To be kind, let's just say that Ottawa Hills boys' soccer Coach Greg McElroy is hard to please.
McElroy admits that he expects a lot from a program that ranks among the top Division III teams in Ohio.
That's why the smile he gave his team after a win over Maumee Valley late last month spoke volumes about the Green Bears' play this season.
"We beat Maumee Valley 6-0, and afterwards I asked them, 'How long did it take me to smile last year?' " McElroy said. "I reminded them that my first smile last year came when we beat Bluffton [in the district finals]."
But there has been plenty for McElroy to smile about this season as the Green Bears ranked sixth in the final Division III state poll. Ottawa Hills posted a 13-1-2 overall record during the regular season, winning both the Toledo Area Athletic Conference and Northwest Ohio High School Soccer League Division 1 titles.
With eight starters returning from a year ago, McElroy thought his team was capable of big things this fall. But there were question marks entering the season as well, including at the position of goalkeeper following the graduation of last year's starter.
Early this season Kevin Elliott moved from forward to the nets, but the development of senior Jake Bruner allowed Elliott to return to his natural position.
"We certainly needed Jake to step up his game, and he has," McElroy said. "Against Clay on Sept. 18 we used Jake in goal in the second half, and he made some wonderful saves that helped us to get a tie.
"From that point on, he has started every game, and I anticipate he will continue to play well."
The Green Bears allowed just 10 goals this season, an average of 0.62 per game, but Bruner isn't the only reason. Another is junior Jack Jamieson, a three-year starter at sweeper whom McElroy calls "rock-solid. He has been an anchor for our defense."
In the midfield, Sam Kuehnle is another junior who has started for three seasons at Ottawa Hills. "He does all the quiet work," McElroy said of Kuehnle. "He anchors the middle of the field for us."
Kuehnle also allows fellow midfielders Ben Bryant and Jordan Bernardo to concentrate on offense.
Bryant is a junior in his third year as a starter, while Bernardo is a senior captain who has six goals and four assists this year.
"Bryant distributes the ball well and is able to put other teams under pressure quickly," McElroy said. "Bernardo played some defense early in the year, but he's very quick and has a nice shot, so he has improved our offense in the midfield."
The top scoring forwards for the Green Bears are Elliott, a senior who had 15 goals despite beginning the season as a goalkeeper, and Eliot Browarsky, a sophomore who had 24 goals this year.
"Both create a lot of havoc against other teams, and they both have scored some big goals for us," McElroy said.
Now in his third season at Ottawa Hills, McElroy said the experience his team gained in its regional run last season has come in handy this fall.
"That experience seems to give this team a calm whenever they play," he said. "They just don't hit the panic button.
"Even in our loss against Anthony Wayne, we seemed to find an answer for everything they did - except for the last goal, of course. But I thought we played very well despite the loss."
The large number of returnees, plus the addition of Coach Jorge Diaz - "[Diaz] is a nice addition to our program because he gives us another voice," McElroy said - has created a new set of expectations for this highly successful squad.
"As high as my expectations are, I know the expectations of the kids are higher," McElroy said. "Last year our goal was to win our last game - in other words, we wanted to strive for a state title.
"We have some of the same pieces in place to do some of the same things this season."
Of course, the Green Bears already have reached one of their goals: They found a way to make their coach smile.
Contact John Wagner at:firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-7240-6481.