Pickerington North girls playing robust defense
The Pickerington High School North girls soccer team has been stellar defensively so far this season.
The Panthers allowed just one goal in winning their first five games.
“(Goalkeeper) Heather Laeufer and our defense have been a big part in our 5-0 start,” coach Greg VanKannel said. “We gave up a goal against Newark after it was 6-0, but when you don’t give up goals you don’t need to score a lot to win.
“The phrase ‘bend but don’t break’ has been true for us. We have bent a couple times, but Heather Laeufer has come up big in a few games. We are playing hard and as a team, but we’re not quite as organized as we want it to be. Still, we have been seeing better play game after game.”
Plus, North hasn’t had its intended starting defense on the field much this season. Three-year starting center back Christy Macioce was injured five minutes into the opener, a 1-0 win over Watterson on Aug. 21, but returned Aug. 30 when the Panthers beat New Albany 1-0 for their fifth victory.
“We moved Kate Prewitt back into (Macioce’s) spot from the midfield and she stepped in and did such a great job we may keep her back there,” VanKannel said. “When Christy is in the game we tend to be a little more relaxed and she does a good job of organizing us in the back. But Laura Neilon and Abby Hart had done a tremendous job back there, too.”
North beat Newark 8-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division opener Aug. 28. After playing Lancaster on Sept. 4, the Panthers play at Pickerington Central at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, preceding the boys matchup.
“(Central) is a team that is getting better and better every year,” VanKannel said. “They have a great coach and a great bunch of kids. They’ve got some quality kids at every position. We’ll have to be focused and on our game. I think the soccer community still gets pumped up about (the matchup) and it is very important for all the participants.”
The Panthers were averaging nearly three goals through five games, and they were spreading around the wealth. Against Newark, Ashlynn Jones scored three goals. Also scoring were Laeufer, Morgan Bittengle, Dani Wenger, Laura Neilon and Kelly Eisenhower.
Megan Marasco scored against New Albany and Laeufer made five saves.
“We do have some scoring balance,” VanKannel said. “Megan Marasco has come up big in two of our 1-0 wins. Ashlynn Jones, Rachel Weigman, Dani Wenger and Morgan Bittengle have scored or assisted on some big goals. Also Kelly Eisenhauer has added an offensive punch by getting up in some of our attacks from the back line.”
Last season, North beat Central 5-1 as it went 5-1-1 in the OCC-Ohio to finish second behind Gahanna (7-0). Central finished third at 5-2.
“We always look forward to playing them because they’re our rival,” Laeufer said. “It’s always fun because the guys get to watch us play and we get to watch them play. We get different groups out to watch us and students show up for this game.”
Central outscored its opponents 15-6 while splitting its first four games, including a 4-3 loss to Big Walnut on Aug. 30.
The Tigers trailed 2-0 at halftime.
“We came back, tied it up, went back down 3-2, then scored again to tie it,” coach Jillian Walters said. “They scored in the last four minutes to win, but we had a great second half and our goals were beautiful. While I was disappointed by the loss, I was very pleased with our second-half play.”
Lizzie Awuah, Taylor Johnson, and Megan Davis scored.
Central boys set for North matchup
The North-Central boys matchup Tuesday, Sept. 11, at Central pits the Monhollen coaching brothers for the 10th consecutive season. However, they are quick to play down that storyline.
“It’s Central versus North first and foremost, and the fact that the Monhollen brothers are coaching opposite teams may add something more to the media and to certain fans perhaps,” Central coach Brad Monhollen said. “However, I’m pretty sure my team and North’s team would want to beat the opposing team regardless of the coach’s name.
“The other coach could be named Fred Flintstone and that would not make the players want to win the game any more or less because the game is about them, not us as coaches.”
“We downplay the brother angle,” North coach Darrin Monhollen said. “The match is a league game and the fact that many of the players participate in youth and club soccer naturally lends itself to a claim to bragging rights. We certainly root for Central to be successful all season, spare the 80 minutes where our two teams compete for a league championship.”
Last year, North won 4-1 and the teams tied for second (5-2) in the OCC-Ohio behind Gahanna (7-0).
North allowed just one goal in its first four games this season.
“I am expecting this match to be as competitive as ever, from beginning to conclusion,” Darrin Monhollen said. “The Central game is always excellent big-game preparation and certainly helps prepare everyone on both squads for tournament time.”
“Because we’re cross-town rivals, we very much know what to expect,” Brad Monhollen said. “The coaches both know pretty much what the other has from that perspective, and the players are also very familiar with one another.”
Central struggled last week, tying Lancaster at 2 in the league opener Aug. 28 and losing to Hilliard Darby 2-0 on Aug. 30.
“I think we had trouble adjusting to the first week of school, but let’s hope we got that out of the way now,” goalkeeper Collin Federer said. “I think we have our heads back on now and we need to keep our focus.”
North sweeper Jared Linkhorn said the Panthers have been on the same page since the opener.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done on defense and I think it’s because we’ve played together for so long,” he said. “We communicate on and off the field and the chemistry on the entire team is fantastic.
“The Central game will probably be the biggest of the year not only because of the rivalry, but I think it will determine who wins the OCC. That’s our goal and I think we’re going to win it.”