With seven seniors leading the way last year, the Pickerington High School Central girls lacrosse team hardly resembled the squad that won just one game during its inaugural season in 2011.
Now in their third year since the Pickerington club team split into Central and North, the Tigers have just one senior and feature several freshmen and sophomores among their key players.
Central, though, isn't letting its youth hold it back.
"I think we've stepped up in all areas," said midfielder Nessa Petropavlovskiy, who is serving as a captain along with juniors Gabby Johnson and Courtney Jones despite being only a sophomore. "We're learning how to communicate and have just worked as a team because that's really important. We're definitely in the process of building our team and I don't think there's any way we're going back down. We just need to correct our mistakes."
Central opened with wins over Westerville South (11-8 on March 23), the Chillicothe club team (13-5 on March 27) and Delaware (19-14 on April 8) before falling 9-7 on April 11 at Dublin Scioto.
On April 13, Central defeated Wheeling (W.Va.) Park 23-2 and Buckhannon (W.Va.) Buckhannon-Upshur 18-5.
In coach Christine Miller's first season a year ago, the Tigers went 8-8 overall and tied Westerville South for second (5-2) in the OCC-Central Division behind Pickerington North (7-0).
The only senior in the program is defender Anneliese Beneze.
"I think we just have to step it up," Miller said. "We are a growing program and we have to learn from our mistakes. I think I had a different team last year. We have a lot of youth, whereas last year we had more seniors. We're making improvements."
Miller said she has been pleased with the play of junior Kelly Peterson at goalkeeper, freshmen Aubrey Cernus and Kathryn Walton at attacker and junior Ashley Adams and freshman Dominique Wagner at midfielder. Junior Kaliegh Norvet has led the defense.
North boys aren't down about record
The North boys team earned its first win when it defeated Granville 11-7 on April 12.
First-year coach Chris Robbins believes there is plenty to be excited about regarding the Panthers' early play.
After a 16-4 loss to perennial state-power Dublin Jerome on March 30, the Panthers came up just short in losses to DeSales (9-7 on April 5) and St. Charles (9-5 on April 10).
DeSales was third in last week's laxpower.com rankings in the Division II Central Region.
"DeSales was ranked third in the state in the preseason and we actually believed we could win that game," Robbins said. "Our team is starting to click. We understand it's the small things we have to perfect. We have a great staff and the right players. We're just going to get better as the season goes on."
According to Robbins, senior goalkeeper Nate Hess, sophomore midfielder Jordan Smith and sophomore defender Stephan Hertenstein have been among the team's standouts.
"The best part about Nate is that he's not really a great practice goalie or even a great warmup goalie, but I've seen him play and the kid has something I don't really understand," Robbins said. "He turns it on.
"We know the direction we want to go in. I even talked to an official before the Jerome game and they said we'd probably put one goal in and they'd probably put in 20 and it was (16-4). The St. Charles coach came up to me after the DeSales game and said, 'I can't believe what I just saw.' I said, 'I'm not surprised.'"
Central boys team out to strong start
The Central boys team gave up a combined five goals during its first three games before defeating Bexley 17-12 on April 10.
The Tigers, who improved to 6-0 by beating Hilliard Bradley 13-4 on April 12 and Centerville 13-8 on April 13, have been led defensively by senior goalkeeper Cole Naylor and junior Josh Clouse at close defender.
In a 5-4 win over Gahanna on April 3, Central rallied from a 3-1 deficit.
The Tigers, who got nine goals from senior midfielder Devon Maki against Bexley, are preparing for what could be the toughest part of their schedule.
Central travels Friday, April 19, to play defending club state champion Delaware and then faces another perennially strong program Monday, April 22, when it plays at Dublin Coffman.
"Hopefully we're a team where when our offense struggles our defense can pick us up," coach Pete Campbell said.
Offense shining for North girls
The North girls team had a pair of offensive outbursts to build on as it prepared for the Hannigan-Galipault Tournament on April 13 at Thomas Worthington.
On April 6, senior attacker Abbey Paulus scored nine goals to lead the Panthers to a 21-4 win over Delaware.
North then beat Westerville Central 20-14 on April 11 to improve to 2-0 in the OCC-Central.
The Panthers return to league play Friday, April 19, when they travel to Big Walnut.
"We still are a very young team, with most of our players being either freshmen or sophomores, so it's a matter of most of them getting used to the high school level," coach Norm Deena said. "We need to have a little more communication on defense, but I think we have a good enough core on defense and offense that we have really been able to pull the team together."
In the Hannigan-Galipault Tournament, the Panthers lost to Rocky River Magnificat 13-5 and tied Cincinnati Indian Hill at 8 to move to 2-1-1 overall before playing Hilliard Davidson on April 17.