The Ottawa Hills power quad from left: Brandon Zakeri, Logan Glosser, Ahmed Abdel-Halim and Blake Pappas.
Ottawa Hills sits atop the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Associaton Division III boys state poll.
But the 11-0 Green Bears understand a midseason No. 1 ranking is far from reigning No. 1 at the end of the season.
"We want to embrace that we're one of the top teams in Ohio in Division III," said Ottawa Hills second-year coach Francis Stephens. "It's come with a lot of hard work. These kids have put in a lot of work in it this year.
"The thing is we want to be No. 1 in November. We don't want to be No. 1 right now in the regular season. The most important thing for us is staying focused and finishing off a dream that we wanted to have last year. That's getting to the state final game this year."
The Green Bears, Division III state champions three years ago, came close to playing for another state title last fall. Ottawa Hills came up 3-1 losers to Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in a state semifinal.
Fourteen members of that team are still on the roster this season, and the group appears as motivated as ever to try to win a state championship.
"We don't take days off, and I see the same things that I saw in 2008," said Ahmed Abdel-Halim, a senior, who was a freshman on the state championship team.
"Everyone is working, and we have great leaders. If anyone messes up they always get back up. We have a short memory."
The loss to Cuyahoga Valley last year continues to serve as motivation.
"Anything less than getting to the state finals would be a disappointment considering our goal has been to get to a state final again and get what we've been working for all summer and this season," said senior Logan Glosser, also a freshman on the 2008 team.
Ottawa Hills goalie Michael Geiger.
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The Bears understand that owning a perfect record halfway through the season does not mean they've played every minute of every game perfectly.
"We certainly have not peaked," Glosser said. "We've got more work to do. We've not played our best game yet. I think we have the quality players to get done what we like to do."
But they've also shown there's plenty of talent to make a run at a state title.
The Bears have outscored their opponents 53-8. Brandon Zakeri and Blake Pappas, both juniors, lead with 13 and 10 goals, respectively.
Glosser has scored six goals while Abdel-Halim and Ian Trickey have tallied five apiece. Eleven players have scored at least one goal.
"We have a lot of skill up top and a lot of experience at forward," Zakeri said. "We feel we can usually get the job done."
Zakeri added: "Our confidence is pretty good right now. We've got a pretty good record so far and we hope to keep that up. We're all really optimistic toward getting to our goal this year."
Pappas believes the offensive output has been due in part to solid defensive work.
Junior goalkeeper Michael Geiger, a returning starter, has registered 37 saves and five shutouts, including a recent 3-0 victory over Springfield.
"I think our offense has been great and our defense has been doing pretty well," Pappas said. "Without them we wouldn't be able to put it in [the goal]."
Stephens believes Geiger's play has been tremendous.
"I think he's one of the best keepers in the state of Ohio," Stephens said. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have been in the position last year to make it to the final four. He's a big anchor for this team."
Ottawa Hills finished last year 17-3-2, the second best season in school history, behind only the state championship season.
The Bears may have surprised some teams last year, but that's not the case this season.
"I think we've been very consistent," Stephens said. "I think the one thing that's different from last year to this year is that these boys are experienced compared to what they were last year. We weren't expected to be where we are. I think this year the expectations are very high for us."
The Bears have tried to approach this season a little differently from a year ago. They spent more off-season time running, training, and honing their skills as a group than they had ever done. As a whole, they opened the season in better physical shape.
"This year we've put in the philosophy of playing dominant soccer," Stephens said. "We want to attack and defend with equal intensity. We want to make it very hard for teams to generate anything against us. We want to disrupt a lot of their play. We want to decide the results for the opposing team.
"We want to set the tempo and we want them to play at our level and not at their level."
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @demmons
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