The Big Walnut football team knows what to expect from its Week 1 opponent.
The Golden Eagles will kick off the season Friday, Aug. 30, at Johnstown, last season's Division V state runner-up.
"They're a heck of a team and heck of a program," said coach Joe Weaver, who is in his 11th season leading the Golden Eagles. "They're going to be tough and physical and play hard-nosed, smash-mouth, disciplined football."
Much has changed for the Johnnies, however. They had to replace several starters who led them to last year's state title game, where they lost to Orrville 49-34 to finish 13-2.
Johnstown returns only four starters in its unbalanced I-formation offense in senior lineman and Ohio University recruit Wyatt Walton, senior guard Hunter Nickell, junior tight end Jake Lusk and junior wide receiver Brandon McConnell.
The Johnnies return five starters on their 4-4 defense, led by Lusk (109 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 18 sacks; special mention all-state, first-team all-district) and senior Stew Davis (112 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 16 sacks) at end.
"This is a super-talented team," junior quarterback Jagger Barnett said of Johnstown. "Obviously, they've lost some key players, but they have two great returning defensive ends who will be a challenge. To start off the year against Johnstown is definitely an exciting Week 1 game."
This marks the third consecutive season in which Big Walnut has opened against Johnstown. The Johnnies, who are led by 18th-year coach Mike Carter, won 43-38 last season and 3-0 in 2017.
"He runs a tremendous program and does a great job getting kids ready to play," Weaver said of Carter. "His kids play their guts out for him. When you go up against that, you have to be ready to play. It's a huge challenge by far."
Big Walnut, which finished 3-7 last season, returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense.
Last season, Barnett completed 108 of 169 passes for 1,652 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions and was second-team all-district as a first-year starter.
The Golden Eagles also return their top rusher from a year ago in senior running back Tyler Crotinger, a special mention all-district honoree who rushed for 541 yards and eight touchdowns on 116 carries.
Senior linebackers Ryan Coletta (team-high 51 tackles; second-team all-league, honorable mention all-district) and Max Lenz (first-team all-league, special mention all-district) return in the middle of Big Walnut's 4-2-5 defense.
Girls soccer team again has high hopes
The girls soccer team reached a Division II state semifinal each of the past two seasons but will face a much different path in this year's postseason, as the Golden Eagles have moved up to Division I.
"We're very much used to playing a Division I (regular-season) schedule, and our schedule is very much like last year," second-year coach Chris Allen said. "Once we get into the tournament, we'll have to see how that unfolds."
Big Walnut finished 14-3-4 overall last season following a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati Indian Hill in a state semifinal. The Golden Eagles lost to the same opponent in a state semifinal in 2017, falling 4-0.
Big Walnut opened Aug. 16 with a 2-1 win over defending OCC-Capital Division champion New Albany as junior forward Avery Maxeiner scored both goals and senior goalkeeper Payton Carter had six saves.
Last season, the Golden Eagles went 4-1 in the league to place second behind New Albany (5-0).
"Our win against New Albany was big for us in terms of the conference," Allen said. "They're the defending champions in the conference. We started out losing this game last year (3-0) and we ended up finishing second."
Big Walnut allowed only 11 goals in 21 games last season and expects to be strong around its own net again this year.
Carter, senior defenders Alyssa Tarney and Haley Krinn and junior defender Morgan Bodker (first-team all-league and all-district) all return to a defense that posted 13 shutouts last season. Also playing in the back is freshman defender Carly Hershberger.
"We have a lot of our core group back, and they're helping to bring the younger players along," Allen said.
Big Walnut also returns its top scorer from last season in senior midfielder Avery Schone, who had 13 goals and five assists and was named first-team all-league and all-district and second-team all-state.
Junior Annie Thomas, sophomore Madi Yano and freshman Mya Kaylor are others who will see playing time in the midfield.
Senior Alexis Schone (second-team all-league and all-district) returns at forward, where senior Kimberly Serna and freshman Emma Barnett also will contribute.
Boys soccer team relying on experience
With many first-year varsity players a year ago, the boys soccer team produced results indicative of an inexperienced squad, finishing 3-13-1 overall.
This season, third-year coach Adam Gatton expects more victories.
"We want to build on the things we learned from last year," Gatton said. "We have a lot of guys back from last year. We had a lot of guys new to the varsity side (last year) and they got a lot of experience."
Big Walnut opened Aug. 16 with a 1-0 loss at OCC-Capital rival New Albany. The game was decided by a penalty kick, and senior goalie Ryan Kline made seven saves.
"(New Albany is) one of the best teams around and we had a competitive game with them," said Gatton, whose team went 2-2-1 in the OCC-Capital last season. "We just weren't able to get over the hump, but we were very competitive."
Nearly every starter this year for Big Walnut earned playing time last season, and this season's lineup is led by six seniors in Kline, defenders Tyler Pearson, Landen Rutkowski and Jayden Thomas and midfielders Ian Crotinger and Chris Geddis.
Pearson played in the midfield last season, while Geddis returns to the program after a one-year hiatus.
Junior Cody Lumby also is back in the midfield.
Last season, the Golden Eagles lost their first 10 games and scored just 22 goals while allowing 57.
Gatton is looking to junior forwards Jack Wood and Darwin Marcia and sophomore midfielder Logan Pry to help boost the team's offense this season.
"For us to be successful, those guys are going to have to score a lot of goals for us," Gatton said.
The offensive attack also looks somewhat different.
"We're much more possession-oriented than we've been in years past," Gatton said. "I think we're taking care of the ball a lot better. We're a team that's going to hustle. Guys are leaving everything on the field."
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 31 -- Bucyrus Invitational
Aug. 26 -- Moundbuilders tournament
Aug. 28 -- OCC-Capital at Turnberry
Aug. 27 -- Westerville South and Thomas Worthington at Royal American
Aug. 28 -- OCC-Ohio at New Albany Links
Aug. 27 -- At Olentangy
Aug. 29 -- At Mount Vernon
Aug. 27 -- Home vs. Olentangy
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Lexington
Aug. 26 -- Home vs. Delaware
*Aug. 27 -- At New Albany
*Aug. 29 -- At Newark
Aug. 27 -- At Olentangy
Aug. 28 -- Home vs. Marysville