State tournament motivates consistent Tigers
Through nine matches, the Pickerington High School Central girls tennis team's season was rife with zeros in the score column.
The good news for the Tigers is they've applied the zeros, not mustered them.
Central was 9-0 overall before playing New Albany on Sept. 12 and is 2-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division. Six of its victories have been by a 5-0 score, and the Tigers lost just three sets in their first nine dual matches.
Central, which also has won both tournaments in which it has competed so far this season, seems bent on being represented in the Division I state tournament next month. Before the season, coach Kelli Rings said anything short of a state appearance would be a disappointment, especially considering the Tigers were state-ranked and won their second consecutive OCC-Ohio championship last year.
"We've played some solid competition in Hudson (a 5-0 win on Aug. 15) and Toledo St. Ursula (a 4-1 win on Aug. 24) and won two tournaments," Rings said. "State might be in the back of their minds as some motivation, but we've played really well. We certainly hope we have the opportunity down the road to get there."
The Tigers won the Columbus School for Girls Doubles Invitational on Aug. 18 and its own Pickerington Invitational on Aug. 25. Incorrect tabulations in the CSG tournament led to Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown initially being named the event's winner, with 25 points to Central's 24. But Central defeated Hathaway Brown in two head-to-head matches by 8-4 scores, and the Tigers will be given the tournament trophy, albeit a few weeks late.
"These girls have done a lot of great things so far this year, and it's good to see them get the recognition they deserve," Rings said. "We've seen a lot of elite teams, a lot of state tournament-caliber teams, and we've held our own."
The Tigers have been consistent, too. Through nine matches, sophomore Kyah Thomas was 6-1 at first singles, with the only loss being 6-0, 6-2 against Hilliard Bradley's Lauren Thai -- a three-time state qualifier and 2010 Division II state doubles champion with her cousin, Ashley Thai -- on Sept. 5. In addition, sophomore Nikkia Thompson has locked down third singles and the doubles teams of senior Allyna Fishbach and junior Audrey Covert and junior Peyton Klein and sophomore Madi Schott stayed together through nine matches.
Rings called Fischbach a pleasant surprise, having seen her progress from a quieter player to one displaying more aggressiveness when necessary.
"I easily could put her in singles, but we just happen to need her at doubles," Rings said. "She's made a great partner to Audrey in (Covert's) first season. She's showing some personality and being more outspoken, and that's the kind of player every team needs."
Panthers starting to find ways to win
Maybe the best thing North coach Brian Hoff can say about his team's play the past two weeks is the Panthers have won matches they might have lost earlier this season.
Before an OCC-Ohio match against Reynoldsburg on Sept. 11, North had won three consecutive matches after losing three of its first four.
The Panthers defeated Westerville Central 4-1 on Aug. 23 and recorded 3-2 wins against Lancaster on Aug. 28 and Olentangy Orange on Sept. 5. They were 4-3 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Reynoldsburg.
"We've found a way to win those close matches the last week or so that could've gone either way," Hoff said. "(We pulled) out wins against Lancaster and Olentangy Orange by winning third sets in the deciding matches. This is a turnaround from the beginning of the season when we lost against DeSales (3-2 on Aug. 16) and Hilliard Bradley (3-2 on Aug. 22), two matches I definitely feel like we could have won."
As it was at the beginning of the season, North's lineup remains in flux. Hoff continues to seek optimal doubles combinations, pairing seniors Kelsie Weinstein and Melody Liu with sophomores Noelle Wilson and Rachel Brady, respectively, the past two weeks. Both pairs won three-set matches against Orange.
The schedule hasn't helped Hoff's quest to finalize his lineup. The Panther Invitational was canceled Sept. 1 because of bad weather and will not be rescheduled. Two matches last week, against Central on Sept. 4 and Hilliard Davidson on Sept. 6, were postponed but will be rescheduled. The match against Reynoldsburg began a stretch of three consecutive league contests for the Panthers.
"I like the overall direction we have been heading over the past couple weeks," Hoff said. "We are progressing as a whole, but still have a long way to go before we reach our potential."