It’s the operative word for programs, players, coaches and fans across the area and across the nation as we inch closer and closer to the fall sports seasons beginning their seasons this month.

Whether it’s a positive trajectory ending from last season or a new start with new coaching or new players, optimism always seems to be on the minds of sports fans entering a new campaign.

And, to be honest, it should be.

I know plenty of us can be cynical about the world around us, whether it comes down to our jobs, our family lives, politics, entertainment or countless other things.

However, the cyclical nature of sports allows us to hop right back on the horse and look with bright eyes towards what could be instead of dwelling on what was.

I’ve seen my share of preseason fact sheets and predictions and the majority always seem to say in one form or another, “We’re excited about the nucleus we have and how they can improve heading into a new season.”

And that’s what makes it fun. We can make endless predictions once schedules come out about how many wins a team can tally in a given season or look at times and scores and matchups to determine what the year will hold. Whether we’re wrong or right doesn’t matter, because no matter how far off those predictions end up being, we weren’t technically wrong when we made them.

Even with the grind of putting things together and assembling the mass of preseason information for our annual football preview and the capsule previews we provide for other sports in the area, it’s one of my favorite things to do all year long.

The C-N staff is lucky enough to be able to provide such a wealth of information to you, the reader, and let you know what we know. It not only informs us and you about what’s to come but it gives a chance to recall some of the things from a season ago that made things so memorable.

Liberty Center football, for example, provided some of the most fun I’ve had in a while covering football with their wild Hail Mary win over Genoa in the regional finals last season and even without Caleb Carpenter and a host of talented defenders, Zach Bowers and the Tigers will certainly have a great opportunity to keep up a consistence of excellence under Casey Mohler’s tutelage.

Defiance football is another example. After a pair of tough seasons in Kevin Kline’s first two years at the helm, the Bulldogs finally broke through with some noticeable improvements and were six total points from two victories that would have turned a 4-6 season into a 6-4 season and a likely spot in the playoffs for the first time in five years. Can they continue that upward trajectory in 2019 and up that win total again? I don’t know for sure but I know I’m going to be interested to find out.

On the pitch, Archbold boys soccer finally broke through after years of regional heartbreak and claimed the program’s first state championship, joined on a ride to regionals by their girls counterparts. It’s not every day you get to see history made and it’s always fun when it does. The infrastructure is there for the Bluestreaks to keep up the good work.

Tinora volleyball made history of their own last season, dropping just two sets all season long before falling in the Division IV state semifinals.

The Rams were far from the only excellent netters out there as Wauseon sent Bill Blanchong off with a bang on a run to regionals while senior-laden Ayersville caught fire of their own to help Tinora carry the Green Meadows Conference banner on the big stage.

While it’s easy to think that Tinora and Ayersville will drop off with the loss of talented senior starters, don’t forget the invaluable experience for the underclassmen that comes with playing on the game’s biggest stage.

Napoleon’s Aliza Lankenau is back and can make her mark this year as one of the most notable tennis players in area history if she can return to the state tournament for a third straight season after winning her first-round match in Mason a year ago.

Kalida boys golf has been to the Division III state tournament three years running and judging by their start to this season (two runner-ups and a Paulding Invitational title), there’s just as good a shot that they make it a four-peat. But keep an eye out on Tinora’s Dylan Von Deylen and Bryan’s Case Hartman as some individuals with plenty better golf games than the guy who’s writing this column.

Seriously, these kids can play. This writer? Not so much.

Optimism even carries over into the sports that get a little more coverage at the higher levels.

For better or worse, preseason polls drive content, snare listeners and inspire debate as a basically-arbitrary list of 25 teams gives us something to argue about as the intoxicating college football season drags slowly nearer to us.

Whether you think Ohio State or Michigan or Notre Dame or Alabama or Oregon or whomever else should be ranked higher or lower or not at all doesn’t matter all that much. But the anticipation does.

On another note, I’m thankful that there’s not a preseason poll for high school sports. The only thing more laughable than thinking college football coaches put thought into or actually vote in the coaches’ poll is the idea that people three hours away from a school would have a truly educated opinion on how that team compares to another.

Also, we put enough pressure on these kids to succeed. A little number in front of their team name should be the least of their worries.

What I’ve said in the last few paragraphs can be boiled down to two simple points.

Memories are what make us smile.

Possibilities are what make us dream.

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