After his team ruled the OCC-Central Division with a 19-1 record the past two years, Pickerington High School North girls volleyball coach Kris Kern wasn't thrilled with the realignment of the OCC.

After his team ruled the OCC-Central Division with a 19-1 record the past two years, Pickerington High School North girls volleyball coach Kris Kern wasn't thrilled with the realignment of the OCC.

The Panthers are in the OCC-Ohio with Pickerington Central, Gahanna, Grove City, Groveport, Lancaster, Newark and Reynoldsburg. North was 10-0 in the OCC-Central last year and Lancaster won the OCC-Ohio at 9-1. Those two, Gahanna and Newark were Division I district semifinalists.

"I don't like it," said Kern, who coached Lancaster for 12 years before going to North. "I'll be coaching against kids who were once part of my programs and some very good friends at Lancaster. Newark and Gahanna are old rivals. Personally I'd love not to have that kind of stress in my life but that's what I signed up for."

North opened last Saturday with a 25-20, 25-21, 25-17 win over The Plains Athens and played Groveport last Tuesday. The Panthers will play host to Central today and Reynoldsburg on Tuesday and visit Logan on Saturday and Gahanna on Sept. 4

The Panthers, who finished 23-2 overall last season after falling to Olentangy Liberty 23-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-21 in a district semifinal, lost six graduates, including middle-hitter Davi Gordon (second-team all-district) and setter Nikki Deley (first-team all-OCC, honorable mention all-district).

North has five seniors but only two -- libero Kacie Kunke (5-foot-6) and outside hitter Audra Goldsberry (5-7) -- played varsity last year. The others are Gina Brogan (5-5 defensive specialist), Erica Hardy (5-8 setter/right side hitter) and Emily Butcher (5-11).

Juniors Katie Racette (5-10 middle hitter) and Audi Saunders (5-6 defensive specialist/outside hitter) also saw time on the varsity. Junior Mackenzie Faust (5-6 utility player) and sophomores Molly Doyle (6-0 middle hitter), Jordan Householder (6-0 middle hitter), Megan Coffield (5-5 defensive specialist), Kendall Kellogg (5-8 right side hitter), Morgan Burch (5-5 setter), Madison Spencer (5-10 setter) and Kayla Perry (5-0 outside hitter) are expected to see playing time.

"This isn't a seasoned team like we had last year," Kern said. "Two-thirds of our players have not played on the varsity. I've noticed some practices where we take steps forward and some practices where we take steps backward. We need to get better everyday."

Central opened last season by losing to Bloom-Carroll 25-14, 24-26, 25-19, 25-27 and eventually finished 0-21, a record that coach Corrie Feldmann thinks could have been much different had the Tigers found a way to win that opener.

The season ended in the first round of the district tournament when the Tigers lost to Watterson 5-7, 25-7, 25-6.

"The key for us is going to be confidence," said Feldmann, whose team finished sixth in the OCC-Cardinal last year at 0-10 behind champions Worthington Kilbourne (8-2) and Westerville South (8-2). "We had a couple of chances to pull that first match out. If they would've won that first one, it would've been a different season."

Central, which opened at Lancaster last Tuesday, will visit North today and play host to Teays Valley on Saturday, Gahanna on Tuesday and Groveport on Sept. 4.

The Tigers are led by eight seniors, including Kirsti Osborne (outside hitter/middle blocker), Merissa Magers (right-side hitter), Kaitlyn Osborne (middle blocker), Ashley Sharon (defensive specialist), Tristan Menningen (defensive specialist/setter) and Jessica Rohr (outside hitter).

Also expected to play key roles are seniors Nikki Kubicki (outside hitter) and Kaitlyn Billups (right-side hitter), juniors Alexis Andrews (setter) and Caitlyn Hyatt (middle blocker/right-side hitter) and sophomores Morgan Thompson (setter/defensive specialist) and Emily Hannahs (middle blocker).

"These seniors have not had an above-.500 finish in volleyball since they were in seventh grade, so they're really pushing for that," Feldmann said. "The league is a lot tougher this year with the addition of Lancaster and Pickerington North but we can compete there. The key is going to be team unity. They need to improve their skills individually but they have to be one if they want to win."

At a glance

CENTRAL

Coach: Corrie Feldmann, second season

Next match: Today at Pickerington North

Key players: Alexis Andrews, Merissa Magers, Tristan Menningen, Kaitlyn Osborne, Kirsti Osborne, Jessica Rohr and Ashley Sharon

NORTH

Coach: Kris Kern, third season

Next match: Today vs. Pickerington Central

Key players: Gina Brogan, Audra Goldsberry, Erika Hardy, Kacie Kunke, and Katie Racette