Cameron Friedman of the Pickerington High School North boys tennis team paced back and forth, his head bowed in thought and arms clasped tight to his chest.
Other Panthers shuffled back and forth inside the Reynoldsburg tennis complex April 22, alternating between inside jokes and encouraging teammates Christian Keen and Peter Vanderhoff as they sought to close out the Raiders' Malcolm Kirksey and Raymond Truong in an OCC-Ohio Division match.
Keen and Vanderhoff did just that, winning 7-6, 1-6, 6-1. North's 3-2 victory didn't clinch the OCC-Ohio Division championship for the Panthers, but it didn't hurt their cause, either.
"Peter told me that all three of the singles (players) won, so it was decided already, just to make me not as nervous," Keen said, noting that wasn't true -- while Matt Barry won at second singles and Friedman did so at third, Blaine Carr had lost 6-2, 6-4 to Cameron Raglin, a Division I state qualifier each of the past two years, at first singles.
"I was just completely loose and ready to play," Keen said.
That's been the case most of the season for North, which attempted to clinch its third consecutive undefeated OCC-Ohio title April 30 against Lancaster. The Panthers' win against Reynoldsburg was their only victory entering the week not decided by a 5-0 score.
North was 8-1 overall before facing Upper Arlington on April 29 and 6-0 in the league before facing Lancaster, having defeated Groveport 5-0 on April 23 and Grove City 5-0 on April 24.
The Panthers' lineup largely has been consistent, with Carr, Barry and Friedman from first to third singles, respectively, and Avery Kreemer and Franco Platania at first doubles in most matches.
"Those three singles guys can play with just about anybody in the area," coach Brian Hoff said. "The guys on this team have some heart. We've lost some first sets and come back and won. They don't quit. It's kind of a cliche to say they don't quit and they keep fighting, but that's exactly what they do. That's our biggest attribute right now."
Hoff has tinkered with second doubles, rotating Spencer Bhaerman and Vanderhoff opposite Keen. All are freshmen.
"We're comfortable to-gether," Vanderhoff said. "We've played before in previous years. I always take backhand and (Keen) always takes forehand and it just really blends really well. The upperclassmen have been such a huge help. They've been giving us pointers and keeping us going forward."
After playing doubles the past two years, mostly with 2013 graduate Patrick Yen, Barry committed himself to moving up to singles through rigorous offseason work.
"I needed to gain strength with my legs to play longer matches and for a longer amount of time, and just work on my form and motion when I swing," said Barry, a junior. "I think I improved my serves during the offseason, too. I just keep practicing. I have to focus on what I need to do to help this team win."
The four OCC division champions will square off to determine the overall conference champion Saturday, May 3, at a location to be determined. Second-place teams from each division also will play each other, and so on, the same day at other sites.
Rings, Tigers still looking for ideal mix
As far as Central coach Kelli Rings is concerned, "the jury is still out" on her team's performance as the regular season winds down.
"They've been hard to decipher at times," Rings said. "We've had a few matches we felt like we could have won had we just finished, but we haven't always fought all the way through to the end. I want to see us get tougher. We need to fight harder to close out matches."
Central was 7-3 overall before playing Olentangy Orange on April 29 and finished 4-3 in the OCC-Ohio. Andy Taylor, Nick Vandervoort and Chase Pratt have played first, second and third singles, respectively, for most of the season.
The usual doubles lineup has been Richie Siebert and Tyler Wharton at first doubles, with Jake Adams at second doubles with Anthony D'Innocenzo and Garrett Lennington. Jackson Mathias and Kyle Maycock also have seen time at second doubles.
Central wrapped up its league schedule with a 4-1 win over Gahanna on April 24.
"I've rotated nine or 10 guys just trying to find that magic mix. We haven't quite gotten there yet," Rings said. "Overall, I've been impressed with most of our guys. All three of our singles guys have played well. Nick has shown great improvement. He's been better during adversity and hasn't thrown in the towel.
"The team's played well most of the time, but we still have room to grow."