The Pickerington High School North boys volleyball team held a closed-door meeting for about 10 minutes after its 25-12, 25-16, 23-25, 25-19 win over Dublin Jerome on April 17.
Although it was the Panthers' ninth win of the season, coach Marci Truex had a few concerns about the third game, which got out of North's control when Jerome reeled off a late 9-3 run.
"It's a growing thing," Truex said. "It's teaching them how to be mentally tough and work with confidence and keep that mental edge. I want to know if they can bounce back, and how concerned do I need to be when we're in a tough situation. I have to be able to push them and see where they are."
So far, they're ahead of where even Truex figured they would be through 13 matches. A 25-10, 25-11, 26-24 win at Olentangy on April 18 improved the Panthers to 10-3 overall entering the week, three more wins than last year, and 6-1 in the OCC-Capital Division.
North hopes that success continues when it plays host to Pickerington Central in an OCC-Capital match at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25. The Panthers won the first meeting 25-10, 25-12, 25-15 on April 9 at Central.
"I'll probably never be satisfied with how we play, but I like how they're doing," Truex said. "I know the boys aren't satisfied."
Junior middle hitter/setter James Klamo called a 26-24, 25-22, 25-23 win over league-foe Gahanna on April 11 a boost to both the team's league standing and confidence. The Lions went 10-0 last year to win the league championship.
"Beating Gahanna was a really big step forward for us," Klamo said. "We've played some tough teams and we've been able to hang in so far.
"We're still a young team, we're still inexperienced, and going out there and playing is what we try to do every day and just try to get better. We really work at being the best we can."
A strong front row has paced the Panthers. Players succeeding in those spots include senior Donald Cisco (middle hitter/outside hitter), juniors Matt Bernstein (outside hitter), Charlie Keller (middle hitter), Klamo and Zach Sandhofer (middle hitter) and sophomore Mitchell Ruehle (outside hitter).
"James is our kill leader, but at different times other guys have stepped up to take on bigger offensive roles," Truex said. "Being able to change parts makes our team a little more lethal because we're not in the same set all the time. We're hard to defend that way."
A year after going 0-14 overall and 0-10 in the OCC-Capital, Central entered the week 3-7 overall and 1-6 in the league. The Tigers' wins were against Delaware (30-28, 25-17, 25-18 on April 2), Licking Heights (25-17, 25-20, 25-18 on April 5) and Whetstone (25-22, 25-27, 25-19, 25-15 on April 15).
Senior middle hitter Scott Hungerman attributed the team's improvement to consistency under second-year coach Luke Rininger, a North graduate.
"It has been pretty rough for the guys who went before us," said Hungerman, whose team had five coaches in six seasons before Rininger's arrival. "Having (Rininger) back helps a lot. We know what each other is thinking on the court. We've learned to work together pretty well."
Rininger credited Hungerman and juniors Corey Kovaleski (setter) and Jeff Wolfel (middle hitter), calling them the team's anchors and noting their increased ability to complete better passes and lengthen points. Hungerman noted the play of freshmen Mikey Isaac (back row) and Matt Lashley (front row).
"We've obviously improved with skill, and we've managed to scrape out three wins so far," Rininger said after a 25-14, 25-15, 25-12 loss to Dublin Coffman on April 17. "(Their) confidence is a lot better, so they're able to hit and do the little things well, like better passing, better setting and better hitting."
Tigers, Panthers playing for a cause
The Central-North match will double as a fundraiser for CancerFree KIDS, an organization based in the Cincinnati suburb of Loveland that focuses on raising funds for child cancer patients and community awareness.
For $10, fans can buy T-shirts for the cause. That price includes admission to the game.
Truex said she had wanted to try such an event for a few years, but was able to do so this year thanks to student-teacher Anne Boucher, who took charge of planning as part of her senior project at Otterbein University.
"We are to assess the needs of the community and then come up with a project that we can incorporate at our school," Boucher said. "The response that I am receiving has been nothing but positive. ... The school was definitely willing to be on board with this event. After all, everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer, and childhood cancer in particular really strikes people as a cause that they will do anything to help fight."