Jason Roach entered the season thinking his Pickerington High School Central boys track and field team might boast the deepest roster in central Ohio.

The 12th-year coach quickly changed his mind after the season-opening Hammond Relays at home March 25, when the Tigers scored 88 points and finished third of seven teams behind OCC-Ohio Division rival Gahanna (99), but he has not lowered his expectations.

Videos •Watch an interview with Pickerington Central boys track and field athlete Crockett Schooler. •Grace Luther of the girls track and field team competes in the Stingel Invitational on April 8 at Northland.

Central has returned three-quarters of last year's Division I state championship 1,600-meter relay in senior Zavien Parker, junior Zach Robinson and sophomore Terry Simuel. Parker and Robinson also won indoor state championships last month in the 200 and 400, respectively, as the Tigers won that team title.

"Our weakness right now is the pole vault, and the only reason for that is (junior) Ken Le is hurt," Roach said. "He might be the best pole vaulter in central Ohio. We don't know if he'll be back. If we had him ... I don't know if we have a weakness. The only team I've seen that is deeper is Gahanna.

"Does that scare me a little bit? For the league meet, yes. Only time will tell. I still like what we have."

The Tigers evened the score with the Lions in their second invitational of the year, scoring 136 points in the 13-team Wildcat Premier on April 1 at Hilliard Davidson to finish ahead of runner-up Gahanna (117). Central won five individual events and four relays.

In the indoor state meet March 4 at the University of Akron, Parker won the 200 title in 22 seconds, Robinson won the 400 in 49.41, the 800 relay of junior Tavyn Myers, Parker, Robinson and Simuel won in 1:29.21 and the 1,600 relay of senior C.J. Kanney, Parker, Robinson and Simuel finished first in 3:20.21. Central scored 43 points to win, ahead of runner-up Thomas Worthington (33) as 66 teams scored.

Roach's hopes are high for junior Crockett Schooler, who will run the 110 and 300 hurdles and participate in the 400, 800 relay and 1,600 relay. Schooler has drawn interest from several colleges, including Iowa, Miami, Missouri, Pittsburgh and Louisiana State.

Schooler missed the state meet last season with a hamstring injury, and Roach said that with him in the lineup, Central could have finished as high as second.

The Tigers placed ninth (20) behind champion Cleveland St. Ignatius (52) as 72 teams scored.

"It was unfortunate. Crockett is probably our best athlete," Roach said.

Schooler's expectations for himself and the team are as high as those of his coach.

"We want it all this year. We just hope that we stay healthy the entire year and make it to state and put all the pieces together there and turn out with a win," Schooler said.

"Our team is looking really strong. Our distance is strong. Our sprinters are really strong. Our hurdlers are decent, too."

Other expected contributors include seniors JerMycole Graham (sprints, jumps), Jack Jaynes (distance) and Matt Scrape (distance), juniors John Brown (throws), Malcolm Briley (sprints, jumps), Trey Madison (throws) and Alex Morgan (throws) and sophomores Brady Johnson (distance) and Evan Matthews (high jump).

Sprinters expected
to lead girls team

Championships and a chance to compete at the next level drive junior McKenzie Long of the girls track and field team, who won the indoor state title in the 60 (7.54) and looks to carry that momentum into the outdoor season.

Long, who also placed second in the 200 (24.45) in the indoor state meet as Central tied Olentangy Orange for second (37) behind Gahanna (51) as 53 teams scored, leads a sprinting unit that also includes juniors Shaye Douglas and Destinee McGrady and sophomore Jaydan Wood. Wood placed third in the 400 both in the indoor state meet (56.52) and last year's outdoor state meet (55.36).

"(Indoor) exceeded my expectations a lot. I went all out this year. I worked for it for sure," said Long, who is receiving interest from LSU and Pittsburgh, among other schools, and plans to run in the 100 and 200 as well as on the 400 and 800 relays this season. "Honestly, I just had to think about college and everything. It made me work harder to get this full scholarship I am aiming for."

The Tigers have returned six of their seven Division I state qualifiers from last year, when they tied for 27th (9) at state behind champion Cincinnati Withrow (64) as 67 teams scored. That group consists of Douglas, McGrady, Wood, senior Olivia Chapman and juniors Trinity Brown and Hannah Skinner. All are sprinters with the exception of Chapman, who is a distance runner.

"You can't rely on one group anymore. If you can score at the state level in all phases -- throws, jumps, sprints and distance -- you are tough to beat," second-year coach Hunter Nichols said. "(On relays,) you need four stud legs now to compete. It's so fast."

Nichols is optimistic about his throwers, including senior Dalany Boykin and junior Grace Luther. Luther placed sixth at regional in the shot put last year with a throw of 37 feet, 1 inch, falling two spots and three inches short of a state berth.

