About two weeks into the season, Whetstone boys soccer coach Larry Howell told his players how impressed he was with their ability to flip the switch into competition mode when the time is right.
The Braves outscored their first four opponents by a combined 23-4 on their way to a 4-0 start before opening City League-North Division action Sept. 10 at Beechcroft.
Along the way, there have been plenty of good times off the pitch as well.
"This is the best team I've ever been on in terms of cohesiveness," senior defender Louis Schirmer said. "Our chemistry is great. I feel like we're mixing fun with being serious."
Junior forward Jacob Hoffman scored four goals in a 10-1 victory over Central Crossing on Aug. 28 and had a team-best six goals through four games, while junior midfielder Max Cipriani and senior midfielder Ibrahim Bangura had five and four goals, respectively.
It's been a reversal from last season when the Braves were shut out six times and held to one goal four other times on their way to a 7-8-1 finish that included a 1-4-1 record in City-North play.
"Everybody's playing," Howell said. "It'll get to the point where things will tighten up and we don't get as many kids in, but this may be the closest team I've had since I've been here and I'm in my seventh year. We want them to have fun, but like I told them, 'You guys are able to turn the fun off and get down to business and work when it's time.' That's been kind of a nice thing."
Schirmer, who attends Columbus Alternative, and senior Brandon Clem are in their third seasons as key players on defense. The Braves posted six shutouts last season.
Another key, according to Schirmer, has been the play of junior Leo Davey, who has moved from midfielder to goalkeeper this fall.
"He's a good kid and a great athlete," Schirmer said of Davey. "We were young at the box this year and I told him the difference is that you've got some seniors that would like to win a City championship or have at least a shot at it, and with you back there, we've got a chance. He's stepped up and played really well for us.
"We're scoring goals this year. We like that. Defense the last two years is what we've lived on. This year the defense can breathe a little bit because the offense is possessing and doing good things. The whole team is stepping up and I'm so proud of them right now."
Whetstone continues City-North action Thursday, Sept. 12, at home against Mifflin, which lost to West 2-1 in the City title game last season after sharing the City-North title with Northland at 5-0-1.
Howell expects the league to be filled with parity this fall.
"We're really focused on the field and are just like a brotherhood out there," Clem said. "We work for each other and fight for each other. I knew we had a lot of talent out there, but we didn't know we'd work as well together as we have been. As long as we work our hardest in practice, keep up the energy and keep the end goal of the City championship in mind, it gives us hope."
Football team set to face Bulldogs
In a two-year series against South in 2013 and '14, the football team won both games but was forced to forfeit a 28-8 victory to open the latter season because of using an ineligible player.
The programs haven't met since then, but they have had similar amounts of success over the past four-plus seasons.
The Braves lost to Watkins Memorial 38-19 in their opener Aug. 30 before defeating Briggs 55-20 on Sept. 6, while the Bulldogs opened Aug. 30 with a 22-7 victory over East and beat Linden-McKinley 66-30 on Sept. 6.
Since their last meeting, Whetstone is 19-32 and South is 17-33.
Against Watkins Memorial, junior running back Darric McClinton ran for a 45-yard touchdown and senior Rashaun Broomfield scored on an 18-yard run as the Braves led 12-9 at halftime. Broomfield also scored on an 80-yard kickoff return in the third quarter for the Braves, who were outscored 16-0 in the final quarter.
It was a much closer game than a season ago when the Braves lost 54-6, and Whetstone then avenged a 14-2 loss to Briggs in Week 2 last year.
"(We're) just a lot more complete as a team this year," said senior Ben Paugh, an offensive lineman, linebacker and punter. "We've got more numbers and everybody's a year older. We've got a lot of returning starters. We have a whole playbook this year, which was something we struggled with a little bit last year. Our defense is solid."
South has been a team on the rise. After finishing 3-6 in 2017, the Bulldogs improved to 6-4 in coach George Yates II's first season last fall, including winning five of their first six games.
Senior running back Daivion Greene-Tucker and senior fullback Leon Miller Jr. lead South's rushing attack that features a double tight-end formation, with sophomores Daizhon Cox and Tony Souvanhly returning as starters on the offensive line.
The Bulldogs have eight returning starters on defense, with Greene-Tucker and senior Coriawn Wade leading the way in the secondary.
Junior Ronmel Robinson, who plays quarterback, tight end and linebacker, is another key player for South.
Girls soccer team to open league play
The girls soccer team begins City-North action Thursday, Sept. 12, at Mifflin.
Last season, the Braves finished second in the league at 3-1, behind Centennial (4-0), and fell to the Stars 4-1 in the City title game.
Whetstone's other league games are Sept. 19 at home against Briggs, Sept. 24 at home against Centennial and Oct. 1 at West.
The Braves defeated West Lafayette Ridgewood 1-0 on Sept. 5 behind a goal by senior midfielder Elise Peters and were 3-2-1 before facing Mount Vernon on Sept. 10.
In a 3-0 victory over Franklin Heights on Aug. 29, junior forward Mira Dush had two goals and freshman forward Summer Dush scored the other.
Senior defender Olivia Mullins, who had two goals in a 5-0 win over Westland on Aug. 22, also has been among the standouts.
Below are the coming schedules for the Whetstone cross country, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 14 -- Ohio Wesleyan Invitational at Liberty Park
Sept. 18 -- Arrowhead Invitational at home
*Sept. 12 -- League match at TBA
*Sept. 17 -- League match at TBA
*Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Beechcroft
*Sept. 17 -- At Linden-McKinley
Sept. 16 -- Home vs. Teays Valley
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Thomas Worth-ington
*Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Linden
*Sept. 17 -- At East