A 25-17, 25-15, 25-17 loss to Hartley in its opener Aug. 20 was just the 11th loss in 111 matches for the Pickerington High School North girls volleyball team.
Nine days later, the Panthers’ 87-match OCC winning streak was snapped with a 25-20, 31-29, 25-21 loss to Lancaster.
Returning only one senior with varsity experience from teams that finished as Division I regional runners-up two consecutive years and losing their coach, the Panthers and new coach Kari Lennon feel the pressure to remain an area power – and are confident they can do so.
“We do have talent here,” said Lennon, who succeeded seven-year coach Kris Kern this summer. “We want to make sure we’re a program that’s here to stay.”
Middle hitter/outside hitter Jessie Wachtman, a 6-foot-2 senior and Morehead State recruit, will lead the team, which includes five seniors and two juniors who didn’t see much more than token varsity time the past two years. North was 26-2 overall and 14-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division last year, losing to eventual state runner-up Massillon Jackson 21-25, 25-14, 20-25, 25-20, 15-8 in a regional final.
“She’s very athletic. She has the height and the work ethic,” Lennon said of Wachtman. “She’s physically a great front-row player. She works on her back row to come across the back row a little bit for us as well, then she has a great leadership quality about her.
“She’s done a good job taking some of these players with non-varsity experience under her wing, adding a calming presence to our court and encouraging everyone to rise up and make this one program.”
Kern left North to coach Canal Winchester. The Panthers, who were 172-14 in his tenure with seven league championships and four district titles, were 1-2 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio before facing Pickerington Central on Sept. 3.
North began league play by defeating Newark 25-20, 25-18, 25-16 on Aug. 27.
Lennon, an Indiana native, coached at Groveport the past two seasons and has worked with several North players as a coach with the Columbus Volleyball Academy.
Among the Panthers’ losses to graduation were second-team all-state setter Megan Giardina, a Clemson signee, and honorable mention all-state setter Valerie Jeffery, who signed with High Point.
This year’s senior class consists of setter Maya Caine, defensive specialists Olivia Goodin and Lauren Martini, right-side hitter Maria Gray and Wachtman. North has two juniors in outside hitter Bethany Martini and defensive specialist Jessie Groves.
Sophomores on the team are outside hitters Kayla Bafia and Taylor Tincher, outside hitter/middle hitter Deja Clark, outside hitter/defensive specialist Grace Gibson, setter Sydney Janes, middle hitter Elane Shumway and right-side hitter Sarah Slayman.
“Everybody talks about how young we are, but at the end of the day we talk about that it’s no excuse,” Lennon said. “It just goes back to working on those skills and gaining experience every time we take the court.”
Manley leads Tigers returnees
Five returning starters and a renewed emphasis on blocking and attacking have Central coach Aubrie Perry confident this will be her best team in her three seasons with the Tigers.
Senior middle hitter Adelia Manley, who is 6-1, leads a group of returnees that also includes junior outside hitter Edwina Barrett, sophomore libero Maria Bauers, sophomore defensive specialist Emma Campbell and sophomore setter Macy Selan. Manley is the team’s only senior, and Barrett is one of three juniors with defensive specialist Kaitlyn LaCava and right-side hitter Jenna Myers.
“Our defense has come a long way, largely because of our sophomores and Kaitlyn,” said Perry, whose team was 7-16 overall and 4-10 in the OCC-Ohio last year.
“I’m very proud of how we’ve progressed blocking and attacking. In the past, we haven’t always been on the same page. This year, I know we’re there. I’ve seen it already. We talk consistently on the court and with each other.”
Central was 1-1 overall and in the OCC-Ohio before Sept. 3. The Tigers lost their opener at Lancaster 22-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-18 on Aug. 27, but bounced back with a 25-23, 13-25, 25-21, 25-23 win over Reynoldsburg on Aug. 29.
Manley is a two-year letterwinner whom Perry called the team’s most enthusiastic player on the court.
“She used to sit back and soak in all the knowledge she could. She’s not allowed to do that anymore,” Perry said. “She handles the position very well and she’s a tremendous leader.”
Barrett, who is 5-5, moved to outside hitter from middle hitter.
The rest of the roster consists of three sophomores in right-side hitter Ashlie Davis, 6-1 middle hitter Kennedy Jones and outside hitter Kaylie Utterback.