Second-year coach Kyle Hamrick gladly acknowledged the challenge that lies ahead for the Olentangy boys soccer team.
"It's really hard to improve from a season where we set a program record for most wins," Hamrick said before the Braves opened Aug. 16 with a 3-2 win at Hilliard Darby.
The Braves do have palpable goals, however, coming off a season in which they went 13-5-2 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye Division and finished as a Division I district runner-up.
Five starters return in seniors Christian Bowens (forward), Drew Clement (midfielder), Marc Gil (defender/midfielder), Vik Hudson (defender) and Grant Robinson (goalkeeper). Senior defender Drew Beck, who had been expected to start last year, missed the season because of an injury.
"He has been playing at a very high level," Hamrick said of Beck. "With Christian Bowens, Drew Clement and Grant Robinson returning in addition to Vik Hudson and Marc Gil who played a major part in our success last season, we are excited to add another group of highly talented guys to the mix."
After a 9-0-2 start last season, the Braves lost four consecutive games -- three of them in the league -- before winning four in a row to make the district final. Olentangy scored four or more goals seven times last year and, with Robinson playing most of the time in goal, allowed more than two goals only twice.
Rounding out the roster are senior Noah Clark (midfielder), juniors Steyr Conrad (forward), Brandon Eddy (midfielder), Maxwell Fidler (goalie), Reid Fielder (defender), Eddie Kondrad (defender), Nick Manivilovski (defender) and Colin McComb (forward) and sophomores Danny Leeper (forward/midfielder), Bennett Pinkerton (midfielder), Andrew Van Pelt (defender) and Michael Zenios (forward).
Leeper had two goals and McComb scored one in the opener. Robinson made seven saves.
The Braves play their first three games on the road before their home opener Tuesday, Aug. 27, against Big Walnut. They begin OCC-Buckeye play Sept. 10 at Westerville South.
Olentangy also will visit Pickerington North for a district final rematch Aug. 29. The Braves lost to the Panthers 2-0 last year in the final, their second consecutive setback at that stage of the postseason.
"We have a team of guys who play together extremely well regardless of their grade," Hamrick said. "Our team culture continues to grow and the unity amongst the guys is really high to start the season."
Girls team looks for repeat titles
The girls soccer team returns its second- and third-leading scorers as well as a solid group of midfielders and its starting goalie as it seeks its second consecutive OCC-Buckeye championship and fourth in five years, as well as its second Division I district title in a row.
Junior midfielder Kylee Beinecke had nine goals in 2018, including both the Braves' scores in a 4-2 regional semifinal loss to Pickerington North to cap a 14-4-2 season, and senior midfielder Kayla Primm added eight goals despite playing in a primarily defensive role.
Primm, a first-team all-district and second-team all-state honoree each of the past two years, is a Citadel commit.
The Braves opened Aug. 20 at Marysville.
A group of six returning starters is rounded out by seniors Bailey Hall (midfielder) and Madeline Hall (midfielder) and juniors Carly Ross (midfielder) Katie Scott (goalie).
Senior defender Priya Hudson also returns but might miss the season because of an injury, according to third-year coach Earl Devanny.
"Our strengths will be our speed on the flanks and having a veteran goalkeeper. We are capable of having solid play in the midfield," Devanny said. "We will be a much younger team this year and our primary goals will be to grow and come together as a team."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kate McCauley (defender) and Hannah Moses (midfielder), juniors Rachel Austin (forward), Olivia Johnston (midfielder), Brooke Leonard (midfielder), Jordan Renzi (defender) and Helena Ronnebaum (defender), sophomores Karsten Bucci (sophomore), Ashley Green (sophomore), Jaime Rosales (forward), Hanna Schmidt (defender) and Ella Schwertfager (goalie) and freshmen Olivia Heskett (midfielder), Audrey Oliver (midfielder) and Lexi White (forward).
Olentangy plays its first three games on the road before its home opener Aug. 31 against Watterson.
The Braves begin OCC-Buckeye play Sept. 10 against Westerville North. They went 5-0 in the league last year.
Below are the coming schedules for the Olentangy cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 24 -- Hartford Twilight Invitational at Hartford Fairgrounds
Aug. 22 -- At Granville
Aug. 26 -- Home vs. Columbus School for Girls
*Aug. 28 -- Home vs. Liberty
Aug. 27 -- OCC-Buckeye at Denison Golf Club
Aug. 22 -- Hilliard Davidson at Oakhaven
Aug. 26 -- Liberty and Pickerington North at Oakhaven
Aug. 28 -- OCC-Buckeye at Blacklick Woods
Aug. 24 -- At Dublin Coffman
Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
Aug. 22 -- At Grove City
Aug. 27 -- At Big Walnut
*Aug. 22 -- At Westerville South
Aug. 26 -- Home vs. Worthington Christian
*Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Westerville North
Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Big Walnut