The Pickerington High School Central girls volleyball team won 10 of its first 12 matches, and coach Eric Hughes called blocking a primary factor.
"Defense starts at the net," Hughes said. "If the ball never gets on our side, good things happen. It causes some of the other statistics to be a little lower and the girls might not like that, but at the time, we are realizing where our success comes from. It's something you can take pride in. When the ball gets to your defensive players and it's an easy ball, it's going to be a good day."
A front row featuring Gabbie Bullock, Havilyn Cummings, Macenzie Richards and J'Lana Stone combined for 266 blocks through 12 matches and found themselves among the best blocking teams in the state.
According to MaxPreps.com, Stone's 94 blocks were second in the state behind Millersport's Hanna Jewell's 97 through Sept. 14. Cummings was fourth with 75.
Richards had 60 blocks and Bullock 37.
It is unclear whether all teams' statistics are included on the website.
"Good blocking can change the way a hitter thinks," Hughes said. "It can take a stud outside (hitter) out of their comfort zone and make them try to hit more extreme angles or tip more."
Richards had a feeling before the season that blocking would be one of Central's strengths. When the Tigers measured their vertical leap, Richards leapt 9-foot-10, Stone went 9-9 and Cummings 9-8.
Bullock and Cummings are the shortest of the group at 5-10, behind Richards (6-2) and Stone (6-0).
"As big as we are compared to other teams, we should be good at blocking," Richards said. "If you are big, why not use it? We all can jump really high."
Cummings, Richards and Maddie Pletcher played for Mintonette Sports during the offseason, while Stone, who has committed to play for former Pickerington North coach Kris Kern at West Virginia State, played for Columbus Volleyball Academy.
"I used to feel like I was slower to the block and to close blocks, but I have improved at that and gotten faster and I know more about where setters are going," said Cummings, an Indiana Tech commit. "I worked on keeping my hands up on blocking and not going down and then swinging up. You have to stay up, and that's helped me with closing faster and getting to blocks faster."
Defensive specialist Mackayla Estes and libero Trinity Miller have anchored the back row.
Central was 10-2 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Gahanna on Sept. 19.
The Tigers will get a chance to avenge one of their losses when they visit North on Tuesday, Sept. 26. Central lost to the Panthers 22-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-22 on Sept. 5.
Through 12 matches, Central's other loss was to Hilliard Darby, 13-25, 25-11, 25-18 during the Sharon Huesman Memorial Quad on Aug. 26 at Hilliard Davidson.
"Record-wise, we think we're underperforming," Hughes said. "With six seniors, you have expectations and when you lose, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth."
Boys golfers finish
third in league
The boys golf team was tantalizingly close to achieving two goals in the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio tournament Sept. 13 at Turnberry -- beating its biggest rival and finishing in the upper half of the league standings -- but coach Chris Cores largely was pleased with his team's effort.
Blake Bennett carded a 78 to lead Central to a team score of 326, behind Gahanna (313) and North (325) and ahead of Grove City (338), Lancaster (358) and Reynoldsburg (363). Despite their third-place finish Sept. 13 and a winning record overall at 12-8, the Tigers were fourth in the final standings behind Gahanna (17-3), North (14-6) and Grove City (13-7) and ahead of Lancaster (4-16) and Reynoldsburg (0-20).
Gahanna ended North's streak of league titles at 12 in a row.
"In the end, it wasn't quite good enough," Cores said. "If we go a little lower, to a 324, we beat North and Grove City and we move up the standings (and finish third). It's tough that it was that close because a few shots are the difference between a few places, but I am really proud of how we competed. Our minds will be in the right place for (the postseason). We have a few weeks to clean some things up."
Also scoring for Central in the final round were Calen Kovaleski (79), Trey Blalock (81) and Aidan Allen (88). Jaiden Thompson shot a 91.
Kovaleski's round was the best of his career.
"He kept us in this when some of our other guys were struggling. I can't say how proud I am of him," Cores said of Kovaleski. "He's doing that as our No. 5 guy. There's not much pressure there even though you're the last guy in and everybody else is already finished."
Girls golf team
finishes OCC play
Although the girls golf team did not play as well in the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio tournament Sept. 12 at Mentel Memorial as it had the previous two rounds, coach Alecia Larsen still has reason to be optimistic as the regular season winds down.
Miriah Gabel shot an 89 to lead Central, which totaled a 405 to place sixth behind Gahanna (336), North (344), Grove City (392), Big Walnut (397) and Lancaster (397). The Tigers finished fourth in the overall standings (5-13), behind co-champions Gahanna and North (both 16-2) and Grove City (9-9) and ahead of Big Walnut (3-15) and Lancaster (1-9).
Also scoring for Central in the final round were Makenzie O'Neal (101), Riley Stewart (107) and Leah Childers (108). Karlie Skaggs added a 119.
Charles, O'Neil and Stewart had posted lower scores in each of the first three rounds.
"It was an off day (Sept. 12), but that happens in golf. The girls just had a tough round," Larsen said.
"It takes time, and as young as we are (Gabel is a sophomore and Childers, O'Neal and Stewart are freshmen), we have a promising future. We're just going to work on our individual games for now and polish some things. We've set goals throughout the year and we've been meeting some of those goals. These girls are capable of putting some more solid rounds together."
Central's best 18-hole round as a team is a 386, which it shot in the third round of the league tournament Aug. 29 at Westchester.
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. 23 -- Tiger Invitational at home
Sept. 23 -- Pickerington Central Invitational at Turnberry
Sept. 25 -- OCC Shootout at Moundbuilders
Sept. 26 -- Canal Winchester at Turnberry
Sept. 23 -- Marysville Invitational at Darby Creek
Sept. 26 -- Marysville at Turnberry
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 23 -- Home vs. Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
Sept. 23 -- At New Philadelphia
*Sept. 26 -- At Reynoldsburg
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Teays Valley
Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Columbus School for Girls
Sept. 27 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*Sept. 26 -- At Pickerington North. The Tigers lost to the Panthers 22-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-22 on Sept. 5.