Pickerington Central boys soccer coach Brett Neiderman admitted not remembering all the details from his team's late surge last season, when a 4-1-2 stretch from late September to mid-October included three shutout victories and a Division I district tournament win.
Even if that successful play does not necessarily carry over to the start of this season, Neiderman is counting on a veteran group to improve on last year's records of 6-9-3 overall and 0-3-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
The Tigers are seeking their first winning season since going 8-7-2 in 2016.
"I'm not sure that carries over necessarily, or how much the guys remember how that went," said Neiderman, whose third season began Aug. 20 at Olentangy Orange. "They do know the standard we're trying to get to, what they're capable of and what I expect from them. We don't have any choice but to improve from year to year."
A veteran group of midfielders that includes seniors Kwame Amoako, Mirnes Bubalo, Cavan Castellon and Gabe Petrefski, as well as senior goalkeeper Garvin Osei-Frimpong and junior forward Koen Droese, are expected to lead Central.
The Tigers earned their first postseason win since 2015 last year, beating Mount Vernon 2-0 in the first round before losing 3-1 at Hilliard Darby in a second-round game.
"These guys have been around here a while," Neiderman said. "Kwame is the anchor (of the midfield). He's a good box-to-box midfielder who doesn't get tired. It's never about him, it's always about the team. Gabe was a defender last year because we needed someone to fill that role, but he'll be a center midfielder this year with Cavan. We'll rotate them so they can give each other a break. It'll be good for both of them. This is the strongest midfield we've had and that will be critical when it comes to winning 50-50 balls and gaining possession.
"Koen's been on varsity for three years and he's really improved. He's left-footed and he has a powerful shot. He's played a high level of club soccer, which is rare for us. We'll drop him into the midfield when we need to. We're looking for 15 goals from him, hopefully."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Eric Adu (forward), Jacob Casto (defender), Elvis Finnko (forward), Austin Gazley (midfielder), Zach Jones (defender) and James Presley (defender), juniors Nathan Bauer (defender) and Jaden Snell (defender), sophomore Ian Camp (goalie) and freshmen Jack Henry (midfielder/forward) and Michael Philabaum (defender).
After playing its first five games on the road, Central's home opener will be Sept. 3 against New Albany.
The Tigers begin OCC-Ohio play Sept. 10 at home against defending league champion Pickerington North. Central tied Lancaster for fifth place in the OCC-Ohio last year behind the Panthers (5-0), who are coming off their first Division I district championship.
Girls team hopes to build on last season
Entering her third season, girls soccer coach Maria Manzo is starting to see the "pretty soccer" she swore to implement when she was hired.
That and the Tigers' hopes of building on a Division I district semifinal appearance last year have Manzo and the team optimistic about this season, which began Aug. 20 at Olentangy Orange.
"The possession, the way we are stringing passes together, it's pretty soccer and we are just getting started. I have no issues. Hopefully, it will get better and better," Manzo said. "I knew it'd take me a couple years to actually see it and start seeing it come together. This will be the first year I actually am starting to see what we've been growing and producing. It's transforming.
"We have speed, which is awesome, and we are utilizing that."
Central went 6-11 in 2017 and improved to 10-8-1 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio last year, losing to North 9-0 in a district semifinal after winning two postseason games for the first time in nine years.
Several key players have returned, including seniors Mary Kathryn Berger (midfielder), Kelsey Knudsen (midfielder), Ashley Mason (midfielder) and Lexy Sheets (midfielder), junior Tatum McElwain (forward/defender) and sophomore Ramiya Roy (forward). Roy, who was injured to begin the season, scored a combined four goals in the Tigers' tournament wins a year ago.
According to Manzo, two freshmen will start in forward/midfielder Kennedy Coles and midfielder Emma Morton.
"We have a pretty large senior class. This is a great, great group," Manzo said. "I thought last year was good. This group might be better. Leadership from the seniors is great. There is more camaraderie, there is more leadership. Every girl on this team wants to be better and you either get that or you coach what you have."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Olivia Bitonte (midfielder), Cassidy Cubra (midfielder), Sydney Fraley (midfielder), Maddie Sullivan (midfielder) and Carter Teal (forward/midfielder), juniors Kyah Ewing (forward/midfielder), Kristina Faulds (defender/goalie), Lexi Herr (defender), Lia Petrefski (forward/midfielder), Kassidy Stanley (defender/midfielder), Sydney Stilwell (forward/midfielder), Salma Suhaiba (defender/midfielder) and Brooke Warnock (defender) and sophomores Lauryn Evans (goalie) and Brooklyn Miller (midfielder).
Central will play six games on the road before its home and OCC-Ohio opener Sept. 10 against North. The Tigers finished third in the league last year behind co-champions Gahanna and North (both 4-0-1).
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 24 -- Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North
Aug. 26 -- Bob Pritchard Memorial Invitational at Moundbuilders
Aug. 27 -- OCC-Ohio at Denison Golf Club
Aug. 22 -- Newark Catholic at The Links at Echo Springs
Aug. 26 -- Granville at Denison Golf Club
Aug. 28 -- OCC-Ohio at New Albany Links
Aug. 22 -- At Hilliard Davidson
Aug. 24 -- At Canal Winchester
Aug. 27 -- At Westerville Central
Aug. 22 -- At Fairfield Union
Aug. 26 -- At Westerville Central
*Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
*Aug. 27 -- At Lancaster
Aug. 28 -- Home vs. Watterson
Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Westerville South
Aug. 24 -- Hilliard Darby, Hilliard Davidson and Watkins Memorial in Sharon Huesman Memorial Quad at Davidson