It's not a bad night when an athlete can have his duffel bag packed and warm-up clothes on with 10 minutes remaining in a game.
Such was the case for the starters on the Pickerington High School North boys soccer team Sept. 24 against Groveport. After a back-and-forth first half that featured a combined seven goals, the host Panthers pulled away with four unanswered goals in the second half to win 8-3.
That kind of performance has North hoping it can improve on the records it took into an Oct. 1 game at Gahanna -- 7-4-3 overall and 4-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
Equally important to coach Darrin Monhollen was seeing the payoff from an increased emphasis on finishing offensive chances.
"We've been working on a number of things that we did well, like crossing, finishing and corner kicks," Monhollen said. "I think we've made some advances as far as the offense is concerned. Certainly our defense has held us in a lot of games (allowing 18 goals in the first 14 contests), which is more than you ask playing the competition we typically play. Ironically, the offense got to take up for the defense for a change (against Groveport)."
Senior forward Isaac Magnuson had a team-high eight goals through 14 games, followed by senior midfielder Zach Norris' six. Norris scored four to pace the offense against Groveport.
"We've been working the ball well in the middle, moving it easily to the outside," senior midfielder Luke Westkamp said. "That makes it easier to get the ball to the forwards."
The Panthers still rue their ties, two of which were scoreless. North played to draws against Zanesville (0-0 on Aug. 24), Pickerington Central (1-all on Sept. 9) and Watkins Memorial (0-0 on Sept. 21). Central trailed for much of their meeting before scoring the tying goal with 13 minutes left.
"We've been getting players forward and been solid in the back for sure," Magnuson said. "Finally the past few weeks, we've been putting the ball in the back of the goal."
North will have plenty of time for any fine-tuning entering the postseason. After the Oct. 1 game at Gahanna -- which was 5-0 in the league entering the week -- the Panthers don't play again until their regular-season finale at home Tuesday, Oct. 8, against Grove City.
Gahanna handed Grove City its first league loss Sept. 24 by a 2-0 score.
North's first game in the Division I district tournament would take place no earlier than Oct. 16. The tournament draw is Sunday, Oct. 6.
"We've been in some close games. It helps with your composure," Magnuson said. "I'm excited about the potential this team has if we can stay healthy and keep scoring."
Central girls battling injuries
Central girls coach Jillian Walters is busy shuffling varsity players and promoting a few from junior varsity after a rash of injuries.
The Tigers entered the week without senior forward Darby Burch (injury), senior defenders Emma Safranek (tonsillectomy) and Nicole Karavakis (knee) and senior midfielder Lea Reynolds (knee).
Senior forward Haleigh Young tore a knee ligament Sept. 3 against Reynoldsburg and is out for the season. Senior midfielder Rachel Koch also has missed time with an injury.
"A lot of our clutch players are out and we're trying to adapt right now," said Walters, whose team was 8-4-1 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Groveport on Oct. 1. "We're not producing a lot of goal-scoring opportunities. Darby consistently had a lot of assists early in the year. We initially had three girls going between j.v. and varsity who have dressed all our games, and we're going to depend on them more."
Those three, all freshmen, are defender Lexi Abrams, forward/midfielder Kaitlin Miller and Elizabeth Fee, who Walters said could fill any spot on the field.
"Our center-midfielders all have stepped up," Walters said. "(Senior) Lisa Slattery has played center-midfielder, outside midfielder and forward. (Sophomore midfielder) Rachel VanBramer has been a consistent starter with Darby out. The girls are working extra hard to do everything they can right now."
North girls nearing another league title
North's girls team entered an Oct. 1 home game against Gahanna two wins from its ninth league championship in the program's 11-season history. The Panthers were 9-0-1 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio entering the week, just ahead of Gahanna at 4-0-1 and Grove City at 4-1.
Grove City plays host to North in the league finale for both teams Tuesday, Oct. 8.
Freshman forward Cameron Shedenhelm had a team-high eight goals through 10 games, just ahead of junior midfielder Aubrey Lukascko's seven.
Central boys looking for consistency
A 3-0 loss at Upper Arlington on Sept. 26 dropped Central's boys team to 3-7-1 overall and 1-3-1 in the OCC-Ohio before an Oct. 1 game at Groveport. The loss snapped a two-game winning streak.
Senior forward/midfielder Saddique Adama scored for the Tigers in a 1-0 win over Newark on Sept. 24, Central's first league victory.
Sophomore forward Steve Bauers and senior defender Connor Napier shared the team lead with four goals apiece through 11 games.