The Pickerington High School North boys tennis team took a big step in its quest to win the OCC-Ohio Division championship by beating three-time defending champion Gahanna 4-1 on April 12.

The Pickerington High School North boys tennis team took a big step in its quest to win the OCC-Ohio Division championship by beating three-time defending champion Gahanna 4-1 on April 12.

The Panthers were 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Lancaster on April 17.

"One match will not determine a league champion, but it was great to see us come out focused and determined," coach Brian Hoff said. "We lost to (Gahanna) 3-2 the last three years and we wanted some revenge. I thought we came out and played well on nearly every court and I was impressed with the way we took care of business."

The Panthers expect a challenge from host Pickerington Central in a league match on Thursday, April 19.

"Central is always a tough match," Hoff said. "It's a good rivalry. We respect their program. They have good talent and a good coach. It's going to be a matter of who comes out and executes and who wants it more."

Last season, the Panthers finished second in the OCC-Ohio, going 6-1 in league duals and finishing the league tournament with 55 points, behind Gahanna (68, 7-0). Central (50, 5-2) was third, followed by Reynoldsburg (34, 4-3), Grove City (26, 3-4), Groveport (16, 2-5), Newark (11, 1-6) and Lancaster (9, 0-7).

Against Gahanna, senior Dylan Bhaerman beat Aaron Thomas 6-0, 6-1 at first singles and freshman Blaine Carr topped Alex Gavrilov 6-3, 6-1 at second singles.

North swept doubles play, as juniors Ben Keen and Patrick Yen beat Daniel Emoff and Eric Chen 6-1, 6-2 and senior Austin Engel and freshman Matt Barry defeated John Spain and Stefan Sandberg 6-1, 6-1.

North will play host to the Panther Invitational on Saturday, April 21. The six-team field includes Chillicothe, Hudson, Olentangy Orange, Poland and Springboro. There will be one singles flight and three doubles flights in the round-robin portion of the format.

The event was canceled the past two seasons because of bad weather.

"I've joked around with the boys that we're the three-time defending champion now because we won the last one three years ago," Hoff said. "I think Dylan is the only player on our roster that has competed in the event and I think he finished third in singles."

Central looking forward to match against North

Central defeated Groveport 4-1 on April 12 to improve to 7-2 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio.

The Tigers played Newark on April 17 and Dublin Scioto on April 18 as tune-ups for North.

"The boys were already talking about the match against North (after beating Groveport)," coach Kelli Rings said. "They're eager to play them. It's become a big rivalry and they always look forward to that match. We're hoping to come out and perform well, because it's an important match in the OCC, too.

"We don't want to come out and play the way we did (in a 4-1 loss to) Gahanna (on April 10). We lost a couple of three-setters in that one. We didn't play well at first or third singles and neither doubles teams played well."

Sophomore Andy Taylor had the only win for the Tigers against Gahanna, beating Sam Raybuck 6-2, 7-6 at second singles.

"We've bounced back and forth in terms of our play," Rings said. "Our two losses were 4-1 and we didn't play to our potential in either of them. All of our wins have been 4-1 or 5-0 and we've played well in most of those. Hopefully we'll keep improving. We're young and we're going to get better."

Rings said Taylor and senior Sanjeev Kolli, who primarily has played first singles, have had strong seasons thus far.

"Andy Taylor has had a pretty good season going between second and third singles and he has also played some first singles," Rings said. "He is very consistent and makes few mistakes and that's the key in high school tennis. Sanjeev has also had a good season, but he hasn't reached his potential yet."