Among the 20 players on the Centennial boys soccer team, seven are returning starters and only one isn't a junior or a senior.
That's made for some positive and intense moments, and not just during the games.
"Every practice is like a tryout if you want to fight for your position," junior forward Derrick Ibrahim said. "We've got a lot of offense and a lot of defensive players, too. We're off to a great start."
After going 7-5-1 overall and finishing third at 4-2 in the City League-North Division last season despite winning only two of their first six games, the Stars were 4-1 after beating Cristo Rey 7-1 on Sept. 5 and opened league action Sept. 10 at defending champion Mifflin.
Centennial earned victories over Central Crossing (9-3 on Aug. 20), Jonathan Alder (4-0 on Aug. 22) and Franklin Heights (7-1 on Aug. 24) before falling to Tree of Life 3-2 on Aug. 27.
Against Cristo Rey, sophomore forward Ryan Lele had three goals to give him five for the season.
Ibrahim did not play for the Stars as a freshman but became a starter last season and was leading the team in goals with nine through five games.
Junior forward Nicky Oberdick had four goals. Senior midfielder Diego Giraldo and junior forward/midfielder Kyengo Munywoki also have been scoring threats.
Coach Scott George believes the combination of having a more experienced and athletic roster is helping his team find the back of the net more often.
"We have a lot of offensive talent, so there's not much drop-off from the starters to the bench," he said. "Basically we've been running people ragged. We pressure up top and force them to make mistakes. We played Jonathan Alder, which is usually a solid program, and they came out and in the first 10 minutes it was pretty even. Then we figured out how to play them and they were on the back of their feet the rest of the way and we wound up winning 4-0."
Ibrahim, Munywoki and Oberdick lead an 11-member junior class. Oberdick is in his third season as a starter.
"We're off to a great start," Ibrahim said. "We started out against Central Crossing and had to make a statement. We're all like a family and we're going to be quick down the field. You've just got to be close to your teammates."
Among the other top seniors have been midfielders Harold Deandra, a three-year starter, and Josh Male. Senior midfielder Matt Jacobsen and senior defender Jeremiah Upchurch also are three-year starters.
The Stars continue league action Thursday, Sept. 12, at home against Linden-McKinley and expect to be tested by Beechcroft on Sept. 19 at home.
Northland, which tied Mifflin for the City-North title a year ago with the Punchers advancing to the City final because of a tiebreaker, also is a team George expects to be strong. The Stars play at Northland on Oct. 1.
"We're a junior-heavy team, so a lot of those guys got thrown in because we had a lot of guys that left two years ago," George said. "They got thrown in as sophomores probably when they weren't all the way there and this year they're a year wiser and know what they need to do to get results."
Football team battles through adversity
The football team beat West 50-0 on Sept. 6 despite not having junior quarterback Jaylen Gilbert, who suffered a shoulder injury in a 21-20 loss to Grandview in the opener Aug. 29.
Gilbert's status is uncertain for the Stars' game Friday, Sept. 13, at Africentric, but coach Donte Goosby is hopeful that he'll return for the game Sept. 20 at Chillicothe or shortly afterward.
In addition, the Stars played the Cowboys without junior running back Marquese Scott, who was ejected from the game against Grandview and served a one-game suspension.
Junior Syquee Womack, who had an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and intercepted three passes against Grandview, and sophomore Blake Bennett are among the options at quarterback in Gilbert's absence.
"Blake's been Jaylen's backup since last year on varsity, but Syquee has quarterback experience," Goosby said. "Blake has got a lot of similar assets to his game (as Gilbert), but Jaylen is special so nobody quite brings to the table what Jaylen does. (Bennett is) definitely athletic and has a decent arm. He's got a ways to go in terms of his mechanics, but he's a good decision-maker."
Senior Seth Arrowood and junior Justin Grimes, both two-way linemen, and junior linebacker Dejwar Ali have been leaders on defense, according to Goosby.
Africentric, which lost to Centennial 47-16 last season on the way to a 0-10 finish, fell to Grandview 42-24 on Sept. 6 to drop to 0-2. The Nubians lost to Steubenville Catholic Central 28-24 on Aug. 31.
"I heard that they played Steubenville Catholic Central pretty tough," Goosby said. "Just to travel there is tough. (Africentric is) typically athletic with a couple solid guys up front. The coach over there (Clarence Daniels) specializes in the offensive line and he's one of those guys who's real heavy on fundamentals and technique. This being his (third season) up there, they'll put up a solid product."
Girls volleyball team falls to Whetstone
After splitting with Whetstone on its way to a 13-1 finish in the City-North last season, the Stars lost the first-round matchup to the Braves 25-12, 18-25, 25-17, 25-23 on Sept. 5.
Centennial was 4-2 overall and 4-1 in the league before facing Mifflin on Sept. 10.
The Stars play their other match against Whetstone on Oct. 1 at home.
Below are the coming schedules for the Centennial cross country, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 14 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park
*Sept. 12 -- League match at TBA
*Sept. 17 -- League match at TBA
*Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Linden-McKinley
*Sept. 17 -- At East
Sept. 12 -- At Tree of Life
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Northland
*Sept. 18 -- At International
*Sept. 12 -- At International
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Beechcroft