It's been 27 years since the Watterson football team has played Lancaster, but the rivalry between the programs will be renewed Friday, Aug. 30, when the Eagles visit the Golden Gales.
The Eagles are 10-15-1 all-time against Lancaster. The only opponents they have faced more times than the Gales are CCL rivals DeSales, Hartley and St. Charles.
Lancaster has won nine of the last 10 meetings, including in 1991 -- Watterson coach Brian Kennedy's senior season -- when it crushed the Eagles 41-0.
"When I was at Watterson, we played Lancaster, and it was nice to go 45 minutes instead of two hours for a game," Kennedy said. "With a three-game league schedule, it makes it extremely difficult to schedule games. You talk about getting after it Week 1 to see where we're at, that's a big challenge for us."
Neither team made the playoffs last season, but the Gales' postseason hopes remained alive until the final week of the regular season. They finished 6-4 overall and went 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division to tie Reynoldsburg for the league title.
Last fall, Watterson finished 5-5 overall -- three more wins than it had in 2017 -- and 2-1 in the CCL.
"I'm excited to get back at it," senior tight end and linebacker Chris Crane said. "We've got a lot of talent and the whole team knows we can do it."
The game against the Gales marks the return of junior quarterback Jake Hoying, who completed 126 of 198 passes for 1,313 yards with nine touchdowns last season before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone in Week 7.
The Eagles won their final three games a year ago with players such as senior running back Thomas Bair (772 yards, 7 TDs), junior wide receivers Andrew Bettendorf (28 receptions) and Tyler Young (15 receptions) and junior tight end Davis Boone (34 receptions) helping lead the offense.
Young also was among the top players in the secondary, which could be another strength for the Eagles.
Lancaster went on a six-game winning streak that included a 31-30 victory over eventual Division I state semifinalist Pickerington Central in Week 7 but returns just senior wide receiver Casey Finck, two starting offensive linemen and role players such as senior wide receiver Max Hamilton on offense.
Kennedy expects the Eagles to be "physical."
"We have a lot of guys returning on defense," Lancaster senior defensive lineman Devon Pearson said. "We're returning five of our front seven (on defense). On offense, we have a lot of young guys and our secondary is pretty young, but we're making sure they get their reps. It'll be fun this year."
Volleyball team aiming high
The girls volleyball team is coming off a season in which it finished 19-8 overall, went 6-2 in the CCL to share the league title with DeSales and Hartley and won its first district title since 2011.
The Eagles lost five players to graduation but have three college commits in senior middle hitter Abby Stratford (West Point), junior libero Sydney Taylor (Ohio State) and junior right-side hitter Olyvia Kennedy (George Mason). Stratford is a move-in from Florida.
Watterson opened Aug. 17 with a 25-16, 25-18, 25-12 loss to defending Division I state champion Cincinnati Ursuline Academy and begins CCL action Tuesday, Sept. 3, at home against DeSales.
"Preseason (was) a lot of learning for the program," third-year coach Stephanie Grieshop said. "We've been working on our chemistry and connections these last couple weeks. We're excited to see how we improve this year. We have a tough conference and district, but we're looking forward to a great season together."
Juniors Gina Grden (middle hitter/outside hitter), Sophie Mangold (setter) and Margo Lawson (defensive specialist) and sophomore Sierra Peterson (right-side hitter/outside hitter) are other key returnees for the Eagles, who lost in a Division I regional semifinal last season.
Juniors Anna Jannot (defensive specialist) and Hope Uptegraph (defensive specialist) also contributed last season, while junior Sophie Higgins (middle hitter) and freshman Ava Hoying (outside hitter) are others looking to contribute.
Last season, Kennedy was second on the Eagles with 267 kills behind 2019 graduate Grace Jenkins (278) and Taylor was second on the team in digs (248) behind 2019 graduate Kari Mercer (364).
Mangold had 398 assists a year ago.
"The girls are focused on earning another opportunity at the district championship and beyond," Grieshop said. "The (returnees) knew what we had to do last year to finish strong and they began practices with that same intensity and drive."
Below are the coming schedules for the Watterson cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 31 -- Circleville Invitational
Aug. 31 -- Pinnacle Classic
Aug. 29 -- DeSales at Marysville Golf Course
Sept. 3 -- Pickerington North at Blacklick Woods
Sept. 4 -- Bloom-Carroll at Pine Hill
Aug. 31 -- Home vs. Akron Hoban
Aug. 31 -- At Olentangy
*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Ready
Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Columbus Academy
*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. DeSales