At least one Pickerington High School North girls soccer player thinks this year's team has the talent to rival the 2010 Panthers, who advanced to the Division I state final before losing 3-0 to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit.
"We're playing well together. I think we could go to state again. That's the plan anyway," senior forward Ashlynn Jones said. "It feels mostly like it's the same team. We've lost a few important players, but we are playing about as well as we were that year."
Through the first month of the season, Jones has backed up her words. The University of Memphis recruit, who led the 2010 team with 13 goals and five assists but chose not to play for the Panthers last year, had 14 goals through 11 games this year to help keep North undefeated at 9-0-2 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Groveport on Sept. 25.
"She's always a weapon. She can take people one-on-one," senior defender Christy Macioce said. "She can throw it out to Rachel (Weigman) and Dani (Wenger) and they can get passes back into her."
Jones scored three goals in an 8-1 win over Newark on Aug. 28 and in a 5-0 win over Marysville on Sept. 20. She has recorded two goals three times, against Lancaster (11-1 win Sept. 4), Pickerington Central (7-1 win Sept. 11) and Reynoldsburg (5-0 win Sept. 18).
Jones sat out her junior season at North to concentrate on playing club soccer for Westerville-based Blast FC U17. Three Panthers teammates were on her team -- goalkeeper Heather Laeufer and midfielders Weigman and Wenger. Jones said she worked especially hard on improving her passing.
Panthers coach Greg Van Kannel, who wasn't within earshot when Jones made that self-assessment after the win against Central, was happy to hear it.
"She creates so much havoc for teams just with her speed and her skills," he said. "Teams are putting two and three girls on her. She's very unselfish and low-key. The more she gets our other girls involved, the better everyone is going to be. She has been doing a great job of finding her teammates, too."
Van Kannel's early season concerns about his offense are disappearing. The Panthers entered the week having outscored their previous four opponents -- Central, Dublin Jerome, Reynoldsburg and Marysville -- 18-1.
"Each game it seems like we unload the ball a little bit better offensively," he said. "I hope it gives these girls some confidence."
North might need it in a rigorous stretch coming up. The Panthers play host to defending Division II state champion DeSales on Thursday, Sept. 27, and visit league foe and defending Division I district champion Gahanna on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
"I have a good feeling about us this year. We know what it takes to win," Weigman said. "I also think our team chemistry is a lot stronger than other years. The offense and defense have meshed really well."