Second-year Pickerington High School Central girls volleyball coach Aubrey Perry isn't judging her team based on its record this season.
"Obviously, everyone wants to win and have a winning record, but you have to learn how to win and how to approach matches before you can see the results in the record," she said. "As a coach, if you're seeing improvement, you've got something to work with and you want to help the team get even better, get more confident and go from there."
That's why she was so pleased when the Tigers beat Reynoldsburg 25-8, 25-17, 25-16 on Sept. 25. Although it was Central's sixth victory, it was the way the Tigers played that made Perry happy.
"That was the first time this season that the entire team played well from the beginning of the match until the end," she said. "Before that, we were never able to put it all together. We've had some areas that we've played well and we've had some matches where we played well in all areas for a game or two, but never in all aspects for an entire match."
The Tigers also won't compare themselves to other teams, Perry said. Thus, a 25-6, 25-15, 25-14 loss to state-ranked Pickerington North on Sept. 27 likely will be long forgotten by the time the Tigers begin their closing stretch of the regular season Thursday, Oct. 4, as host to Newark.
"We need to put together more matches like (Sept. 25) and gain some momentum to take into the (Division I district tournament)," Perry said. "We want to be playing our best in these next few weeks."
Perry said seniors Alexis Newsome (middle blocker) and Baile Simon (libero) have played well.
"Newsome has gotten even better this year and she's stepping up more defensively," Perry said. "She's always been a strong attacker. She's our main hitter and she's a smart player, but this year she's stepping her game up even more. Simon has done well at libero. She's communicating and telling everyone what's open."
Perry also noted the play of junior Jailynn Wood (outside hitter) and sophomore Edwina Barrett (middle blocker).
"I think Wood has been strong all-around," Perry said. "She's goes from right-side hitter to defense without missing a beat. Barrett has been playing extremely well for us at middle blocker. She's outhustling everyone and getting the job done.
"What I'm pleased most about is that we're going 110 percent. We're starting to learn how to fight back. In years past, they may have given up. Now, if they're down three or four points, you can read in their faces that they're determined to try to come back. We're closing that gap and learning how to fight back."
North endures rare defeat
When North lost for the first time this season, falling to Westerville Central 15-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23 on Sept. 24, even the players' classmates were surprised, according to coach Kris Kern.
"We created the culture and the expectations where when you lose, it surprises a lot of people," Kern said. "When I got here seven years ago, when we won kids at school would come up to you and say, 'Oh, you won.' Now, they come up and say, 'Oh wow, you lost?' So we'd rather have it this way than it was in the past."
Kern credited Westerville Central for playing its best after the first game.
"We played well; they just played better that night," Kern said. "They have a great team and I have a feeling we'll see them somewhere down the road (in the postseason). We have to realize that everyone on our schedule circles the date when we play them. You would've thought Westerville Central won the Super Bowl when they beat us."
The Panthers rebounded to beat Lancaster 25-17, 25-9, 25-17 on Sept. 25 and Pickerington Central 25-6, 25-15, 25-14 on Sept. 27 to run their league winning streak to 82 matches. That moved Kern's record at North to 168-12 before an Oct. 2 league match against Reynoldsburg.
"We still have our goals intact," Kern said. "We want to win the league, win a district title and advance to the state tournament. We've never been to the final four. As far as the league, I don't care if you're playing folding chairs, 82 in a row is very impressive. That's over six-plus years.
The loss to Westerville Central came in the Panthers' fourth consecutive away match in six days.
"We won league matches against Grove City and Newark and those are difficult places to play," Kern said. "Newark has one of the top players in the state in Annie Thomasson. Then we went to Tuscarawas Central Catholic, which was a state runner-up (in Division IV) last season and played in their tiny, loud gym. We won that one in five (games). I guess if we had to lose one of those matches, I'm happy it was the last one."
The loss may strengthen the Panthers' resolve, according to Kern.
"We've got all the ingredients to get to state," he said. "We've got the two best setters in the state in Val Jeffery and Megan Giardina. We've got middle hitter Jessie Wachtman who is statistically among the top hitters and top blockers in the state. So we're not going to win every match this season. We never have gone unbeaten before, but all of our goals are still there for us and we're hungry to accomplish them.