding out the roster are seniors Drew Hanley (defender), Augustine Phelps (defender) and Levi Riddle (midfielder), juniors Gibran Cuevas (defender), Kaeden Fox (defender), Alex Hatcher (defender), Nick Kennedy (midfielder), Oscar Marquez-Trejo (midfielder) and Sean Paxton (goalie), sophomores Ethan Lusenhop (midfielder), Alex Shaffer (midfielder), Andrew Shaffer (midfielder) and Andy Shoemaker (defen-der) and freshman Zack Rennie (forward).
Another uncertainty for DeSales involves the postseason. Competitive balance pushed the Stallions up to Division I, but they might fall back to Division II depending on the outcome of legal action brought against the Ohio High School Athletic Association by eight schools in the Cincinnati-based Greater Catholic League.
DeSales has won five consecutive district championships in Division II.
Six of DeSales' 12 non-league games are against Division I competition, and the Stallions will face Division I schools Hartley and St. Charles within the CCL.
The Stallions, who finished second in the league last year behind St. Charles (4-0), begin league play Sept. 10 at the Cardinals.
"The kids are excited (about the possibility of being Division I)," Romanelli said. "Our schedule is our schedule. It doesn't really matter. At some point, though, you want to know. The big difference is in Division I, every night will be a battle, a close game. It might go our way, it might not.
"It would have been nice to be D-I the last few years with the talent we had."
Girls coach expects 'rebuilding year'
Bob McGee has been a central part of the girls soccer program's biggest successes, but he is practicing patience and building from the ground up as he begins his third stint as Stallions coach.
Senior midfielder Nicole Miller, junior defender Gabby Mahaffey and sophomores Abby Groff (goalie) and Kylie Hast (defender) are among the key players on whom McGee will depend. Last season, the Stallions went 5-11-1 overall and 3-1 in the CCL and lost to Thomas Worthington 2-0 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
McGee, who coached DeSales to Division II state championships in 1995 and 2011 and a state runner-up finish in 2012, returned to the program in mid-July after Doug Williamson -- who was hired in January to replace three-year coach Sarah Gantz -- had to resign because of health issues.
"We have a good corps of seniors (who) are bringing the underclassmen along," said McGee, whose team opened Aug. 17 with a 4-0 win over visiting Cincinnati Landmark Trinity Christian. "It's going to be a rebuilding year (with) retooling because I play a different style than what they are used to and that's going to take a while.
"We'll work to possess (the ball) more than in the past. We're not necessarily going to be very direct. We'll hold the ball, move it around and create opportunities off the spaces we're creating."
Mahaffey, seniors Morgan Gehrlich (forward) and Lily Jones (forward) and junior Stefanie Karras (midfielder) each had a goal Aug. 17 and Groff made two saves.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Hannah Flora (defender), Grace Gummer (midfielder), Isabella Marino (midfielder), Elena McSweeny (midfielder), Julia Palone (defender) and Christin Ripke (defender), juniors Carmela Cua (goalie) and Gracey Wilson (midfielder), sophomores Isabella Gagliardi (defender/midfielder), Sophia Hipolite (midfielder), Phoebe Kraus (defender), Maddie McNamara (midfielder), Abby Phelps (midfielder) and Josey Zyskowski (goalie) and freshmen Bryn Klingbeil (defender) and Ava Kreuzer (forward).
Cua was starting goalie for the girls lacrosse team last spring when it won the Division II state championship.
Senior defender Reese Elliott, who missed most of last season with a torn left ACL, now plays at IMG Academy in Florida.
DeSales begins CCL play Sept. 12 at defending league champion Watterson. The Stallions finished second last year behind the Eagles (4-0).
"We have to get better every day. We can't afford to not improve," McGee said. "We're trying to build a tradition back, slowly and steadily."
Below are the coming schedules for the DeSales cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 24 -- Newark Catholic Invitational at Bryn Du Mansion
Aug. 28 -- Canal Winchester Invitational
Aug. 22 -- Westerville Central at Champions
Aug. 24 -- Northridge Invitational at Clover Valley
Aug. 27 -- Watterson at Champions
Aug. 22 -- Hartley at Jefferson
Aug. 27 -- Lakewood at Harbor Hills
Aug. 28 -- Watterson at Champions
Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Marysville
Aug. 24 -- At Covington (Ky.) Catholic
Aug. 24 -- At Marysville
Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Watkins Mem-orial
Aug. 26 -- At Mount Vernon
Aug. 28 -- At Delaware
Aug. 24 -- Best of Ohio at Toledo St. Ursula