With a non-league schedule that included established squads such as Worthington Kilbourne, Dublin Coffman and Hartley, the Pickerington High School North girls lacrosse team ended up with a .500 record last year but won its second consecutive league championship.
The Panthers have what second-year coach Norm Deena believes is another challenging slate of games this spring, with Hilliard Davidson (April 17 on the road), Hartley (May 7 at home) and Columbus Academy (May 9 at home) among those on the schedule.
It's all part of the process he believes is necessary to help transform the program -- in its third season after the Pickerington club team split into two teams -- into a perennial power.
"We've been really competitive in the (OCC-Central Division)," Deena said. "We've got a tougher schedule compared to last year, but I think we'll be competitive. We should surprise some people."
The biggest reason for optimism might be five experienced seniors in Kaitlin Beemiller (attacker), Tianna DiYanni (defender), Katie Hunt (defender), Abbey Paulus (attacker) and Korri Titus (midfielder).
Junior Caroline Giardina is back at defender and attacker. Other key juniors should include Regan Hanood (midfielder) and Courtney Vogel (attacker).
Last season, Paulus had 69 goals and 24 assists and 2012 graduate Katelyn Mickelson had 24 goals and 24 assists at attacker as North went 8-8 overall.
The Panthers finished first (7-0) in the OCC-Central ahead of Pickerington Central (5-2), Westerville South (5-2), Gahanna (4-3), Westerville Central (3-4), Delaware (2-5), Westerville North (2-5) and Big Walnut (0-7).
Pickerington North beat Pickerington Central 18-5.
The Panthers lost to West Chester Lakota West 11-10 in their opening Division I South/Central Region tournament game.
Seven of Pickerington North's eight losses were by three goals or fewer.
Mickelson (first-team all-league) and midfielder Laura Sullivan (second-team all-league) led a seven-member senior class a year ago.
"We have a number of first-time players, but they're learning curve has really increased," Deena said.
"We've had some people step up. We have some freshmen and some returning sophomores and all five of our seniors I feel will positively contribute."
Central hopes to show improvement
Central improved from 1-8-1 in 2011 to 8-8 a year ago under first-year coach Christine Miller.
The Tigers should gain plenty of experience throughout their program this spring as they look to continue that improvement, considering they plan to field varsity and junior varsity teams.
The only senior is defender Anneliese Beneze.
"We're sitting right at about 24 (players) right now, but it's a very flexible group and this will give everybody lots of playing time," Miller said.
"I think we've improved in a lot of areas. Our athleticism has stepped up a notch in the offseason."
Sophomore Nessa Petropavlovskiy and juniors Ashley Adams, Gabby Johnson and Courtney Jones should help the Tigers' strength be at midfielder. Petropavlovskiy was first-team all-OCC-Central last season and Adams was honorable mention all-league.
Junior Kelly Peterson returns at goalkeeper and sophomore Carly Noel is back at attacker.
Expected to join Beneze at defender are juniors Michelle Barnabei and Kaleigh Norvet and sophomore Madison Hernandez.
Others at midfielder should include sophomore Tamera Carter and freshmen Dymin Hagwood and Dominique Wagner.
Freshmen Aubrey Cernus, Rachel Taylor and Kathryn Walton are others who should contribute at attacker.
Last season, Central opened the Division I South/Central Region tournament with a 16-12 win over Cincinnati McAuley but lost to Upper Arlington 19-5 in the second round.
The Tigers lost seven players from a year ago to graduation, including first-team all-league selection Bailey Dohmer (midfielder/attacker) and second-team all-league honorees Chanelle BonDurant (midfielder/attacker) and Shannon Meyer-Walker (midfielder/attacker).
"We've improved on our stick skills and ball skills and worked on our field vision," Miller said.
"We have quite a few incoming freshmen and a lot of girls ready to jump in."