Third-year Whitehall-Yearling boys soccer coach T.J. Mohammed again has aspirations of his team competing for the MSL-Ohio Division championship.
Whitehall was in the race last season before finishing 1-1-2 and tying Bexley (2-2) for third as Columbus Academy and Grandview shared the title at 2-1-1.
The Rams opened against Walnut Ridge on Aug. 20 and begin league play Aug. 31 at Bexley.
The title chase figures to be more difficult as Buckeye Valley and Wellington have joined the MSL-Ohio.
"We are appreciative that the returning seniors have stepped up above our expectations," said Mohammed, whose team finished 4-7-6 overall last season. "We still have work to do, but the nerves have calmed down. We're not nervous anymore. We can compete."
The top returnees are senior Jared Alvarez (goalkeeper) and juniors Ebrima Jorbateh (midfielder) and Jefferson Martinez (midfielder). All three were honorable mention all-league last season.
"We've definitely improved a lot since my freshman year," Martinez said. "Last year we had a great chance to win the league. Coach is always telling us to stay eligible and keep our grades up in order to have a team, but soccer-wise, our goal is to keep improving and keep doing what we're doing."
Also back are seniors Adonay Estifanos (defender), Casey Hernandez (defender), Alex Herrera (forward), Allen Tello (midfielder) and Jose Vinas (defender) and juniors Cesar Artica (midfielder), Jonathan Guijosa (defender) and Yared Yesuf (midfielder).
"We're not as close as we were last year, but we have a pretty solid team," Herrera said. "We all got along this summer, which is a good thing. We definitely want to beat Bexley and hopefully win the league."
Other players are senior Pablo Sandoval (defender), juniors Jose Alvarado (midfielder), Angel Espinoza (forward), Miguel Godinez (midfielder), Edwin Gutierrez (goalie) and Daba Hordofe (midfielder) and sophomore Jordan Burchnell (defender).
Mohammed also is hoping his team improves on its postseason performances after moving to Division I two years ago. The Rams lost in the first round to Hilliard Davidson 3-0 last season and Olentangy 4-0 in 2017.
Mohammed and assistant coach Geral Leka believe Whitehall's new synthetic-turf field will aid the team's play.
"One of our strengths is the technical side, touches, passing, so this is perfect for our style of play (with) quick give and goes," Leka said. "With the former field, it was a lot of unpredictability. This is going to be more consistent with the rest of the opponents we have. We're not going to have to switch style of play because of our environment."
Whitehall lost 12 players to graduation, including forward Lauro Guijosa and midfielder Fernando Sanchez, who were first-team all-league.
"The group of seniors from last year helped change the reputation for Whitehall," Leka said. "They closed that gap big time and our goal for this season is to maintain that progress and not to take any steps backwards. The leadership has carried over."
Girls soccer team under new leadership
The girls soccer team has a new coach as Maria Shipe has replaced Alex Setser, who guided the Rams to a 3-10 finish in his only season.
"We're excited for the season," Shipe said.
"We've been training since July. The kids are starting to buy in to what I'm saying. I told them they can mold the program into whatever they want. They're setting the trend for future soccer players."
Whitehall opened Aug. 20 against Zanesville West Muskingum and begins MSL-Ohio play Wednesday, Aug. 28, against visiting Academy.
The Rams went 0-6 in the league last season.
Sophomore Brooklynn Greer, who was honorable mention all-league last season, has moved from forward to defender.
Also back are seniors Selamawit Alebachew (midfielder), Chalitu Bakaye (defender/midfielder), Iftu Bakaye (forward/midfielder), Maria Gonzalez Cuchillo (mid-fielder/forward), Veronica Rivas Calderon (defender/midfielder), Yabesera Tadesse (midfielder/defender), Bethlehem Tamene (defender/midfielder) and Wendy Vasquez Romero (midfielder).
Other returnees are junior Fatmata Jalloh (midfielder) and sophomores Abril Garcia (goalie/forward), Dalia Matute (defender/goalie), Jessica Revadelo (defender) and Maria Torres Alaniz (forward).
Other players are sophomore Ililli Bakeye (defender) and freshmen Cynthia Rivas (midfielder), Dayana Martinez (midfielder/forward) and Teresa Munoz (defender).
"A good sign is they're coming to practice," Shipe said. "They're excited about it. The main thing is they're learning. These are smart girls. They want to learn."
Shipe competed at the prep and collegiate levels before playing for the Philippines national team in the qualifying rounds for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in 2013. Her mother, Yolanda, is from the Philippines.
Shipe previously served as an assistant coach at Bexley and Des Plaines (Illinois) Maine West, as well as at the club level.
Below are the coming schedules for the Whitehall-Yearling cross country, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 24 -- Dan Reid Invitational at home
Aug. 22 -- At Olentangy Berlin
Aug. 22 -- At Heath
*Aug. 28 -- Home vs. Columbus Academy
*Aug. 22 -- At Bexley
Aug. 26 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
*Aug. 27 -- At Bexley