Many programs had a difficult preseason, but the St. Charles soccer team had it rougher than most.
The Cardinals started practice Aug. 1 along with most programs in the state, but they had their season stopped Aug. 17 when school officials announced the suspension of activities because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Three days later, principal James Lower reversed the decision, allowing teams to play and St. Charles to open its schedule Sept. 8 against CCL rival Ready.
Fifth-year coach Chris Vonau now has a chance for his program to win a fourth consecutive Division I district championship.
"It's been hectic and disjointed," said Vonau, whose team finished 14-4-2 last season and won its second consecutive CCL title. "From our guys' perspective, I think they are entirely focused on what needs to be done. They have done everything that they can do to prepare.
"The guys have been laser-focused. We have to maintain a flexible schedule and be able to adapt as things change. That's the reality of it all."
The Cardinals have five starters back in senior forward Danny Marino, senior defender Joe Roberts, senior midfielder Brady West, senior defender Brady Westin and junior midfielder Gabe O'Reilly.
"I think we have handled things well as a team," Westin said. "We have been out here every day that we can to work on our chemistry. We have been working to get the overall team camaraderie up."
The team has only four seniors, which means Vonau has been stressing the importance of consistency in workouts.
"We're coming off last year -- we lost 16 seniors -- so we're really trying to build chemistry with the younger guys," West said. "We only have four seniors this year, so (Vonau) has been stressing to stay consistent and to not get complacent."
Marino, West and junior forwards Thomas Hohmann, Kellen Karas, Yannick Lambe and Will Saas should be the primary scoring threats.
"We have a lot of depth at wing, especially from the juniors," Vonau said. "I think we have good firepower in the front. There's not a lot of drop when you look at our second options."
O'Reilly and junior Thomas Reichelderfer hold down the midfield with Roberts, Westin and sophomore Connor Morgan in the back.
Sophomore Charley Valachovic will be in goal after senior Jake Koehler transferred to Johnstown.
"We have had good attention to detail," Vonau said. "They are a very focused and high-energy group. This team was canceled and resurrected, so they have shown a lot of reliance and remained extremely focused."
Goggins returns home to lead Lions
Jason Goggins, a 1993 Bexley graduate, aims to lead the Lions to a third consecutive Division II district championship in his first season as coach.
The Lions return eight key performers from last season, when they finished 7-10-3 overall and 1-3-2 in the MSL-Ohio Division.
Back are seniors Simon Bernstein (defender), Charlie Breyfogle (forward), Will Fletcher (defender; second-team all-league), Grant Nguyen (midfielder; first-team all-league) and Jaxon Remeis (defender), junior defenders Max Hartman and Griffin Wagenbrenner and sophomore defender Grayson Fletcher.
"They have fantastic work ethics," said Goggins, who replaced Jay Scott after four seasons. "I thought that I'd have to come in and crack the whip and put the mindset in a different place, but I didn't have to.
"I came in to change the system to a different style and it's been a pretty large learning curve. But they have asked a lot of questions and have been working hard and learning things pretty well."
Goggins said the Lions are becoming more of a possession team.
"We want to play under control and with a purpose," he said. "We want to control the ball 70, 80, 90 percent of the game. If you eliminate your opponent's opportunities to score, you have a good chance of winning."
Goggins said Breyfogle will be the team's key scoring threat in its 4-5-1 alignment. Will Fletcher and Nguyen will run the offense as defensive center midfielders.
Senior Asher Polster, junior Louie Berger and freshman Emmett Pliskin have been competing to replace second-team all-state goalie Ben Ziegler, who graduated.
"Louie Berger is a club player but he has a broken thumb, and Asher Polster has battled a wrist injury and hasn't practiced much," Goggins said. "That leaves us with Emmett Pliskin, and he's only a freshman."
The Lions opened Sept. 2 with a 5-4 league win over Columbus Academy.