The Hilliard Bradley girls soccer team was looking for a change after losing in a Division I district final last fall.
The Jaguars found that with a new formation that will take advantage of an abundance of midfield and defensive talent.
"We started a new formation this year with a 3-5-3," senior defender Delaney Porter said. "We wanted to have a strong midfield because our defense has been strong. We should do well with our three in the back and keep attacking with our five in the midfield."
Bradley finished 10-5-4 overall last season and tied Dublin Jerome for the OCC-Cardinal Division title at 6-1.
Five starters return in Porter, senior forward Avery Jantonio, sophomore forward Genevieve Jantonio, sophomore defender Marena Kraft and sophomore forward Clara Richardson. Senior midfielder Abby Ullum and senior midfielder Meghan Shay also saw varsity action a year ago.
"We have to make sure to hold the center of the field and make sure that we don't get stretched out too wide," Ullum said. "That way we can make sure we're pushing up to make sure we use all of the midfield."
Avery Jantonio, Ullum, Porter and Shay are part of a nine-player senior class. They are making the most of their final season.
"The seniors didn't get to play club soccer in the spring and they just have this confidence that they know things can be taken away from them," fourth-year coach Becky Alcox said. "They're enjoying every second of it."
The Jaguars lost senior midfielder Sydney Malehorn to a knee injury, but junior midfielder Anna Miller is back after missing time with a back injury.
Shay, Ullum and Miller are joined in the midfield by junior Maddie Sedlock and freshmen Rachel Chenos and Abby Cyr.
Kraft and Porter are on defense along with junior Nina Viggiano.
"Abby Ullum and Anna Miller are calm, composed and they communicate well," Alcox said. "It's cool to see Abby go from being a role player to being a leader for us in the midfield.
"There's no one like Delaney in the back. Marena Kraft is playing more of a defensive midfield and Nina got some time last year and she's ready to go."
The Jantonios and Richardson provide a formidable offensive threat.
At goalie, Bradley must replace a pair of Division I college signees with the departure of 2020 graduates Macy Enneking (Iowa) and Emily Keck (North Carolina-Charlotte). Senior Alison Rasor and sophomore Jada Van Steenvoort have shared duties early in the season for the Jaguars, who tied Marysville at 2 on Aug. 25 before defeating Thomas Worthington 1-0 on Sept. 1.
Bradley has moved to the OCC-Central in the latest round of conference realignment with Davidson, Dublin Coffman, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange and Upper Arlington. The Jaguars open league play Tuesday, Sept. 15, at UA.
"We play in a tough league, and we didn't shy away from the non-league games either with New Albany, Jerome and Pickerington North on the schedule," Alcox said. "We're only here to get better."
Panthers focus on playing for each other
Darby lost a number of key contributors from last season, but second-year coach Kelsey Pritchard still has high expectations.
"We have an (inexperienced) group, but we have a solid group," said Pritchard, whose squad finished 8-10-1 after losing 5-1 to Watterson in a Division I district semifinal. "I think the goal is to play for each other, to play together as a unit."
Key contributors in Darby's 4-3-3 formation should include senior midfielders Mackenzie Hessick and Caroline Turner, senior defender Gabby Simpson, senior goalie Alexis Stewart, junior defender Casey Rigel and junior midfielder Sydney Thomas.
Hessick was special mention all-league and Rigel was honorable mention all-league.
Maddy Leone, a senior forward, is currently out with an injury.
Pritchard said junior midfielders Oliva Miller and Kathy King and sophomore defender Ellie Janetski also will see playing time.
Lost to graduation were goalie Briana Turner and forward Naomi Walters -- both first-team all-league selections -- along with defenders Teddie Coe and Zayna Hampton, midfielder Carli Rigel and forward Taylor Mahaffey.
Pritchard said while the Panthers hope to contend for the title in a realigned OCC-Cardinal, they're happy to be playing given the uncertain circumstances surrounding the season with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
We're all just super excited to be able to be playing, and we're not taking any game for granted because you never know when the last one, unfortunately, might be," Pritchard said. "I think that's kind of a mindset we have, which is nice.
"I also think going through so much this summer has made them super close and really just playing for each other and understanding that 'it's team before me.' I think that's really awesome."
The Panthers were 1-1-1 entering a game at Westerville North on Sept. 3. They opened with a 9-1 victory over Westerville South on Aug. 25, lost 3-0 to Davidson on Aug. 28 and tied Grove City at 1 on Sept. 1.
Darby faced Lancaster on Sept. 8 and will open league play at Marysville on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
Wildcats seeking continued success
Since coach Heather Coonfare took over at Davidson in 2016, the Wildcats have enjoyed four consecutive winning seasons.
Coonfare believes her team has the potential for a fifth consecutive winning campaign while also advancing deeper in the Division I district tournament.
The Wildcats, who finished 9-5-3 overall last season, went 4-1 in the OCC-Central to finish second behind Dublin Coffman (5-0).
Davidson split its first two games, losing to New Albany 3-1 on Aug. 25 and defeating Darby 3-0 on Aug. 29.
Junior Sydney Thompson (forward/midfielder) scored two goals and senior Kayla Stischok (forward) added one against the Panthers, and Thompson also scored against New Albany.
Thompson was first-team all-league and second-team all-district last season.
The Wildcats open OCC-Central play Tuesday, Sept. 15, against visiting Orange.
Other teams in the league are Coffman, Bradley, Liberty and UA.
"I would argue that this is probably the toughest (OCC division) there is in girls soccer," said Coonfare, who was last year's league Coach of the Year. "We've had really tough schedules where out of the top 10 ranked teams in the area, we played eight or nine of them, so this isn't any surprise or anything new for the girls. We look forward to being tested every day."
Also back are juniors Audrey Gibson-Zweifel (goalie) and Elizabeth Wile (defender), who were second-team all-league, and sophomore Emma Wells (midfielder), who was honorable mention all-league.
Other returnees are seniors Kylie Fetty (forward), Megan Harper (defender), Grace Royer (forward) and Sydney Stover (defender), juniors Kayleigh Dougherty (defen-der), Kate Kodger (forward) and Khadija Seck (mid-fielder/forward) and sophomore Ella Wickham (goalie).
The roster also includes senior Kira Kaufman (defender/midfielder), juniors Whitney Ho (goalie), Alexis Ivory (defender/midfielder), Natalie Rickel (defender), Sarah Ryan (defender), Lydia Schroyer (defender) and Emory Trout (midfielder), sophomore Miriam Smith (forward) and freshman Katelyn Schulze (midfielder).
Ho has been the starting goalie in the early season.
"She's very explosive off the ground," Coonfare said. "She's pretty commanding back there. We think her and Audrey are going to work well together and challenge each other. They have a really good relationship, so we're looking forward to seeing them both grow and progress throughout the year."