Pickerington High School Central boys golf coach Chris Cores has played three freshmen in his top five most of this season, regularly reminding them that age doesn't matter.
Two of those freshmen recently let Cores and their older teammates know that not only had they been listening, but they also are buying into their coach's approach hook, line and sinker.
Cores pitted freshmen Aidan Allen and Blake Bennett against senior Calen Kovaleski and junior Trey Blalock in a nine-hole practice round Sept. 19 at Turnberry, and Allen's 6-foot putt on No. 9 clinched a victory for the rookies.
"The freshmen came ready to play," Blalock said during the match. "Freshman year for me, I played zero tournaments (during the prior summer), so the end of sophomore year, last summer, was when I really stepped up and starting doing that. These guys have been playing for a while. We had a pretty good idea what to expect."
Although Blalock led the Tigers with an 81.8 average for 18 holes entering the week, Bennett (83.68), Kovaleski (84.74), Thompson (84.88) and freshman Jaden Thompson (85.52) were close behind as a Division I sectional approaches Tuesday, Oct. 3, at Turnberry.
"Because I had known of their abilities from the seventh and eighth grade and I was following how they were playing in their summer tournaments, I am not surprised," Cores said. "The big thing I've told them all year is I never want them to use their age as a limitation or an excuse for a rollercoaster round. There's definitely a learning curve. What I've stressed to them is they come in with tournament experience, a lot more than some teams I've had in the past."
Allen, Bennett and Thompson have competed in summer tournaments for a few years on the Central Ohio Golf Association, Southern Ohio PGA and U.S. Kids circuits.
Cores said he was most concerned that the pressure of combining golf and academics would prove to be the biggest adjustment for the freshmen. Bennett, who took up golf when he was 9, said he quickly devised a routine but added that the length of courses has been an obstacle.
"The one major thing for me is distance, but distance doesn't play a huge role in my game," said Bennett, whose lifetime-best round was a 69 at Pine Hill with friends last year. "It changes how I manage a course, but my short game is usually what lets me do well and trim strokes during a round."
Bennett averaged 79.5 in the four-round OCC-Ohio Division tournament and earned the last slot for first-team all-league. Blalock averaged 79.75 and was second-team all-league.
At sectional, the top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advance to the district tournament Oct. 10 at Apple Valley.
Central has not been represented at district since 2013, when 2014 graduate Rodney Howell qualified as an individual and shot 88 to fall short of state.
Blalock fell just short of district as a freshman, shooting a 78 at sectional and losing out on a district-qualifying spot on the second hole of a three-player playoff.
No matter what happens the next few weeks, Cores is confident his lineup will taste postseason success at some point.
"On a given day, any one of those three guys (Allen, Bennett and Thompson) can beat the other, but we have developed a comfort zone," Cores said. "To me, it's been a lineup that has fit so well together."
Boys soccer coach
The boys soccer team got seven days off from games after a 5-0 loss to Pickerington North on Sept. 12, and although the Tigers came out of that break with a 3-1 win over Lancaster on Sept. 19, coach Brett Neiderman wasn't sure that extra practice time was totally responsible.
"I'm not sure a week off helped or didn't help," Neiderman said. "It gave us more time to try to correct mistakes, which is beneficial, but it also gave us more time to think about the loss, which can be a negative. Sometimes it is better to just get out there and play a new game as soon as possible. The biggest things we worked on were limiting turnovers, keeping possession better and building more attacks."
Central was 3-7 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Reynoldsburg on Sept. 26.
Kwami Amoaki's two goals led the Tigers past Lancaster and helped them tie their best offensive output of the season. Central defeated Whetstone 3-1 on Sept. 7.
Cavan Castellon also scored against the Golden Gales.
Through nine games, Amoaki, Castellon and Dylan Azadi each had two goals. Central had scored nine goals on the season before Sept. 26.
"I think we still have a lot of work we need to put in to be confident with our attack. ... We are still focusing on our build-up play and making the correct decisions both on and off the ball," said Neiderman, also crediting a defense led by center backs Joey Bitonte and Jack Caddell.
"Our defensive four have done a decent job for most of the season, but they have been forced to defend most games for just about the entirety of the game, making it difficult to keep the opponent out of our goal. We need to do a better job all over the field defending, and that will lead to us allowing fewer goals and playing more offensive throughout games."
prep for sectional
The girls golf team will seek its first representation in the Division I district tournament since 2014 when it competes in a sectional Tuesday, Oct. 3, at Westchester.
The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 10 at Cooks Creek.
Three years ago, 2015 graduate Emma Duncan qualified for district as an individual and shot 91 there.
Central has not been represented at district as a team since 2002, the last year before the school district split.
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. 30 -- Midwest Meet of Champions at Hilliard Darby
Sept. 28 -- Pickerington North at Turnberry
Oct. 3 -- Division I sectional at Turnberry
Sept. 28 -- Marysville at Darby Creek
Sept. 30 -- Canal Winchester Invitational at Westchester
Oct. 3 -- Division I sectional at Westchester
Sept. 28 -- At Westerville North
*Oct. 3 -- At Grove City
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Grove City
Sept. 28 -- At Bexley
Oct. 2 -- At Granville in makeup from Sept. 14
Oct. 3 -- At Hilliard Davidson
*Sept. 28 -- Home vs. Lancaster. The Tigers defeated the Golden Gales 25-6, 20-25, 18-25, 25-15, 25-9 on Sept. 7.
*Oct. 3 -- At Reynoldsburg. The Tigers defeated the Raiders 25-18, 25-14, 25-14 on Sept. 12.
Oct. 4 -- At Olentangy Liberty