The Hilliard Darby girls soccer team just missed winning back-to-back Division I district titles last season, but the Panthers could be challenged to reach that level this season after losing eight starters to graduation.

However, 11 letterwinners have returned for first-year coach Kelsey Prichard, including a standout forward in senior Naomi Walters.

Pritchard replaced Dan Brady, who had guided the Panthers for four seasons.

"Naomi's speed, ability to attack defenders and she's a threat to score anywhere on the field, so that makes her dangerous anytime she touches the ball," said Pritchard, whose team opened Aug. 20 at Westerville South and begins OCC-Cardinal Division play Tuesday, Aug. 27, at home against Delaware.

A third-year starter, Walters had 20 goals and eight assists last season as Darby finished 9-7-3 overall and 1-4-2 in the league and reached a district final as the 12th seed before losing to third-seeded Dublin Jerome 3-2 in two overtimes.

In 2017, the Panthers beat Gahanna 3-2 in a district final to earn the program's second district title.

Senior defender Zayna Hampton and junior forward Maddy Leone also are returning starters. Leone had seven goals and 12 assists last season.

"Maddy is a true two-way player," Pritchard said. "She is just as dangerous on offense as she is on defense. She has the ability to play with her back to the goal. She's got playmaker vision and a nose for the goal.

"Zayna's speed, strength, soccer knowledge and organization allow her to run our back line."

Other returning letterwinners are seniors Teddie Coe (defender), Taylor Mahaffey (defender), Carli Rigel (midfielder) and Briana Turner (goalkeeper), juniors Mackenzie Hessick (midfielder), Elizabeth Mielke (midfielder) and Gabby Simpson (midfielder) and sophomore Syd Thomas (forward).

Thomas had six goals and five assists last season.

Completing the roster are juniors Hope Saunders (forward) and Alexis Stewart (goalie) and sophomores Mia Daley (forward), Sophia Fratturelli (defender), Kathy King (midfielder), Olivia Miller and Casey Rigel (midfielder/defender).

Pritchard said Walters and Leone would start up top in the Panthers' 4-4-2 formation. Starting in the midfield will be Thomas, Hessick, Casey Rigel and either Simpson or Carli Rigel.

On defense, Hampton, Coe and Miller were expected to be joined in the starting lineup by either Fratturelli or Mahaffey, while Turner and Stewart were competing to start in goal.

"This team has a strong work ethic and versatile players that give us flexibility," Pritchard said. "We have strong pivotal players. The keys for us will be leadership, organization and winning 50-50 balls."

Boys soccer team returns four starters

The boys soccer team has returned 11 letterwinners, including four starters, from last season when it finished 9-6-3 overall and 2-4-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.

Seniors Trevor Burke (midfielder), Zach Jasper (mid-fielder/forward) and Luke Lassiter (forward) are among the returning starters. Last season, Burke was named special mention all-league and Lassiter scored five goals.

The other returning starter is junior goalie Brian Watkins, who made 80 saves a year ago.

"Our top players play year-round at a high level," fourth-year coach Kyle Reichle said. "They endure quality training in a competitive environment and are always immersed in the game of soccer, whether watching or playing. They are very technically sound, have sharp foot skills and are creative with the ball. Their speed and quickness make them difficult for any defender to keep under wraps for a full game."

Expected to start in the midfield with Burke and Jasper in the Panthers' 4-5-1 formation are a combination of senior Ethan Hessick, juniors Hadj Bah and Colin Walters and sophomore Wassim Metatla.

Starting defenders in front of Watkins include senior Tristan Schlarman, juniors Moses Jawo and Brandon Reynard and sophomore Daniel Gajda.

Completing the roster are seniors Alexis Delarosa (forward) and Brandon Roberts (forward/defender), juniors Rahul Ayanampudi (midfielder), Eli Monroe (defender), Kavan Orr (goalie) and Ron Violante (defender/midfielder), sophomores Justin Fleischman (midfielder/forward) and Gio Roberts (midfielder) and freshman Jack Thomas (mid-fielder/forward).

Darby opened Aug. 16 with a 3-2 loss to Olentangy and begins league play Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Delaware.

"We're a quick team with great depth this year," Reichle said. "We've got some great individual 1-on-1 players who aren't afraid to take on a defender, but we also need to play as a team instead of as individuals.

"We've got to shore up our back line and play smart out of the back. Finishing our chances will be huge. We need to take advantage of the opportunities we create to put a shot on frame."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

BOYS GOLF

Aug. 26 -- Davidson at Darby Creek

Aug. 28 -- OCC-Cardinal at Darby Creek

GIRLS GOLF

Aug. 22 -- Dublin Scioto at Rolling Meadows

Aug. 27 -- Davidson at Mentel Memorial

Aug. 28 -- OCC-Cardinal at Royal American

BOYS SOCCER

Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Westerville North

*Aug. 27 -- At Delaware

GIRLS SOCCER

Aug. 24 -- At Watterson

*Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Delaware

GIRLS TENNIS

*Aug. 22 -- At Dublin Scioto

*Aug. 27 -- At Dublin Jerome

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne

Aug. 24 -- Sharon Huesman Memorial Quad at Davidson

*Aug. 27 -- At Dublin Scioto

*League contest