The Pickerington High School North boys volleyball team had a three-week stretch in which it played as well as anyone in the area.

The Pickerington High School North boys volleyball team had a three-week stretch in which it played as well as anyone in the area.

That stretch, however, came in midseason, not in the Division I regional. North, with starting opposite-hitter Spencer Teeters out with an injury, hung with Worthington Kilbourne for two games before running out of steam late in a 25-17, 27-25, 25-12 loss in a regional semifinal May 20. The Panthers led the second game 23-20 and 24-23.

"We gave ourselves an opportunity but we just couldn't take advantage of it," coach Marci Truex said. "In a good fight like that, if you don't capitalize on it, it just sucks the wind right out of your sails."

North finished 15-10 overall. The Panthers, who beat Olentangy Liberty 25-16, 25-14, 25-18 in the first round May 16, have reached a regional semifinal or a regional final in four of the past five seasons.

The Panthers opened 3-6 before earning eight consecutive wins starting April 18. North wasn't able to sustain that momentum, going 4-4 over the final three weeks.

North finished second in the OCC-Ohio Division at 6-2, behind Mount Vernon (8-0) and ahead of Gahanna (4-4), Delaware (2-6) and Pickerington Central (0-8).

North will lose seven seniors, including three who have been key contributors for three seasons. Anthony Evans has been the starting setter for three seasons. Teeters and libero Brock Martin are three-year letterwinners and have started for the past two seasons.

The Panther also will lose defensive specialist Chris Kerschner, outside hitters Evan Dort and Eric Lott and middle-hitter Aaron Schvach. Dort, Kerschner and Lott are two-year letterwinners.

"As a class, they are all very unique in their skill set, they are all very specialized," Truex said. "But at the same time, they are all pieces of a puzzle. I needed to have all of them, whether it was a support role or when they got their chances to shine, they did it."

Junior outside-hitter Kyle Hoskinson is a two-year starter and also saw some action as a freshman, and junior middle-hitter Vas Shatalov is a two-year letterwinner. Sophomore middle hitters Ben Schneider and Sam Lambert have been on the varsity for two seasons, along with sophomore outside-hitter Jesse Fausnaugh.

Also expected back are juniors Steven Gleich (defensive specialist), Michael Mulroy (opposite) and Andrew Winslow (outside hitter).

•Despite struggling through a tough schedule late in the season, first-year coach Rachel Gardner of Central said there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future.

Gardner took over just three weeks before the season, as many players were unsure if the school would field a team. Some key players from last season team did not return, but the Tigers still finished 8-14, not far off last season's 10-15 mark.

"It was all pretty positive," Gardner said. "I had a lot of comments not only from my (team's) parents, but from parents from a rival school that we looked better and they thought the season went well. Since I didn't have any prior knowledge of the team, that's kind of what I went on, the input from other observers and the parents."

The Tigers went 0-8 in the OCC-Ohio and lost to Upper Arlington 25-12, 25-21, 25-14 in the first round of the Division I regional tournament. The Tigers opened 5-4.

Central will lose only one senior in utility player Justin Knight, who played sparingly but earned the Coach's Award.

The starting lineup is expected back, including two-year letterwinners Corey Long and Jake Abbarno, both juniors. Long moved from libero to outside hitter this season, and Abbarno has experience at both outside hitter and middle hitter. Abbarno was named team MVP and honorable mention all-OCC.

Junior Jake Bales started the entire year at setter, and junior Tyler Miller ended the season as the starting opposite. Junior Kevin Grundey started at middle hitter and sophomore Nick Downing started at outside hitter. Sophomore Grant Holcomb and freshman Avery Patton split time at libero, and Gardner said Holcomb was the team's Most Improved Player. Junior Matt North also saw action at outside hitter.

Gardner expects the program to take big strides now that players and coaches will have more continuity this offseason and next spring.

"Hopefully we'll all be on the same page, and next year, they'll be more comfortable with me and I'll be more comfortable with them," Gardner said. "I'll kind of know what direction I need to take them and who can do what out there on the court."

At a glance

CENTRAL

•Record: 8-14 overall, 0-8 (fifth) in OCC-Ohio

•Senior lost: Justin Knight

•Key returnees: Jake Abbarno, Jake Bales, Nick Downing, Kevin Grundey, Corey Long and Tyler Miller

NORTH

•Record: 15-10 overall, 6-2 (second) in OCC-Ohio

•Seniors lost: Evan Dort, Anthony Evans, Chris Kerschner, Eric Lott, Brock Martin, Aaron Schvach and Spencer Teeters

•Key returnees: Jesse Fausnaugh, Kyle Hoskinson, Sam Lambert, Ben Schneider and Vas Shatalov