"Hopefully she gets to state this time," Nichols said of Luther. "She's been (in big meets) before. Hopefully the big stage doesn't get to her and she can perform."

Central finished third (75) of seven teams in the Hammond Relays behind champion Gahanna (108), and placed fourth (93.5) in the 11-team Wildcat Premier behind the champion Lions (151).

Other expected contributors include seniors Stephanie Fox (throws), Amirah Strauther (hurdles, jumps) and Evie Vandervoort (middle distance), juniors Shalea Boyd (sprints) and Amber Hamelin (distance), sophomores Lauren Marvin (distance) and Maddie Schmidt (distance) and freshman Madison Potts (throws).

Mathias leading
boys tennis team

The boys tennis team boasted some consistency in its lineup through the first two weeks of the season, but 14th-year coach Kelli Rings nonetheless said Central still is "trying to find ourselves a groove."

With junior Layton Mathias holding down first singles and junior Jeremy O'Coner alternating between singles and doubles, the Tigers started 4-0 before a 5-0 loss to Dublin Scioto on April 10.

"We're still trying to figure things out," Rings said. "We have four guys who are solid in singles. Some guys are better at doubles than singles, and then there's the matter of who plays well with who. Layton is hands-down our No. 1 guy. With the other guys, it depends on the day who plays where."

Junior Evan Gibson, who also has rotated between singles and doubles, also is back from last season, when the Tigers went 12-8 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio but did not advance any players to the Division I district tournament.

Freshmen Stephen Klein and Cooper Stang played second doubles in each of Central's first four matches. Sophomore Carson Stanley remained at first doubles.

Central opened March 27 with a 3-2 win over visiting Chillicothe in the first round of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district tournament. The Tigers followed that up with home wins over Bloom-Carroll (5-0 on March 29) and Groveport (4-0 on March 30) and a 5-0 win at Westerville South on April 4.

Central will visit Dublin Jerome in the second round of the district tournament on a date to be determined.

The Tigers were scheduled to begin OCC-Ohio play April 6 at North, but the match was postponed because of bad weather. As a result, their match against Lancaster on April 11 became their le ague opener.

Central finished third in the OCC-Ohio last year behind champion Gahanna (7-0).

Rounding out the roster are senior Jacob Scott and juniors Alex Hertl, Blake Johnson and Garrett Singh.

Scott has been in the top seven all year, and according to Rings, the juniors are pushing to crack the lineup.

"All of them are hungry," Rings said. "They're playing hard and competing. They'll work their way into the lineup somewhere."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BOYS TENNIS

March 27 – vs. Chillicothe

March 29 – vs. Bloom-Carroll

March 30 – vs. Groveport

April 4 – at Westerville South

*April 6 – at Pickerington North

April 10 – at Dublin Scioto

*April 11 – vs. Lancaster

*April 13 – at Reynoldsburg

*April 18 – vs. Grove City

April 19 – at Olentangy

*April 20 – at Gahanna

April 24 – at Hilliard Bradley

April 25 – vs. Canal Winchester

April 26 – vs. Westerville Central

April 27 – vs. Worthington Kilbourne

May 2 – vs. Granville

May 3 – vs. Watkins Memorial

May 4 – at Hilliard Davidson

May 8 – at Westerville North

May 9 – vs. Thomas Worthington

TRACK & FIELD

March 25 – Hammond Relays at home

March 28 – Girls: at Hilliard Davidson

April 1 – Wildcat Premier at Hilliard Davidson

April 4 – at Dublin Jerome

April 8 – Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North

April 10 – at Gahanna

April 15 – Dublin Classic at Dublin Coffman

April 18 – at Canal Winchester with Reynoldsburg

April 19 – Gahanna Relays

April 21 – Louisville (Ky.) Eastern Relays and Wildcat Invitational at Westerville South

April 28 – Milt Will Relays at Canal Winchester

May 2 – at Gahanna

May 5 – Larkin-Crosten Invitational at Upper Arlington and Mason Invitational

May 11, 13 – OCC-Ohio meet at Olentangy Orange

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Central baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball and boys volleyball teams:

BASEBALL

*April 12 – Home vs. Reynoldsburg

April 13 – Home vs. Bexley

April 14 – At Olentangy

April 15 – Home vs. Teays Valley

*April 17 – Home vs. Grove City

*April 19 – At Grove City

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 13 – At Hilliard Davidson

*April 18 – Home vs. Gahanna

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 13 – Home vs. Hilliard Davidson

*April 18 – At Gahanna

SOFTBALL

*April 13 – Home vs. Lancaster

April 15 – At Westerville North with Johnstown

*April 17 – At Reynoldsburg

*April 19 – Home vs. Grove City

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*April 13 – Home vs. Gahanna

*April 18 – At Upper Arlington

*League contest