The Worthington Kilbourne boys soccer team enters the season with a ton of experience and hopes of repeating as OCC-Cardinal Division champion.
The Wolves return 14 letterwinners, including seven starters, from last season when they finished 12-5-2 overall and 6-1 in the league to finish ahead of runners-up Dublin Jerome and Dublin Scioto (both 4-2-1).
"Having so many key starters returning will give us consistency and will allow us to build on the OCC championship of last year," said 17th-year coach Jon Sprunger, whose team opened Aug. 20 against Olentangy and begins its league title defense Tuesday, Aug. 27, at home against Jerome. "We also have a deep bench and will be using many players as we implement a high-press style of play. This is a very different system from what we played last year. It will take a lot of effort and mental focus to play this style for 80 minutes."
Senior midfielder/forward Logan Evans and junior forward Chris Guerra are expected to lead the Wolves offensively.
"Logan was our leading scorer last year and an all-state selection," Sprunger said. "He has great speed and a powerful shot on goal. He has to be accounted for by opposing defenses.
"Chris was our leading scorer in 2017 and entered the preseason in exceptional shape. He is extremely talented and possesses the ball well. He is a playmaker and has a nose for the goal."
The other returning starters are seniors Braydon Biehn (defender), Jimmy Sauder (defender) and Keegan Smith (midfielder/forward) and juniors Tyler Katz (goalkeeper) and Brandon Kim (midfielder).
"Jimmy is one of our top defensive players and is moving from center back to a defensive midfielder," Sprunger said. "He is an exceptional athlete who has an aggressive defensive style of play. He is very strong in the air and is able to control the central midfield.
"Braydon is our most composed player. He will anchor the defense as the primary center back. His leadership, work rate, field vision and desire to perfect the new strategies may be the key to our success. Keegan may be our most mobile player. He has great field awareness and he is a key link between the offense and defense."
Other returning letterwinners are seniors Bobby Barklay (defender), Keagan McDonough (defender), Max Kott (defender), Ethan Nestingen (midfielder), Joe Sprunger (midfielder) and Griffin Wilson (defender) and junior Gabe Porter (forward).
Completing the roster are seniors Carson Kott (midfielder) and Robert Straveler (midfielder) and juniors Noah Estevez-Curtis (midfielder), J.J. Mendez (forward), Sam Norton (defender) and Jay Shaver (midfielder).
Girls soccer team has veteran look
The girls soccer team also returns seven starters as it looks to improve on last season, when it finished 7-10 overall and 2-5 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Junior Sasha Estice and sophomore Molly Humphrey have returned at forward and will be joined up top by senior Brooke Taylor in the Wolves' 4-3-3 formation. Estice was special mention all-league last season.
"Sasha is a captain and third-year starter," said fourth-year coach Meghann Moore, whose team opened Aug. 20 against Westerville Central and begins league play Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Jerome. "Sasha's incredibly sound technical skills and quick movements up top make her a threat to opponents. Her in-depth knowledge of the game, ability to play composed and remarkable touch on the ball set her apart from others."
Senior Taylor Leachman is a returning starter in the midfield and will work alongside sophomore Abby Halm and freshman Kate Passella.
In the back, the Wolves have returned three starters in senior Lauren Lickman and juniors Ella Bally and Abby English. Last season, English was first-team all-league and third-team all-district and Bally was second-team all-league.
"Abby is able to read the field beautifully and her vocal leadership is the glue of our team," Moore said. "She is strong, tenacious and quick on the ball and has seamless distribution at center back. Additionally, her ability to execute on set pieces makes her an incredible asset.
"Ella's undeniable speed, quick thinking and incredible distribution make her a huge threat at the outside back position. Her ability to capitalize on offensive opportunities as a defender is unlike any I have ever seen. She is an amazing player."
A fourth starter in the backline in front of sophomore goalie Celeste Sloma, a returning starter, had yet to be finalized late in the preseason.
Vying for playing time are seniors Abby Kennedy (midfielder/defender), Ciera McKibben (defender) and Julia Taylor (forward), junior Amya Harris (forward), sophomores Katie Buterbaugh (forward), Mycah Hill (goalie), Ashten Morris (defender), Kailey Rayner (forward) and Maggie Stewart (midfielder) and freshman Mara McGlone (midfielder).
"From the beginning, this team jelled," Moore said. "Their possession on the field and movement for one another off the ball has made a huge difference so far in our preseason. Our center midfield is technically sound with the ball at their feet and can win balls out of the air.
"We plan to continue to utilize our strength in possessing the ball to help create offensive opportunities. This team is close. The personalities mix very well and have cultivated a practice environment where the work ethic is intense and impressive."
Below are the coming schedules for the Kilbourne cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball and water polo teams:
Aug. 24 -- Pickerington North Classic
*Aug. 28 -- At New Albany
Aug. 26 -- Bob Pritchard Memorial Invitational at Moundbuilders
Aug. 28 -- OCC-Cardinal at Darby Creek
Aug. 27 -- Grove City at Pinnacle
Aug. 28 -- OCC-Cardinal at Royal American
Aug. 22 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
Aug. 24 -- Home vs. West Chester Lakota West
*Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
Aug. 22 -- At Westerville South
*Aug. 27 -- At Dublin Jerome
*Aug. 22 -- At Hilliard Bradley
*Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
*Aug. 22 -- At Hilliard Darby
Aug. 24 -- At New Albany with Upper Arlington
*Aug. 27 -- At Hilliard Bradley
Aug. 23-24 -- Boys: At Mason Invitational; Girls: At Cincinnati Princeton Invitational