Andy Taylor of the Pickerington High School Central boys tennis team admitted he isn't used to his role as the Tigers' de facto elder statesman.
But he has time to get there. If Central's plans come to fruition, the team largely will be the same this season and next.
The senior-less Tigers are looking to juniors Taylor and Garrett Lennington for leadership as they attempt to overtake Pickerington North atop the OCC-Ohio Division and erase the sour taste of a sub.-500 finish in 2012.
"It's weird to think that I, as a junior, am supposed to be leading this team and there's not anyone older than me helping take care of things," Taylor said. "(Coach) Kelli (Rings) talked to me and reinforced that she wants me to be a leader and step up and show the less-experienced players when they're doing something wrong."
The rest of the roster consists of sophomores Jake Adams, Anthony D'Innocenzo, Kyle Maycock, Richie Siebert, Nick Vandervoort and Tyler Wharton and freshmen Jackson Mathias and Chase Pratt.
Taylor is expected to hold down the top singles spot. Pratt and Wharton played singles and the doubles teams consisted of Adams and Lennington as well as Maycock and Siebert in a season-opening 5-0 win over visiting Westerville Central on April 2.
Central lost three players to graduation in Darree Billings, Sanjeev Kolli and Mayuran Ravindran. That won't be a concern this year.
"It's always good when you know you have a team that will be around a few years," said Rings, who is in her 10th season. "These guys really spent some time during the offseason to improve their game, too. We had an OK season last year but a lot of room to improve. All the boys want a little bit more out of this season. Right now, they're hungrier than what we've been in the past. That's good to see."
Central defeated visiting Watkins Memorial 3-2 on April 3 to enter its league opener April 9 at home against Lancaster at 2-0 overall.
The Tigers started 8-2 last year but finished 9-10. Central placed fifth (29 points, 3-4) in the OCC-Ohio behind North (63, 7-0), Reynoldsburg (60, 6-1), Gahanna (47, 5-2) and Grove City (32, 4-3) and ahead of Lancaster (18, 2-5), Groveport (16, 1-6) and Newark (3, 0-7).
No Tigers advanced from their home Division I sectional to the district tournament.
"We won the matches we should have won, we lost the matches we should have lost and those ones in the middle, we didn't pull out," Rings said. "We had a lot of long matches and some losses that were very disappointing. It wasn't a good feeling. The kids knew I was upset about it and I think they put forth the effort and they're showing more drive and desire this year."
Panthers ready to defend league title
With at most three seniors among his top seven players, North coach Brian Hoff admitted his team must be prepared to defend the OCC-Ohio title it wrestled away from three-time defending champion Gahanna last year.
"We're in a different position this year," said Hoff, who is in his 10th season.
"Last year, we were the hunters. This year, we will be the hunted. We know we are going to get everyone's best shot this year. But we are looking forward to the competition. Reynoldsburg and Gahanna will have very strong teams, which should make it a very interesting battle for the top spot in the conference. We will need to be at our best when we play them."
The Panthers, who were 13-2 overall last year and opened April 9 at home against Newark, will be led by sophomore Blaine Carr at first singles, senior Ben Keen at second singles and sophomore Cameron Friedman at third singles. Sophomore Matt Barry and senior Patrick Yen will play first doubles, and the second doubles team was uncertain entering the week. It will consist of some combination of senior Andrew Brady, freshman Avery Kreemer and junior Franco Platania.
"You'll be hearing Blaine a lot, and Patrick and Matt, too, just because of their mental toughness throughout the matches (and) how they carry themselves on and off the court," Keen said.
"That's what makes those guys successful."
Barry and 2012 graduate Austin Engel won the league second doubles championship a year ago. Carr won the league title at second singles, and Friedman finished third at third singles.
No Panthers advanced from a Division I sectional at Reynoldsburg.
"The guys have worked really hard to improve their games during the offseason. They have all been playing together at least once a week during the winter," Hoff said. "We've made a great deal of progress since the end of last season."