With the toughest part of its OCC-Ohio Division schedule approaching, the Reynoldsburg High School football team appears to have found the answers it was looking for on defense.
The Raiders struggled to stop the run throughout a 38-20 loss to New Albany on Aug. 30 and allowed Hilliard Bradley to rush for more than 200 yards in a 33-21 win Sept. 5.
As Reynoldsburg prepares to travel Friday, Sept. 27, to Pickerington Central, it can go in knowing it has improved significantly on defense the last two weeks.
During a 34-14 win over Westerville North on Sept. 13, the Raiders' first-team defense didn't give up a score. The Warriors got one touchdown on a fumble return and their other after the game was out of hand.
Then against Grove City on Sept. 20, Ashton Dulin returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes, 51 seconds left to seal Reynoldsburg's 21-10 win.
The Raiders are 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio.
Central is 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the league after beating Lancaster 27-12 on Sept. 20.
Also looming for the Raiders is a game Oct. 11 against visiting Pickerington North, which shared the league title last season with Pickerington Central.
"When (the OCC) shuffled the deck, we got (Central) in the middle of the season, which is fine," said coach Buddy White, whose team will try to snap an 11-game losing skid against the Tigers. "We don't want to focus on beating this team or that team because if you don't win this game, it can create two losses.
"Our young defense wasn't ready for (New Albany). They brought it to us, but we've definitely learned from it. (Our defense) can be aggressive, and that's what we're looking for. You've got to do your assignments to the highest level of intensity."
Senior linebacker Solomon Grace has been among the biggest standouts on defense for the Raiders. He had 11 solo and 10 assisted tackles against Grove City and six solo and four assisted tackles against Westerville North.
Senior defensive back Andrew Norman had two interceptions against the Warriors and senior lineman Corey Beal had two tackles for loss against the Dawgs.
On offense against Grove City, senior running back David Moore led the Raiders with 170 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries.
Pickerington Central produced 358 yards of offense against Lancaster. Senior quarterback Colby Simkins passed for 104 yards and rushed for 128 yards and one touchdown.
"We want to get better and better every week," White said. "Our defense is a bunch of young guys who have been growing into their positions into the level we have to play at. Against Westerville North they really pitched a shutout when you consider that (North) had a scoop and score and the other was in the fourth quarter. We're starting to fly to the ball. As a unit our defense is playing pretty well."
Girls tennis team set for OCC tourney
After going 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio during the regular season, the girls tennis team will compete in a tournament of third-place OCC squads Saturday, Sept. 28, on its home court.
The OCC restructured this year's postseason league tournaments into eight separate events based on team placement in each division. Joining the Raiders in the third-place tournament will be Olentangy from the OCC-Capital, Olentangy Liberty from the OCC-Central and Westerville Central from the OCC-Cardinal.
The tournament was postponed Sept. 21 because of bad weather.
Pickerington Central was first in the OCC-Ohio at 7-0 and Gahanna was second at 6-1.
The Raiders entered the week 11-4 overall.
"I'm very pleased with the girls' performances," coach Les Somogyi said. "I had a rough couple weeks trying to figure out my first and second doubles, but all of a sudden it came together."
Reynoldsburg will be host Oct. 3 and 5 to a Division I sectional tournament.
Senior Keisha Cummings and junior Diamond Person, who have been at first and second singles, respectively, likely will team up in doubles during the postseason.
Senior Paris Ring and sophomore Jadelyn Cheng, who also have seen time in singles, could comprise the other postseason doubles duo.
According to Somogyi, seniors Brea Brooks and Dynia Smith and junior Jessica Acosta-Gorman are among the top candidates to play singles in the sectional.
"I think I have a shot (to advance to district) with (Cummings and Person)," Somogyi said. "Jessica Acosta-Gorman has been on (junior varsity) the last two years and all of a sudden started blossoming."
Girls volleyball team seeking toughness
First-year girls volleyball coach Caitlin Harper believes her team is close to turning the corner despite some of the struggles it has endured thus far.
The Raiders were 2-11 overall and 0-8 in the OCC-Ohio and had lost their last eight matches before playing Pickerington Central on Sept. 24.
On Sept. 17, Reynoldsburg came up just short in a 27-25, 25-22, 27-25 loss to visiting Groveport.
The Raiders' only wins before Sept. 24 came over Westland (27-25, 22-25, 26-24 on Aug. 17) and Zanesville (25-17, 27-25, 26-24 on Aug. 24).
"Mental toughness seems to be a major issue for this varsity team," Harper said. "These girls all have the skills to succeed but fear of past seasons lingers in the back of their minds. It is not that other teams have more talent or better skills than us. It is the fact that the girls put themselves, individually and as a team, under so much pressure they begin to crumble under their own pressure.
"I know that these girls can win and want to win. They just need to believe and trust themselves and their teammates. I have some very strong hitters, amazing setters and some great passers."