The youth and inexperience throughout the Thomas Worthington field hockey team's roster has put it in an unfamiliar situation this fall.
After winning three consecutive state championships from 2015-17, the Cardinals reached another state semifinal last season behind the strength of a large 2019 graduating class.
Thomas has a system that consistently has raised up young players during coach Terri Simonetti Frost's 21-year tenure in which the Cardinals have won five state titles, but that will be tested this fall.
There are no seniors in the program.
"This team is very young and figuring it out together," Simonetti Frost said. "They have a lot of heart and grit."
The Cardinals were 3-0 overall and in the COFHL-West Division before facing Olentangy Orange on Sept. 4. They opened with 6-0 victories over Dublin Coffman (Aug. 21) and Olentangy Berlin (Aug. 26) and beat Jerome 3-0 on Aug. 29.
The top returnees are junior midfielder Mollie Estepp, junior attacker Bella Avila and sophomore defender Cora Hamilton.
Avila had 24 goals and 15 assists last season while making first-team all-league as the Cardinals went 18-2 overall and 8-0 in the COFHL-West, and Estepp had six goals and 28 assists while earning second-team all-league honors. Hamilton also is a returning starter.
Joining Avila at attacker are freshmen Cate Isaacson and Leila Boussedra, with sophomores Amanda Armstrong and Kate Murphy and freshman Campbell Bowers also at the position.
Estepp is joined at midfielder by junior Zoe Peveler and freshman Tate Beegle.
Hamilton leads a defense that also includes junior Carmen Reis and sophomores Ellie Conroy and Emily Kendall.
Junior Scarlett Oaks is at goalkeeper, with sophomore Kate McClellan also at the position after previously playing in the midfield.
Others looking to contribute include juniors Laydan Martin (midfielder/defender) and Meg Williams (attacker).
Sarah Charley, who closed her prep career with 109 goals and is now playing for Ohio State, led the 2019 graduating class.
"We need to play together by communicating and supporting one another off the ball," Simonetti Frost said. "We need to move to the ball more aggressively, using our speed, and we need to maintain the possession without giving it up with an unforced error."
Girls runners focused on strong season
Reaching the Division I state meet last fall after not doing so in 2017 only added to the focus the girls cross country team has had the past few months.
The Cardinals, who made it to state in 2016 but settled for eighth at regional in 2017, return five of their top seven runners after finishing 15th (351) at state behind Beavercreek (118).
"The girls worked really hard over the summer," 23rd-year coach Andy Cox said. "We had some quality success in track season (last spring) with the (3,200-meter relay) winning the state (title)."
Senior Lydia Miller was the team's No. 2 runner at state last season when she placed 68th overall (19 minutes, 54.7 seconds).
Senior Abby Moulton, juniors Carina Napoleon and Morgan Edwards and sophomore Michelina Guerra also return after competing at state.
On Aug. 24 in the 12-team Panther Division race of the Pickerington Classic at Pickerington North, the Cardinals scored 83 points to finish first as Miller won (18.51.8), Napoleon placed second (18:52.6) and Edwards was third (19:26.1).
Junior Naya Roebke and sophomore Hadley Kulina also have been regulars in the Cardinals' top seven this fall.
Others looking to contribute include sophomore Ishana Baldaro and freshmen Raiva Jha, Rosalie Smullen and Annalie Steele.
The biggest losses to graduation were Gia Napoleon, who finished 40th (19:26.6) at state and is now competing for Ohio State, and Tori Banks, who was the Cardinals' No. 6 runner at state.
"We're working on having some confidence," Cox said. "Hadley's been injured, so we're just trying to gain experience. Carina actually is embracing cross country, so it's kind of exciting."
Most of top boys runners are back
The boys cross country team also had most of its top runners return this fall.
On Aug. 24 in the 18-team Panther Division race of the Pickerington Classic, the Cardinals were runners-up (107) behind the host Panthers (59) as senior Zubin Jha placed fourth (16:00.8) and junior Noah Silliman was ninth (16:22.5).
Thomas finished sixth in the Division I regional meet last season to miss advancing to state by one spot, but had two individual state qualifiers in senior Nate Johnson, who finished 56th (16:56.9) at state, and Jha, who was 128th (17:35).
"For the first time in a while, we are the team with the experience," sixth-year coach Bill Darling said. "Our top guys have been up there before and know what to expect. They've worked hard and appear to be ready for a great 2019."
Seniors Jack Caine and Andres Mira, junior Victor Nash and sophomore Ben Smith also have been among the Cardinals' top seven.
Others looking to contribute include seniors Mitchell Button, Owen Jones and Dean Orloff, junior Wesley Horton and freshmen Samuel Caine and Jack Witherspoon.
"Our team goal is to make it back to the state championship meet," Darling said. "We came awfully close last year, finishing sixth at the regional when the magic number is five. That was heartbreaking for the kids, but it has served as motivation to work harder this summer and come in prepared to make another run at it."
Below are the coming schedules for the Thomas cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 7 -- Wooster Invitational
*Sept. 9 -- Home vs. Scioto
Sept. 7 -- St. Charles Invitational at Brookside
Sept. 9 -- Upper Arlington Invitational at Zanesville Country Club
Sept. 11 -- OCC-Cardinal at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 9 -- Kilbourne at Worthington Hills
*Sept. 10 -- Home vs. Delaware
Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*Sept. 10 -- At Delaware
*Sept. 5 -- At Kilbourne
Sept. 9 -- At Hilliard Davidson
*Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby
Sept. 7 -- At Davidson with Big Walnut and Gahanna
*Sept. 10 -- At Kilbourne