The pendulum swung to both extremes the past two years for the Thomas Worthington boys water polo team.
A year after winning the state championship in 2017, the Cardinals had to replace 11 players who were lost to graduation and limped to an 8-25-1 record and a 13th-place finish in the state tournament.
"We were sorely lacking in leadership and experience last year," fifth-year coach Rick Yurich said. "Guys for various reasons -- injuries, illnesses, whatever -- were missing time last season. Even though we had a pretty strong team to start, we were playing the season without defined roles and clear leadership."
Yurich sees light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel as the Cardinals already have surpassed last year's win total. They defeated Upper Arlington 7-4 on Sept. 4 and went 2-1-1 in the Ohio Cup held Sept. 7 and 8 at Thomas to improve to 12-5-1.
Senior Jacob Carver, who leads the Cardinals in scoring, had five goals against the Golden Bears.
"We absolutely expected to be a lot better," Yurich said of his team's strong start. "But we absolutely expected to finish a lot better (last year)."
Senior Derek Taylor has anchored the defense and has been a key ball-handler on offense. Other key players include Carver, junior Ashton Roderer (goalkeeper) and seniors Evers Brandt and Yashar Bakhshaeisarand.
"I know we're coming together nicely," Taylor said. "We've already beat last season's record. So, I'm really excited about the rest of the season."
Players stepping up for girls squad
The early portion of the girls water polo team's season has been about gaining experience and developing cohesiveness as a unit.
"This is a group that hasn't played a lot together because we've relied on our seniors a lot the last couple of years," fifth-year coach Olivia Miranda said. "So, they're really coming into their own and the more they play together, the more they'll get better."
Thomas finished 14-20 last season, including a 3-1 mark in the state tournament for a fifth-place finish. The Cardinals are 6-9 thus far this season and have a corps of key players who contributed last season in seniors Audrey Taylor and Leah Lindemeyer and juniors Maia Lin and goalie Izzy Thomas.
"They are an incredibly hard-working team," Miranda said. "A lot of them are stepping up into varsity for the first time and they're doing a really good job. It's not reflected in our record. I expect (our record) to improve as the season goes (because) they're growth-curve has been tremendous."
Taylor has contributed in a lot of different ways for the Cardinals. She has 20 steals to lead the team on defense and is second on the team with 15 goals and six assists.
"(Taylor) is the heart of our team," Miranda said. "She is someone who is very inclusive of the other players and loves teaching the newer players the ropes. She brings us a lot of speed and she's definitely our most experienced player in the water as she's been a letterwinner all four years."
Lin leads the Cardinals with 20 goals and is tied with Lindemeyer and junior Nataliya Kallergis for the team lead in assists with seven.
"(Lin is) incredibly scrappy and she is hard-working," Miranda said. "She's someone I see as a standout player in the state of Ohio for the rest of this season and next season."
Thomas has anchored the defense with 94 blocks and nine steals this season, which is vital because of the Cardinals' lack of experience on the defensive side of the ball.
"She's been an incredibly dedicated athlete," Miranda said. "She's really helped us out a lot as we've tried to figure out our defense. So, she's been getting quite a workout this first part of the year. We're lucky to have her because she's such an outstanding goalie."
Girls tennis team picks up first win
Seniors Riley Dodson and Sydney Cooke have been the strength of the girls tennis team so far this season.
Cooke has spent much of the season slotted in the third singles spot for the Cardinals, who were 1-7 overall before playing Hilliard Davidson on Sept. 9 and 1-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before facing Olentangy Berlin on Sept. 11.
"(Cooke) has been the bright spot of the season," coach Andy Sinclair said. "It's kind of a nice surprise that she's played so well so far."
The Cardinals played three matches in a three-day stretch last week, losing to Hilliard Darby 3-2 in a league contest Sept. 3 and Olentangy Liberty 4-1 on Sept. 4 before beating Kilbourne 3-2 in league play Sept. 5.
"I just want to see everybody improve," Sinclair said. "We're going to take wins when we can get them."
Dodson (first singles) and Cooke (third singles) scored victories against Darby and Cooke (third singles) had the lone win against Liberty. Posting wins against Kilbourne were Dodson, Cooke (second singles) and Kate Haydel-Brown (third singles).
Sinclair said Cooke has always had the aptitude for the mental part of the game. This year, she's been able to put her strategy into action much better than she has in the past.
"Last year she was kind of erratic," Sinclair said. "She knew what to do, she just couldn't execute it. (Now) she's really executing and now she's got (her own strategic) ideas. She's managed to get to the point where she's got an answer to almost everything."
Below are the coming schedules for the Thomas cross country, field hockey, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball and water polo teams:
Sept. 14 -- Spartan Invitational at Michigan State
Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Hudson
*Sept. 16 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
Sept. 17 -- Dublin Scioto at York
Sept. 12 -- At Olentangy
Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Perrysburg
*Sept. 17 -- At Olentangy Berlin
Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Olentangy Berlin
*Sept. 16 -- Home vs. Delaware
*Sept. 17 -- At Dublin Jerome
Sept. 18 -- At Whetstone
*Sept. 12 -- At Hilliard Bradley
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
*Sept. 18 -- At Delaware
Sept. 14-15 -- Boys: Wild Knight Invite at Bowling Green; Girls: Ohio Cup at home