Asked to describe his team's recent success, Pickerington High School Central boys soccer coach Brad Monhollen initially did not point to any of the Tigers' 10 wins entering this week.
"Three of our seniors, Dillon Ricketts, Derrick Awuah and Nate Buccilla, volunteered to give up their starting spots on our senior night (a 3-1 win over Groveport on Oct. 2) so some of our seniors who don't play as much would get the chance," Monhollen said. "It was maybe the classiest thing I've ever seen from any of my players. I wouldn't say it caught me off-guard because I know my guys are character guys, but they're all genuine. That kind of teamwork is a big reason this team is playing well and just keeps building."
Central entered an Oct. 9 game at Gahanna with records of 10-2-3 overall and 4-0-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division. Gahanna was 6-0 in the OCC-Ohio entering this week.
Not only have the Tigers been fluid offensively on occasion -- they've scored four or more goals five times and were averaging 2.5 goals per game entering the week -- but their defense has been stout. Central had recorded seven shutouts with sophomore Collin Federer in goal, against Canal Winchester (1-0 on Aug. 23), Reynoldsburg (4-0 on Sept. 4), Logan (5-0 on Sept. 6), Newark (4-0 on Sept. 25), Delaware (2-0 on Sept. 27), Dresden Tri-Valley (2-0 on Sept. 29) and Thomas Worthington (scoreless tie Oct. 4).
"We know how to work the ball together," Ricketts, an Ohio State recruit, said earlier this season. "We came out at the beginning of the season and realized that from the first game. We thought this could be quite a year."
That body of work earned Central the eighth seed for the Division I district tournament. They will have a first-round bye and play host to Delaware or Worthington Kilbourne in a second-round game at 7 p.m. Oct. 20. Central defeated Delaware 2-0 on Sept. 27 and did not play Kilbourne during the regular season.
"We've worked hard to put ourselves in a good situation," Monhollen said. "We respect all our opponents and fear none. We know at any given time, anything can happen against any team we play. If we take down our guard, teams can sneak up on us."
The Tigers learned that lesson the hard way. After an emotional 3-2 victory over Pickerington North on Sept. 11, Central's first win against its rival since the school district split in 2003, the Tigers lost 2-1 to Watkins Memorial two nights later.
Against Groveport, Central trailed 1-0 at halftime before Ricketts scored twice in the second half and Awuah added an insurance goal.
District brackets announced
The North girls team, which entered the week 13-0-2 overall and 6-0 in the OCC-Ohio, earned the second seed in the Division I district tournament and will begin the postseason at home against Groveport in a second-round game at 7 p.m. Oct. 18. The winner will play Westerville South or Whetstone in a district semifinal at 7 p.m. Oct. 23. The Panthers would play host to that game if they defeat Groveport for a second time this season; North won an OCC-Ohio game 7-0 on Sept. 25.
The Central girls team also will open against an OCC-Ohio foe. The Tigers will play host to Lancaster, a team they defeated 8-0 on Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16. The winner will visit sixth-seeded Westerville Central for a second-round game at 7 p.m. Oct. 18. The Tigers did not play the Warhawks during the regular season.
North's boys took a first-round bye and will play host to Dresden Tri-Valley in a second-round game at 7 p.m. Oct. 20. The Panthers and Scotties did not play during the regular season.
Central girls 'think pink'
The Central girls team will play host to a "Think Pink" soccer game fundraiser for the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, against Upper Arlington.
Donations are welcome. Tigers players will have pink tape for their shin guards and will wear pink eye black and pink laces on their game shoes.