The Bexley boys soccer team took a different road to its second consecutive Division II district championship.
The Lions had a senior-driven team when they defeated Olentangy Berlin 1-0 in a district final last fall. They finished 13-7, losing to Cincinnati McNicholas 3-2 in a regional semifinal.
This time, the fourth-seeded Lions had to re-invent themselves during the season, and they were able to knock off second-seeded Bloom-Carroll 2-1 in a district final Oct. 26 at Hartley.
Bexley was 7-9-3 before its regional semifinal against Columbus Academy on Oct. 30. That meant it was only 4-9-3 entering postseason play.
"We changed our lineup and we were moving guys around trying to get the more effective guys out on the field," coach Jay Scott said. "At one time I threw the kitchen sink at it trying to find what works. We never jelled with it and changed things after four or five games.
"Now we're running a very basic 4-4-2, a tried and true formation. A lot of teams run it and the guys we have in place now are active and effective. We were trying to find the guys who fit in that formation. We have had some of our more seasoned players take the lead for us right now."
Junior Yonatan Ligator had a goal and an assist in the district final. Senior Jaxon Remeis scored the other goal and senior goalkeeper Ben Ziegler had 11 saves.
"It was very exciting to win (a district title) again, especially because there were points in the season when we were questioning whether we would get back there," Ziegler said. "We had some growing pains, but we overcame them.
"We lost to St. Charles (3-2 on Aug. 29) and tied Academy (at 1 on Sept. 7 in MSL-Ohio Division play) but even then, we knew we had the capability to put it all together. We started to work together."
The Bexley-Academy winner plays Dover or Millersburg West Holmes in a regional final Saturday, Nov. 2, at a neutral site. The winner plays in a state semifinal Wednesday, Nov. 6, at a neutral site against eighth-ranked Marietta, Monroe or two teams tied for second in the state poll, Cincinnati Wyoming and Tipp City Tippecanoe.
The Lions defeated fifth-seeded Centennial 4-0 on Oct. 22 in a district semifinal. Senior Miles Goldman and juniors Charlie Breyfogle, Will Fletcher and Max Hartman all scored, and Ziegler had 10 saves.
"For me and the rest of the coaches, this season has been so much different," Scott said. "Last year, we went on a tear and had a lot of experienced players. This season has been more of a struggle.
"We pulled each other along. As coaches, it's exciting to see the guys have that light go on when they realize that they can do the things you're teaching. We're firing as a team when we need to."
Girls team, Feinknopf race into state meet
The girls cross country team finished third in the Division II regional meet Oct. 26 at Pickerington North and Miles Feinknopf placed 17th in the boys race as both qualified for state Saturday, Nov. 2, at National Trail Raceway.
The girls scored 124 points and finished behind Granville (50) and Buckeye Valley (117) as the top seven teams and top 28 runners qualified for state. They will be making their fourth consecutive trip to state.
Sophomore Claire MacDonald led the Lions by placing sixth in 19 minutes, 6.9 seconds.
"I think I wanted to start out slower because in big races people tend to start out fast and I didn't want to kill myself in the first mile," she said. "That way I could have energy for the next two miles."
Maria Steinke (27th, 19:55.6) was next for the Lions, followed by Lily Keller (38th, 20:21.7), Hannah Hayden (42nd, 20:25.0), Karleigh Place (45th, 20:29.7), Ally Grieshop (61st, 20:51.5) and Rylee Barno (67th, 20:58.9).
"I think Claire went 6:05 in the first mile -- which is what she ran last week (at district) -- with 25 girls around her," coach Eric Acton said. "She's so measured as a runner and was ninth at the two-mile mark and finished sixth.
"They all had good races. Karleigh Place caught 42 runners after the first mile. All of our girls were all under 21 minutes, which is good."
Feinknopf finished in 16:42.0 to advance and lead the boys team, which finished eighth (226) behind champion Chillicothe Unioto (65). Waverly (219) was seventh for the final state-qualifying position.
Elliot Roe (45th, 17:31.2), Rob Donahey (65th, 17:44.2), Spencer Stevenson (68th, 17:46.1), Miller MacDonald (74th, 17:49.6), Atticus Keels (88th, 17:59.8) and Dylan Abel (105th, 18:13.0) also competed.
Girls soccer team falls in district semi
The girls soccer team lost at top-seeded Bloom-Carroll 1-0 on Oct. 23 in a Division II district semifinal.
The third-seeded Lions finished 12-5-2 overall and tied Grandview for second (6-2) in the MSL-Ohio behind Academy (8-0).
"We only had (four) wins last year and a lot of girls didn't want to come out this year, but they bought into what we were selling and what we wanted to accomplish," said first-year coach Scott James, whose team finished 4-7-7 last fall. "I couldn't be more proud of a group of girls that I have coached. They played their hearts out and the ball didn't bounce their way (against Bloom-Carroll)."
Senior forward Claire Heilman (2 goals, 3 assists) and senior midfielders Laney Hoehnke (5 goals, 3 assists) and Quinn Kane (3 goals, 2 assists) were first-team all-league, and senior defenders Anne Clubb and Joni Dunker were second-team all-league. Senior Lucy Powers had three goals and three assists.
Sophomore goalie Katie Jude (69 saves) was second-team all-league and junior forward Aly Cox (6 goals, 3 assists) was honorable mention.
The Lions expect to return their top three scorers in Cox and sophomore forwards Grace Heilman (13 goals, 4 assists) and Ava Joseph (6 goals, 5 assists).
Juniors Brooke Cowan and Lauren Fournier and sophomore Lillian Hoyer are key defenders expected to return.
"We pretty much expect our starting front line to all be back," James said. "We will lose several key defenders, but we have a lot of girls ready to step up into those roles."