The Pickerington High School North girls soccer team couldn't have asked for three more similar games to end its season, other than one thing -- getting the chance to play a fourth.
After winning consecutive 1-0 games in the regional tournament, against Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome, the Panthers lost 1-0 to Mason in a state semifinal Nov. 6 at Bellbrook. Comets forward Jami Pfeifer scored the winner 1 minute, 37 seconds into the first overtime to hand the Panthers a loss that was their first and last of the year. North finished 19-1-2 overall.
"That was definitely an accomplishment," senior defender Christy Macioce said. "We knew we could get this far if we just kept focused and kept building on what we'd done before."
Senior forward Ashlynn Jones, a Memphis recruit and first-team all-league and all-district honoree, scored a team-high 26 goals and had six assists. Her final two goals couldn't have come at better times -- she scored the winner Nov. 1 against Coffman in a regional semifinal with 1:44 left, then got a golden goal with 10:34 left in the second 15-minute overtime of a regional final Nov. 3 against Jerome to give the Panthers their fourth state tournament berth since 2007.
"(The Mason game) could have gone either way," coach Greg Van Kannel said. "They had good chances and so did we. A lot of the game was played in the midfield. It was a great atmosphere and we were lucky enough to get through two games like that (in the regional tournament). It was basically the kind of game we expected."
North cruised through its OCC-Ohio Division schedule, outscoring league foes 46-3 to go 7-0 and win its eighth league title in the program's 10 seasons. The Panthers finished ahead of Grove City (5-1-1), Gahanna (5-2), Pickerington Central (4-3), Reynoldsburg (3-3-1), Lancaster (1-5-1), Groveport (1-6) and Newark (0-6-1).
North played an independent schedule in its inaugural season of 2003 and was second in the OCC-Ohio to Gahanna last year.
The Panthers had a relatively easy path through the district tournament, earning the second seed behind Coffman and taking a first-round bye before defeating Groveport 8-0 on Oct. 18, Westerville South 4-0 on Oct. 23 and sixth-seeded Westerville Central 6-1 in a district final Oct. 27.
"This group came so far," Van Kannel said. "A lot of times this year, the puzzle pieces fell right into place. I couldn't have asked for any more from them."
The Panthers' ties were against Hilliard Bradley (scoreless on Sept. 6) and Jerome (1-all on Sept. 13).
Senior goalkeeper Heather Laeufer, a Central Michigan recruit who was first-team all-league and all-district, allowed only four goals with help from a defense consisting primarily of Macioce -- a first-team all-league and second-team all-district honoree -- as well as seniors Abby Hart, Laura Neilon, Kate Prewitt and Rylie Shaw and sophomore Kelly Eisenhauer. Prewitt and senior forwards Rachel Weigman and Dani Wenger were second-team all-league, senior forward Alexa Cheripko was special mention all-league and Neilon was named honorable mention.
Jones also was OCC-Ohio Player of the Year, and Van Kannel was Coach of the Year.
Other expected returnees include junior midfielders Morgan Bittengle, Morgan Greer and Christina Williams, sophomores Megan Marasco (forward), Aubrey Lukacsko (midfielder) and Emily Thomas (forward) and goalkeepers Hannah Wilson, a junior, and Rachel Kronk, a freshman.
Marasco finished with 10 goals and two assists, Wenger had nine goals and 12 assists and Bittengle added eight goals and five assists.