Pickerington North seeks yet another step forward
Even though the Pickerington High School North girls volleyball team finished 26-2 last season and 25-2 in 2010, seventh-year coach Kris Kern is not afraid to put higher expectations on his players this season.
"We've won six straight OCC championships and three straight district championships and every year we've been getting a step further in the tournament, so we want to continue to build on that," said Kern, who guided Lancaster to 13 consecutive league titles before taking over at North. "We're not afraid of high expectations."
A step further this season would put the Panthers in the Division I state tournament. Last year, North lost to Findlay 17-25, 25-21, 20-25, 26-24, 15-9 in a regional final after beating Dublin Coffman 22-25, 16-25, 25-14, 26-24, 15-12 in a regional semifinal.
The top seed in the district last season, the Panthers defeated ninth-seeded Thomas Worthington 25-15, 25-23, 25-14 in a district final.
"Certainly we want to take that next step and we have progressed step by step since I've been here," said Kern, whose team was 5-0 overall before playing Pickerington Central in an OCC-Ohio Division match Sept. 4. "We want to go from being dominant in our league to dominant in the district to dominant at higher levels."
The Panthers returned three players who earned postseason honors last year in seniors Val Jeffery (setter), Megan Giardina (setter) and Katie Hunt (middle hitter).
Jeffery was third-team all-state and first-team all-district and all-league. Giardina was first-team all-district and all-league and Hunt was honorable mention all-league.
"Jeffery and Giardina both were All-Americans in AAU last spring and Hunt hits a heavy ball," Kern said. "(Junior) Jessica Wachtman has moved from outside hitter to middle hitter and she has been dominating early."
The Panthers went 3-0 in Marysville Spike-Off Invitational on Aug. 25, defeating Columbus School for Girls 25-8, 25-12, Olentangy 25-21, 25-14 and Jonathan Alder 25-9, 25-21.
North then won its first two league matches against two teams that figure to be contenders. The Panthers beat Newark 25-18, 25-11, 25-21 on Aug. 28 and defeated Lancaster 25-18, 25-8, 25-11 on Aug. 30.
Last season, North went 14-0 in the OCC-Ohio, finishing ahead of Newark (12-2), Grove City (9-5), Gahanna (9-5), Lancaster (8-6), Central (4-10), Groveport (2-12) and Reynoldsburg (1-13).
"Newark and Gahanna are probably the toughest opponents in our league and Lancaster is tough to beat at their place," Kern said. "We beat Newark in its opener and we won at Lancaster, so that's a good start."
Other returnees are seniors Marina Divine (outside hitter/left back), Marissa Divine (middle back), TiAnna Diyanni (left back), Alex Goldsberry (middle back) and Rachel Mick (outside hitter).
Rounding out the roster are juniors Olivia Goodin (defensive specialist), Amanda Kelley (defensive specialist), Miya Caine (setter), Maria Gray (outside hitter) and Lauren Martini (outside hitter) and sophomores Bethany Martini (outside hitter) and Chloe Lambert (setter/middle hitter).
"The key for us will be the passing of the Divine sisters, Goldsberry and Diyanni," Kern said. "We have a very good team and we're getting the ball to our setters better than I thought we would at this point. Those four girls are all greatly improved."
Central coach wants to see players mesh
Second-year Central coach Aubrie Perry is pleased with her players' athleticism, but she wants to see them mesh as a team.
"We have natural athletes and all but three girls on the roster play club ball," Perry said. "But we need to work together as a team and communicate. We've got some team building to do."
The Tigers return six letterwinners from last season, when they finished 6-15 overall and lost to 12th-seeded Mount Vernon 25-22, 30-28, 25-18 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
The Tigers were 1-1 overall and in the OCC-Ohio before playing Pickerington North on Sept. 4. They lost to Lancaster 25-15, 25-21, 25-16 in the opener Aug. 28 and beat Reynoldsburg 25-19, 25-27, 25-14, 25-20 on Aug. 30.
The returnees are seniors Alexis Newsome (6-foot-3, middle blocker), Baile Simon (libero) and Megan Ward (defensive specialist/right-side hitter), juniors Shalon Conley (5-11, outside hitter) and Jailynn Wood (outside hitter) and sophomore Edwina Barrett (middle blocker).
Newsome, who has verbally committed to Xavier University, was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league last year.
"Alexis is such an intense competitor," Perry said. "You can see the passion in her game and on her face. She just loves the sport. It's funny because as fierce as she is on the court, she is so friendly and polite off the court. She's just a great kid."
Newsome and Simon, a left-hander, are co-captains.
Also on the team are senior Aliya Thompson (defensive specialist), juniors Uchenna Itanyi (right-side hitter) and Adelia Manley (right-side hitter) and freshmen Maria Bauers (defensive specialist), Emma Campbell (setter) and Macey Selan (setter).
"Our front-row hitting and blocking should be very good, but we need to work on our defense," Perry said. "The girls need to talk and move together or it will all just crumble. We are looking to improve daily and our main goals are to finish with a winning record and go further in the tournament. We've got the athletes to accomplish those goals, but we've got to put the pieces together and keep our confidence."