The Whetstone football team was caught flat-footed in its opener last season, falling to Watkins Memorial 54-6.
The Braves are hoping for a better showing when they play host to the Warriors on Friday, Aug. 30, in this year's opener.
"We're a lot more prepared this year," said second-year coach Tom Jones, who had less than three months to prepare for last season after being named coach in June 2018. "We've got 40 guys on the roster this year, which helps with depth.
"Watkins Memorial had a new coaching staff last year, so we didn't know what to expect from them. I think we're just a lot more prepared for the season right now than we even thought about being last year."
This marks the fifth consecutive year in which the teams have met to open the season. The Braves lost three of the previous four matchups, falling to the Warriors 52-13 in 2015, 13-6 in 2017 and last season while winning 9-6 in 2016.
"Maybe they're overlooking us," said Jones, whose team finished 3-7 a year ago. "But we just want to make sure we're ready and focused to go and put our best effort in. That's the key for us, being the best we can be. There's a lot to be positive about. With 40 guys on the roster, we've got more players than most teams in the (City League-North Division). Only Northland and East have more guys. Hopefully, our non-league schedule will get us prepared for the City."
Watkins Memorial, which finished 4-6 last season, returns 14 starters, including nine on offense. One of them was not at quarterback, where the Warriors will rely on either Robby Montagnese or Liston Shroyer behind center. Watkins Memorial also has a new running back, with Luke Albin and Gage Lowery expected to share the workload.
The Warriors' offensive line averages 290 pounds and includes a pair of 300-pounders.
Linebackers Tony Calovini, Parker Hill and Mason Swearengen are expected to lead Watkins Memorial's defense, with Aaron Zimak leading up front and Albin, Christian Harvey and Cameron Burt leading in the secondary.
For Whetstone, Alex Hurd is taking over at quarterback, replacing Rashaun Broomfield, who has moved from quarterback to wide receiver. Other key players on offense include running backs Darric McClinton and Khris Watkins-Sellers, receivers Sallah Abdourahman, Johney Kincaid and Gabe Jordan and linemen Ben Paugh, Anthony Mirando and Anthony Riccio.
Paugh played fullback last season.
"Mirando has waited his turn for three years and he's had a strong camp and we're expecting big things from him," Jones said. "He trained hard all summer and throughout the offseason to be our tight end, but then we had an opening on the O-line and he stepped forward and met the challenge.
"He's also a guy who has played multiple positions on defense, from end, to corner, to safety and now to linebacker. He's a special guy willing to do whatever it takes. This is his opportunity to shine."
Joining Mirando at linebacker in the Braves' 3-5 defense will be Paugh, Jordan, McClinton and Watkins-Sellers.
Girls volleyball team has high expectations
The girls volleyball team has high expectations this season, and for good reason, as six starters return from last year, when the Braves finished 15-5 overall and went 13-1 in the City-North to share the league title with Centennial.
The Stars represented the City-North in the City final because Whetstone had been to the final in 2017.
"As good as last year was, we didn't make it to the City final and we didn't win a (Division I district) tournament match," 41st-year coach Errole Rembert said. "So those are the two biggest goals this year. We want to win a few more matches, reach the City final and win at least one tournament match, if not more."
Among the returnees are seniors Alea Millington-Fuqua (middle hitter) and Dahlia Kleen (setter/outside hitter), juniors Sadie Hannah (defensive specialist), Megan Harrison (setter/outside hitter) and Macy Staggs (middle hitter) and sophomore Alivia Brello (defensive specialist).
"We've got a lot of experience back and should have good leadership," Rembert said. "Sadie and Alivia are our best passers and Dahlia and Megan will be our leaders. I think we've got good talent at all positions. We only lost one of our top players (to graduation) last year (in Ellie Henkaline)."
Completing the roster are senior Rain Jones (outside hitter), juniors Grace Brigle (outside hitter), Claire Gordan (outside hitter) and Caitlyn McDaniel (defensive specialist) and sophomores Ellen Edwards (right-side hitter) and Lilian Keener (defensive specialist).
The Braves opened Aug. 17 with a tri-match, losing to host Grandview 25-17, 26-24 and falling to Grove City Christian 16-25, 25-18, 25-22. They played both matches without Brello and Millington-Fuqua, who is recovering from an ankle injury.
Whetstone bounced back to beat Whitehall 25-18, 18-25, 25-17, 25-9 on Aug. 21 and opened league action Aug. 22 with a 25-7, 25-7, 25-4 win over East.
The Braves were 2-2 overall before playing Columbus Academy on Aug. 26 and Beechcroft on Aug. 27.
Below are the coming schedules for the Whetstone boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
*Aug. 29 -- Mifflin and South at Airport
*Sept. 3 -- Independence and West at Raymond Memorial
Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Briggs
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Franklin Heights
Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Licking Heights
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Hartley
*Sept. 4 -- At Centennial
*Aug. 29 -- At Mifflin
*Sept. 3 -- At International