Moments after losing to Olentangy Liberty 3-0 in a Division I regional semifinal Oct. 30 at Dublin Jerome, Westerville Central boys soccer coach Dave Pence embraced members of his team to thank them for a memorable season.
Seeded 23rd in the district tournament, the Warhawks won their first district title since 2010 by defeating fifth-seeded Dublin Scioto 1-0 in overtime Oct. 26 at Olentangy Berlin.
Central then saw its season end against OCC-Buckeye Division rival Liberty. The Warhawks trailed just 1-0 at halftime and junior goalkeeper Sam Rojanasakdakul finished with seven saves.
"The team believed we could get this far," said Pence, who completed his 17th season. "We put up with some injuries early on and had a couple of changes from last year. We were trying to play a little bit differently and the guys were adapting to that. We knew we were a decent team, so this isn't a surprise to us."
The Warhawks also lost to Liberty during the regular season, falling 3-1 on Oct. 3 to tie Olentangy (6 points, 1-1-3) for third in the league behind the champion Patriots (5-0). Central finished 11-9-1 overall and went 2-3 in the league to also finish with six points.
Sophomore midfielder Brad Leonard was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district, and junior defender Enrique Monzalvo also was first-team all-league.
Senior defender Tyrone Rukoro and sophomore midfielder Aidan Nowell were second-team all-league. Senior defender Alex Perrini was special mention all-league and senior defender Aaron Milliren was honorable mention all-league.
Junior forward Kyle Stewart scored the game-winning goal against Scioto.
Another key player expected to contribute next season is junior midfielder Rollie Crawford.
"We started the season pretty slow, but we had a lot of injuries, so we were down," Crawford said. "We started to pick it up by the end of the season. We had hope and we just kept fighting and that's what got us (to the regional semifinal).
"The (six) seniors were a big part. They led us through and kept us going. When we were down and we needed motivation, they're the ones who picked us up and kept us going."
Pence also credited the seniors for helping to lead the team to a successful season.
"They see how it's done before them," he said. "This group was pretty special."
Others expected to return are juniors Matt Alloway (forward), Patrick Curran (midfielder) and Jack Gontkovic (midfielder) and sophomores Jack Bumbico (midfielder), Jack Fowler (goalie), Jack Roberts (defender), Gabe Schuck (forward), Nathan Seabury (midfielder) and Trent Wendling (defender).
"This was one of the most unselfish teams that I've had," Pence said. "They didn't care about awards. They didn't care about who made all-league. They didn't care about that stuff. They wanted to win."