Their archrival cost the Pickerington High School Central wrestling team the outright OCC-Ohio Division championship last year, but the Tigers seem more focused on the postseason than gaining revenge on Pickerington North in a home dual Thursday, Feb. 6.
"We haven't focused much on the league," said Central coach Jason Allen, whose team clinched a share of its third consecutive OCC-Ohio title with a 44-24 win at Grove City on Jan. 30. "We've been talking with the guys in the room that it's all about progression and moving forward for the postseason. We're focused on the sectional tournament (Feb. 15 at home). That said, winning the league would be nice. We won't complain about that."
Central improved to 6-0 in league duals by beating Grove City. Also on Jan. 30, North routed Gahanna 49-10 to move to 5-1 and set up a showdown with the same ramifications as last year.
A year ago, North defeated Central 36-30 in both teams' regular-season finales to gain a split of the OCC-Ohio title. The Panthers and Tigers both finished 6-1 in league duals.
"Overall, our biggest focus is always the postseason (starting with sectional Feb. 15 at Watkins Memorial), but within the league, there's no denying that Pickerington Central is a big dual," North coach Brad Harris said. "We're similar teams. They're solid in the lower weights and strong in the middle. We're strong in the middle and solid at the upper weights. Whichever team can get some bonus points at the lower and upper weights will be the big factor, I think. We'll see which team can do that more."
Central is seeking its first outright league championship since 2003. The Tigers shared the OCC-Cardinal championship with Grove City in 2005 and the OCC-Ohio title with Lancaster in 2011.
North won an OCC-Capital title in 2005 and the OCC-Ohio in 2009 and 2010.
"I try to treat it like another match, but I think for a lot of people it's a fairly large rivalry," said Central senior Jordan Pieczynski, who competes at 145 pounds. "I don't think we're too concerned about them this year. We are way more concerned about ourselves. All in all, we're a tough team and coach Allen pushes us pretty hard."
Top wrestlers for Central this season have included Pieczynski and Aaron Yarger (152), a state qualifier last year, as well as Devin Johnson (113), Ryan McElwee (120), Tyler Hogue (126), Joseph Terry (132) and Dalton Dunnette (138). All recorded victories at Grove City, as did Darius Pearson (160) and Arron Morefield (heavyweight).
North has been led by George Dial (21-14 at 182 and 195), Jared Ferguson (31-6 at 132), Tyler McCafferty (23-9 at 152), Cody Notestine (33-6 at 138) and Geno Rollo (23-3 at heavyweight).
Central and North could have met in a Region 5 semifinal of the Division I state team tournament, but each team lost second-round matches at home Jan. 22. Central fell to Teays Valley 42-22 and North lost to OCC-Ohio foe Lancaster for the second time in six days, 36-30.
The Panthers rebounded to finish second (229.5 points) of 10 teams in Groveport's Cruiser Invitational on Jan. 25 behind champion Hilliard Bradley (233.5). Dial (182), Jaylyn Falls (220) Ferguson and Notestine all won championships, and McCafferty, Rollo and Wyatt Starkey (195) were runners-up.
"We were very disappointed (about the team tournament)," Dial said. "We thought we were way more prepared to face Lancaster the second time, and we were close in a few matches but we just couldn't close things out. But we knew that wasn't the end of our season. We rebounded well at Groveport, and we have goals left to achieve."