Hilliard Davidson boys soccer coach Dan Hoover and his players believe they have the potential to repeat as OCC-Central Division champions.
The Wildcats won the league title last season, finishing first at 5-0, one game ahead of runner-up Upper Arlington (4-1).
After an opening-round bye, however, the Wildcats lost 2-1 in overtime to Dublin Scioto in the second round of the Division I district tournament to finish 12-3-2 overall.
The Wildcats begin defense of their league title Tuesday, Sept. 15, at Olentangy Orange in a revamped OCC-Central that now also includes Bradley and Olentangy Liberty along with holdovers Dublin Coffman and UA.
Last season, Liberty was the Division I state runner-up after edging the Golden Bears in two overtimes to win a district title.
"We have a pretty big gauntlet in our division," said Hoover, who was the league's Coach of the Year last season. "Liberty and Coffman are there, and UA. Having crosstown rival Bradley in there, we have to raise the bar. It will be good for us. We're always about challenging (our players). We'll be fine."
Davidson opened with a scoreless tie against Darby on Aug. 28 and defeated Newark 5-0 on Sept. 1. Senior goalie Lorenzo Nieves had five saves against the Panthers.
"We played hard (against Darby)," said Nieves, who was second-team all-league last season. "The effort was there. We really didn't get a whole lot of chances, but we'll be fine. If we play like that the rest of the season, we'll win a few games. Once we get the rust off, we'll be good to go."
Nieves also is a kicker for the football team.
Also back are seniors Balial Katabay (forward), Henry Jimenez (midfielder), Ayoub Ouhammou (forward) and Omar Shaaban (midfielder) and juniors Lucas Baker (defender), Sam Holden (midfielder), Carson Puhl (defender), Owen Smallwood (midfielder) and Yusei Tsunematsu (midfielder).
Other players are seniors Addison Manlove (midfielder) and Marco Perez (defender), juniors Ethan Dehority (defender), Owen Waby (defender) and Zander Yang (midfielder), sophomores Casey Sell (midfielder) and Colin Price (midfielder) and freshmen Will Baker (forward), Owen Blevins (defender), Aiden Finley (defender), Andrew Lewis (defender) and Youssef Shaaban (midfielder).
Holden had two goals against Newark, with Nieves, Dehority and Baker also scoring.
"The stuff we teach and the culture we have, you want to be the best," said Hoover, who is in his seventh season. "We want to strive to be the best every day with our players, our attitudes, our performance and our respect of each other and our respect of our opponents."
A key loss to graduation was forward Carter Ely, who led the team in scoring with 23 goals and three assists and was named Player of the Year in the OCC-Central, along with first-team all-district and second-team all-state.
Jaguars roster filled with veteran players
Bradley is relying on an experienced group of nine players who started at one time or another last season as the Jaguars finished 6-7-3 overall and 3-3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Those returnees are seniors Chris Crock (forward), Connor Clarke (midfielder), Devon Hess (forward/midfielder; third-team all-district, first-team all-league), Rishil Patel (defender; special mention all-league) and Dominic Williams (goalie), juniors Tony Baxendell (midfielder/forward; second-team all-district, first-team all-league), Christian Harris (defender) and Brian Kitchen (midfielder) and sophomore Cesar Diaz Martinez (midfielder).
"We have a lot of experience in terms of varsity time played, and we have 13 seniors," third-year coach Chad Snider said. "The midfield and our defense are good starting points for us. Our offense is a little suspect but is getting better the more we work on it."
Baxendell (8 goals, 4 assists) was the leading scorer. He joins Crock (2 goals, 2 assists), Hess (6 goals, 5 assists) and senior midfielder Elijah Solokha, who will be part of a "scoring by committee" approach, as Snider referred to it.
"There won't be one standout scorer for defenses to focus on," Snider said. "It's always exciting to see who is the next one to step up and be the star of the day."
Sophomore Zach Alting joins Clarke and Kitchen and Martinez in the midfield, with Harris, Patel, senior Axel Morales and junior Joseph Lopez in the back.
Williams is back at goalie, and Snider expects him to give the Jaguars a lift with his play.
"Dominic is like a stone wall back there," Snider said. "The boys in the back have so much confidence in him that they can take a few more risks and know he has their back. He has the ability to shut any team down no matter who it is."
The Jaguars lost their opener to Darby 2-0 on Aug. 21 and defeated Pickerington Central 4-0 on Aug. 27. They tied Thomas Worthington at 1 on Sept. 1.
Bradley moves to the OCC-Central with Davidson, Dublin Coffman, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange and Upper Arlington. It begins league play Tuesday, Sept. 15, at home against UA.
Panthers counting on experience
Darby returns an experienced roster as it looks to find its footing in a realigned OCC-Cardinal.
"It's early on, and we've made some silly mistakes," said fifth-year coach Kyle Reichle, whose team finished 4-13 a year ago. "Luckily it hasn't cost us any goals yet, but guys are shaking the rust off and just eliminating those errors.
"Our league's new. We have a really deep league. We're looking to compete in the OCC and hopefully do well in those league games, so we can come off with an OCC title."
Darby features a roster with 12 seniors and nine juniors, and Reichle said juniors Wassim Metatla (striker) and Gio Roberts (midfielder) and senior Brian Watkins (goalie) lead a deep lineup.
"We have a pretty solid squad across the board, with a lot of experience." said Reichle, whose team will use a 4-3-3 formation.
Metatla scored four goals a year ago, and Reichle expects that total to rise.
"He's very talented, very good on the ball, very smart and with a high soccer IQ," Reichle said.
Roberts should be one the top players for the Panthers in the midfield.
"He's very strong and a good physical presence," Reichle said. "He's very good technically and he's just a consistent player all-around."
Watkins, a third-year starter, made 102 saves last season.
"He's a leader on the team," Reichle said. "Guys respect him."
Others expected to see regular playing time include seniors Daelon Khanthachack (center back), Ron Violante (left back), Brandon Reynard (right back), Colin Walters (midfielder), Hadj Bah (midfielder) and Nathan Khanthachack (midfielder), juniors Danny Gajda (center back) and Justin Fleischman (midfielder) and sophomore midfielder Jack Thomas (midfielder).
Darby defeated Grove City 2-1 on Sept. 1 to improve to 2-0-2 entering its game Sept. 3 against Westerville North. The Panthers face Lancaster on Sept. 8 and open league play against Marysville on Tuesday, Sept. 15, at home.