The majority of Canal Winchester girls soccer players are familiar with each other, their positions and first-year coach Larry Sullivan, who previously led the junior varsity team for four seasons.
Still, Sullivan said the Indians need time to acclimate to the varsity level, given that they returned only two starters and a handful of other players who saw significant action as the team shared its second OCC-Capital Division championship in three years.
"We're trying to find ourselves as a team. We graduated a lot of good players but we're expecting the players who are here to step up and be able to compete, which they have. It's a learning process," Sullivan said. "A lot of them are filling roles they didn't necessarily fill last year. They're playing their positions, but the speed of the game takes a little bit of time to get used to. (Varsity) is faster. The players are stronger, so they have to get used to how to compete at this level."
Senior Elle Howard (midfielder) and junior Payton McKinlay (midfielder/forward) started last year, and seniors Kylee Boss (forward) and Holly Counts (defender/forward) and junior Mallory Sullivan (midfielder) also bring varsity experience to a team that has five seniors, 13 juniors and four sophomores.
Canal Winchester was 0-3 before playing Pickerington North on Sept. 5 and lost its league opener 3-0 at Worthington Kilbourne on Sept. 1.
Sullivan was the Indians' junior varsity coach the past four seasons and was promoted in January to succeed Alex Wentz. Wentz went 45-18-10 overall and 14-2-4 in the OCC-Capital, leading Canal Winchester to a Division I district runner-up finish in 2017.
The Indians opened with a 4-0 loss at Granville on Aug. 21 and fell 3-2 to Olentangy in their home opener Aug. 27. Junior forwards Ashlyn Hurley and Kierstyn Liming scored against the Braves, who got the winning goal with about three minutes left.
"We need to find more dangerous players to attack and create opportunities," Sullivan said. "We've moved the ball well at times and had girls step forward."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kaylee Deshong (defender) and Peyton Williford (defender), juniors Rylie Brackett (forward/midfielder), Katelyn Frank (forward), Maddie Frank (forward/midfielder), Emma Hughes (defender), Chloe Juniper (defender), Mallory Lassiter (goalie), Kristen Liming (defender), Alex Sanders (defender) and Paige Woodyard (defender) and sophomores Shea Butterbaugh (defender), Rory Chapman (defender), Emily Fusek (forward/midfielder/defender) and Kate Ratliff (midfielder).
"Any time you have a young team, you have to learn how to win," Sullivan said. "Our defense has been strong. We've been doing a better job in the field of play, but we have to cut down on giving up goals on set pieces. If we play good defense, we give ourselves a great chance."
Khanthachack leads veteran Cruisers
Twelve seniors dot Groveport Madison's roster, including forward Lyla Khanthachack, as the Cruisers hope for a vast improvement on last year's 2-15 record.
Khanthachack scored the only goal in a season-opening 1-0 home win over Teays Valley on Aug. 22.
Khanthachack is one of seven returning starters, along with classmates Madelyne Brown (defender), Veronica Bumgardner (defender), Samantha Gray (defender), Jasmine Hylton (midfielder) and Jennifer Perez (midfielder) and junior Shelby DeMatteo (midfielder).
"We possessed the ball a lot more (against Teays Valley) than we usually do," fourth-year coach Mark Coyer said. "The freshmen have been pivotal. Some of them make us that much better skill-wise. Our best defense is a good offense so when we possess the ball, it keeps the ball out of (opponents') hands and gives us more opportunities to score rather than being defensive all the time."
Senior Grace Marquis and sophomore Abenaa Rozyla-Kyei are splitting time in goal.
"Both of them together are a good combo," Coyer said. "Abenaa is pretty athletic and Grace is really solid coming out and not being afraid. I think a lot of that is because of her senior experience."
Three freshmen are on the roster in Ester Lininger (midfielder), Eva Walton (midfielder) and Isabelle Wilson (defender). Lininger started against Teays Valley.
The rest of the team consists of seniors Aluda Debessay (defender), Jayanna Mickey (defender), Mia Ramirez (defender), Constance Rollins (forward) and Emilia Zola (midfielder), junior Alexandra Reitter (defender) and sophomore Nicole Mohler (midfielder).
Groveport did not play again until Sept. 1, when it lost 8-0 at home to Olentangy Berlin.
The Cruisers begin OCC-Buckeye play Tuesday, Sept. 15, at Reynoldsburg.
"We just want to get better every day," Coyer said. "We have a lot to ground to cover to catch up with the rest of (the league)."