In the past, being fully committed to the Pickerington High School Central girls volleyball team was a risky endeavor.
The Tigers, who finished 4-20 overall last year, haven't had a winning season since the school district split into two high schools in 2003. Their most successful season was 2004 when they went 9-11. They are 7-62 over the last three seasons.
"In the past, girls haven't wanted to take the risk (of being fully committed to volleyball)," first-year coach Jessie Burr said. "This team has put themselves out there. They're more comfortable taking that risk."
"The level of commitment is a lot higher this year," said senior Emily Hannahs, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter. "We have really stepped it up. If we're not all together as a team, we're not going to go anywhere."
Hannahs is one of four seniors who would like to close out their career with a winning season.
The team also returns seniors Laura Bender (defensive specialist/libero), Jalisa Jarrett (5-8 middle hitter), Morgan Thompson (5-6 setter) and Hannah Walters (5-10 middle hitter) and juniors Lisa Cordova (5-5 defensive specialist) and Kasi Payne (5-7 right-side hitter). Burr also has high expectations for sophomores Christine Bass (5-7 setter/right-side hitter) and Alexis Newsome (6-1 middle hitter).
The Tigers will be tested in the OCC-Ohio Division, which has been dominated by Pickerington North. The Panthers have won the last four league titles, going 55-1 in league play during that span.
Last season, Central went 1-11 in the league to tie Groveport for sixth, behind North (12-0), Newark (9-3), Lancaster (8-4), Gahanna (6-6) and Reynoldsburg (4-8).
Grove City returns to the OCC-Ohio this year after missing last season because of the South-Western City Schools levy failure.
North won a Division I district championship last season and Gahanna was a district runner-up. Central had a first-round bye in the district tournament last year before losing to Worthington Kilbourne 25-15, 25-9, 25-11 in the second round
"Our division is a meat grinder, but that is good for us," Burr said. "I've told the girls that volleyball is a game where it pays to have a short memory. If we lose to one of these really good teams, we have to be able to move on to the next game."
•North coach Kris Kern isn't shy about thrusting his team into the spotlight.
The Panthers, who compiled a 92-10 record over the past four seasons, finished 24-3 overall last season and captured their first district title with a 25-17, 25-12, 25-14 victory over Hilliard Davidson before losing to eventual state runner-up Dublin Coffman 25-12, 25-22, 25-9 in a regional semifinal.
"I feel like the only team that beat us in central Ohio is us," said Kern, who is in his fifth season with the Panthers. "Our theme this year is, 'No excuses.' Last year we made it to the first round of the regional tournament. We want to take that next step."
The Panthers opened with a 16-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-19 loss to Rocky River Magnificat last Saturday.
North returns seniors Erica Bickham (6-0 right-side hitter), Megan Coffield (5-6 defensive specialist), Jordan Householder (6-0 middle hitter), Kendel Kellogg (5-8 right-side hitter), Alaina Martini (5-6 defensive specialist), Carissa Mee (5-6 libero), Kayla Perry (5-9 outside hitter) and Madison Spence (6-1 setter).
Bickham has verbally committed to Alderson Broaddus, a Division II college in Philippi, W.Va., and Spence has verbally committed to Indiana-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, a Division I program. Kern anticipates Householder will commit to a Division I program before the end of the season.
Also on the team are juniors Katie Barger (5-8 outside hitter) and Meredith Bush (6-1 middle hitter) and sophomores Casey Hess (5-10 right-side hitter) and Katie Hunt (5-9 middle hitter).
Kellogg led the Panthers with 197 kills last season and was second-team all-league. Bush was second in kills with 156 and made second-team all-district and honorable mention all-league, Spence led the team with 589 assists and 34 solo blocks and was first-team all-league and all-district, and Householder made second-team all-district and special mention all-league.
"Chemistry is going to be the biggest thing that determines how well we do," Kern said. "These girls have set some lofty goals of playing in November. If they play together, the sky's the limit."
*Aug. 31 - vs. Lancaster
*Sept. 2 - at Pickerington North
Sept. 4 - at Granville
*Sept. 7 - vs. Gahanna
*Sept. 9 - vs. Groveport
Sept. 11 - at Thomas Worthington
*Sept. 14 - at Newark
*Sept. 16 - vs. Grove City
*Sept. 21 - at Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 23 - at Lancaster
Sept. 25 - at Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 28 - vs. Pickerington North
*Sept. 30 - at Gahanna
*Oct. 5 - at Groveport
*Oct. 7 - vs. Newark
*Oct. 12 - at Grove City
*Oct. 14 - vs. Reynoldsburg
Aug. 28 - vs. Rocky River Magni-ficat
*Aug. 31 - at Groveport
*Sept. 2 - vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 4 - vs. Zanesville
*Sept. 7 - vs. Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 9 - at Gahanna
Sept. 11 - vs. Marion Catholic and Logan
*Sept. 14 - at Lancaster
*Sept. 16 - vs. Newark
Sept. 18 - vs. Westerville Central
*Sept. 21 - at Grove City
*Sept. 23 - vs. Groveport
*Sept. 28 - at Pickerington Central
*Sept. 30 - at Reynoldsburg
*Oct. 5 - vs. Gahanna
*Oct. 7 - vs. Lancaster
*Oct. 12 - at Newark
*Oct. 14 - vs. Grove City
Oct. 16 - home Panther Tournament