The Pickerington High School North girls volleyball team is curious about what lies beyond the Division I district tournament.

The Pickerington High School North girls volleyball team is curious about what lies beyond the Division I district tournament.

The second-seeded Panthers, who play sixth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in a district semifinal at 7:30 p.m. today at Licking Heights, seem to advance a little further in the tournament each season under fourth-year coach Kris Kern. They reached a district semifinal in 2006 and 2007 and last season reached a district final before losing to Olentangy 25-19, 25-27, 29-27, 25-15.

"Each year we've taken one more step since we've been here," Kern said. "We want to take that last step of winning a district title. Hopefully, we can peak this week."

North opened the tournament with a 25-7, 25-11, 25-13 win over Whetstone on Oct. 22 and defeated Watkins Memorial 25-9, 25-15, 25-11 in the second round last Saturday to improve to 22-3 overall.

Kern used mostly players from junior varsity against Whetstone and Watkins Memorial to allow his veterans to heal from injuries and illness. He won't have that luxury against Kilbourne, which improved to 16-8 with a 25-15, 25-9, 25-11 win over Central in the second round last Saturday.

Kilbourne is out for vengeance, as North eliminated the Wolves 25-18, 25-13, 25-13 in a district semifinal last season.

"They came right out at us in the bracket this year, so (last year's tournament match) must be in the back in their minds," Kern said. "Our assistant coaches scouted them, so I'm sure they will have a very good game plan and have us ready to play."

The winner will plays fifth-seeded Hilliard Davidson or Newark in a district final at 3 p.m. Saturday at Licking Heights.

The Panthers defeated Newark twice in OCC-Ohio Division play, winning 25-14, 25-12, 25-19 on Sept. 17 and 25-18, 25-13, 25-21 on Oct. 13. They have not faced Davidson.

"We'd loved to play either team because that means we have made it to the district final," Kern said.

The district champion advances to a regional semifinal, where it plays top-seeded Dublin Coffman, Teays Valley, ninth-seeded Upper Arlington or 10th-seeded Watterson on Wednesday at Davidson. The match will start at approximately 7:30 p.m., after the other semifinal match.

The regional final will be Nov. 7 at Davidson.

•Central had a first-round bye in the district tournament before losing to Kilbourne 25-15, 25-9, 25-11 in the second round last Saturday to finish 4-20 overall.

"Kilbourne is a very talented team," coach Corrie Feldmann said. "They outhustled and outplayed us. Everyone got down and it was hard to get back up again."

Central finished 1-11 in the OCC-Ohio -- with its only victory being 25-22, 21-25, 28-26, 21-25, 16-14 over Groveport on Oct. 12. The Tigers tied Groveport for sixth place in the league standings behind champion North (12-0), Newark (9-3), Lancaster (8-4), Gahanna (6-6) and Reynoldsburg (4-8).

The Tigers lose four seniors in utility players Jenny Murray and Chelsey Arnet, middle-blocker Jasmine Cooper and right-side hitter Emily Sexton.

"It's always hard to say goodbye to seniors," Feldmann said. "The kids liked to be around them. It was the first year of playing varsity for a lot of the seniors, so they didn't have as much experience as I would've liked."

Central had only two players -- juniors Emily Hannahs (5-foot-8 outside hitter) and Morgan Thompson (5-6 setter) -- who began the season with significant varsity experience.

In addition to Hannahs and Thompson, expected to return are juniors Laura Bender (defensive specialist), Hannah Walters (middle blocker) and Jalisa Jarrett (middle hitter), sophomore Kasi Payne (outside hitter/utility) and Lisa Cordova (defensive specialist) and freshmen Valerie Jeffery (setter), Alexis Newsome (middle hitter) and Christine Bass.

"I'm hoping they can build on this experience," Feldmann said. "We will have a lot of returnees next year, so in theory that could make us a tougher team to beat."

North's Ericka Bickham (left) and Molly Doyle block a shot from Whetstone's Katie Pezzatta in the first round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 22 at Big Walnut. The Panthers won 25-7, 25-11, 25-13.

At a glance

CENTRAL

•Records: 4-20 overall and 1-11 in OCC-Ohio

•Seniors lost: Chelsey Arnet, Jasmine Cooper, Jenny Murray and Emily Sexton

•Key returnees: Laura Bender, Emily Hannahs, Jalisa Jarrett and Morgan Thompson