Pickerington High School Central girls tennis coach Kelli Rings said she sensed a special aura about this year's team before its first match.
The trick was making sure the players bought in, and so far, that has not been a problem.
Led by a stable lineup that features a mix of veteran and younger players, the Tigers recaptured the OCC-Ohio Division championship Sept. 7 with a 5-0 win over Gahanna. Central went 5-0 in the league and was 11-2 overall before playing Worthington Kilbourne on Sept. 12.
The Tigers won eight consecutive OCC-Ohio titles from 2008-15, but Rings saw a special quality in this team that she couldn't quite put her finger on.
"I don't know exactly what it was," Rings said. "It was something that I saw how the kids reacted to each other and worked hard on the court right away. It was a different feeling. Usually, it takes time to figure things out, but I told this team before we played our first match that this team was special. We might have an ugly day here or there on a certain court, but no one person has carried this team. They've all been here for each other."
Early 3-2 wins over New Albany, on Aug. 21 in the second round of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district tournament, and Pickerington North three days later helped convince the players of their talent.
The win over North avenged a loss to the Panthers last year that ultimately ended Central's title streak. That is the Tigers' only loss in a league match since the 2007 season.
"It's nice being able to beat the better teams like that. That makes it more special," first singles player Margaret Gordon said.
"We're connected and comfortable around each other. That's important. We have the whole team thing going. We are unified."
Rachel Terbovich has played second singles, ahead of Semmie Moore at third singles.
Doubles teams usually have consisted of Talia DiLello and Jessie Stang, and Sophie Culver and Ashleigh Gilligan.
Rings called Stang "the glue of the team," which flattered the senior who is in her third year on varsity.
"I'm a senior, so maybe it's my age that makes people look up to me," Stang said.
"I guess my teammates see that I know what I'm doing, what I'm talking about. I'm glad I'm someone my teammates can come to if they need someone to talk to."
Gordon is in her first year at first singles, succeeding 2017 graduate Maddie Bechert, with whom Gordon advanced to the Division I state tournament in doubles last year. They lost in the first round.
"I had to grow up and take her spot," Gordon said.
"My forehand is much better. I had to get better at it. It was not the best last year."
Central's only losses before Sept. 12 were against Olentangy Orange, 3-2 on Aug. 28, and Olentangy Liberty, 4-1 on Sept. 11 in an OTCA district quarterfinal.
Individual and team postseason success are next on the team's to-do list. For now, the Tigers are enjoying being back in first place.
"I can't tell you how special this is," Rings said.
"You always remember the good matches, and I remember all the matches for all the years I have coached, but certain ones stand out. This is very, very special."
rebounds from loss
The girls volleyball team quickly rebounded from a 22-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-22 loss to Pickerington North on Sept. 5, defeating Dublin Scioto 25-12, 25-15, 21-25, 25-19 on Sept. 6 and Lancaster 25-6, 20-25, 18-25, 25-15, 15-9 on Sept. 7 in OCC-Ohio play.
Central was 8-2 overall and 1-1 in the league before playing Reynoldsburg on Sept. 12.
Gabbie Bullock had 29 kills and 30 digs in those three matches, including 12 kills and 13 digs against Lancaster.
Macenzie Richards had eight kills against Scioto, and J'Lana Stone recorded six against the Panthers. That loss broke a three-match winning streak.
Richards had a team-high 76 kills through 10 matches, ahead of Richards (54), Stone (54) and Sydney Charlton (45). Trinity Miller led Central in digs (106), while Madelyn Pletcher had 234 assists.
Azadi sparks offense
for boys soccer team
After scoring just one goal through its first five games, the boys soccer team found some offense in a 3-1 win at Whetstone on Sept. 7 to improve to 2-4 before beginning OCC-Ohio play against North on Sept. 12.
Dylan Azadi scored twice to lead the Tigers, who had been shut out four times in their first six games. Central's earlier losses were to Orange (3-0 on Aug. 22), Canal Winchester (2-0 on Aug. 24), Groveport (1-0 on Aug. 29) and Westerville South (3-0 on Sept. 5).
The Tigers edged Westland 1-0 on Aug. 31 for their first victory as Ujjwal Chhetri scored.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 16 -- Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park and Galion Festival at Amann's Reservoir Park
Sept. 16 -- Howlett Invitational at Worthington Hills
Sept. 20 -- Hilliard Bradley at Turnberry
Sept. 14 -- Lakewood at Harbor Hills
Sept. 20 -- Newark Catholic at Turnberry
*Sept. 19 -- At Lancaster
Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
*Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Lancaster
Sept. 14 -- At Granville
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Westerville Central in makeup from Aug. 16
Sept. 20 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
*Sept. 14 -- At Grove City
*Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Gahanna