Not content to win a second consecutive OCC-Ohio Division championship on the strength of a tie, Pickerington High School North boys soccer coach Darrin Monhollen decided not to make some of the wholesale substitutions late in the second half Oct. 10 against Grove City that he otherwise might.
Consequently, midfielder Evan Herd remained on the field until the final minutes, and his goal closed out the Panthers' league schedule in style.
Herd's goal off an assist from Will Harr with 1 minute, 32 seconds to play gave North a 2-1 win over the Greyhounds and back-to-back league titles for the first time in program history.
The Panthers had trailed 1-0 with 29 minutes left before Harr scored from about 25 yards.
"I'm ecstatic. We just made history. It's unreal," Herd said after the game with several teammates ringing the victory bell about 100 yards away. "This year we've grown so much more in terms of chemistry."
North, which is 11-3-2 overall entering its Division I district tournament opener Saturday, Oct. 21, at home against 20th-seeded Upper Arlington or 29th-seeded Westland, has been dominant to the point that it did not trail in a game for more than a month and needed only a tie against Grove City to win the league.
After a 3-0 loss to Dublin Coffman on Sept. 5, the Panthers were 6-0-2 in their next eight games and were not behind at any point until trailing Bexley 1-0 on Oct. 7.
"There was a little pressure there," Monhollen said. "I won't call it stress, because the way I differentiate between the two is you feel pressure in a big moment, but you feel stress if you're not prepared for it."
Starting goalkeeper Cole Patton, a central figure in the Panthers' 11 shutouts, said he and the team remained composed. North has won nine OCC-Ohio games in a row dating to last season.
"The team came together," Patton said. "It's hard to let in a goal, but we rallied around each other. We did well (responding). My defense has helped me so much. They get the ball and clear it up the field. I've been better with diving saves. That's (accounted for) a lot of my saves this year."
North, which is seeking its first district championship, is seeded ninth in the 47-team district tournament and took a first-round bye. The Panthers lost to New Albany in a district final last year.
The second-round winner will play eighth-seeded Olentangy, 45th-seeded Marion Harding or 46th-seeded Whitehall in a district semifinal Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the home of the higher seed. That winner advances to a district final Oct. 28.
North lost to Westland 3-2 on Aug. 29.
"We are not overconfident because we were in this situation last year," Monhollen said. "It's satisfying. I can tell you there may have been talk of a three-peat even before there was talk of a repeat just because we had so many guys back. But we can't overestimate what we're able to do. We have a lot to do right now."
Volleyball team wins outright title
For the first time since 2012, the girls volleyball team is a league champion.
North clinched the outright OCC-Ohio title by edging host Grove City 20-25, 25-14, 26-24, 18-25, 15-13 on Oct. 10. The Panthers went 9-1 in the league, finishing just ahead of second-place Gahanna (8-2), which North defeated 25-22, 14-25, 25-22, 17-25, 15-10 on Sept. 28 to force what was then a tie for first place.
Julia Vermilion had 23 kills and Bri Hollingshed 14 against the Greyhounds.
Grove City helped out North by defeating the Lions 25-17, 21-25, 25-21, 25-22 on Oct. 3.
North is 18-4 overall, having lost 25-13, 25-21, 25-13 at Olentangy Liberty on Oct. 12 to end the regular season.
Seeded fifth in the 50-team Division I district tournament, the Panthers took a first-round bye and played host to 39th-seeded Licking Heights in a second-round match Oct. 18.
The winner plays 11th-seeded Hartley or 43rd-seeded Briggs in a district semifinal Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Franklin Heights. That winner advances to a district final Oct. 28.
North defeated Groveport 25-10, 25-12, 25-15 on Aug. 29.
Girls soccer team splits championship
The girls soccer team secured a share of the OCC-Ohio championship with a 5-1 win at Grove City on Oct. 10.
Alicia Donley had three goals and Makenzie Kelly scored two for the Panthers, who went 4-0-1 in the league and split the championship with Gahanna.
The Panthers and Lions played to a scoreless tie Sept. 19.
North was ranked fourth in the Division I state poll last week and suffered its first loss in its last regular-season game, falling 3-1 to Dublin Jerome on Oct. 12.
The Panthers are 14-1-1 overall.
Seeded first in the 42-team district tournament, the Panthers took a first-round bye and will play host to 34th-seeded Teays Valley in a second-round game Oct. 19.
The winner plays 20th-seeded Dublin Scioto or 24th-seeded Lancaster in a district semifinal Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the home of the higher seed. That winner advances to a district final Oct. 28.
The Panthers defeated Lancaster 5-0 on Sept. 26 in OCC-Ohio play.
Alcala returns to state tennis tourney
Cassie Alcala of the girls tennis team made history last year as the program's first Division I state qualifier, and last weekend she became the Panthers' first district champion.
Alcala went 4-0 in the district tournament that concluded Oct. 14 at Upper Arlington, defeating Centennial's Zoey Weil 4-6, 6-1, retired in the singles final.
Alcala, who also defeated Watterson's Claire Ghidotti 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in a semifinal, will play at state Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21, at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
Alcala qualified for state with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Marietta's Meredith Coil in the second round Oct.12 at Hilliard Bradley. She opened with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Liberty's Alexis Brengartner, but said those identical scores were somewhat deceptive.
"They were both good matches. They weren't easy," Alcala said.
"It's exciting, (but) not as exciting as last year. That was a three-set match just to get out of the qualifying round. I know what to expect now. It helped me be calmer. I've done it before so everything is not as nervewracking."
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state.
Also competing at district was the doubles team of Maggie Haas and Kim Nguyen, who lost to Liberty's Maddi Atway and Dani Schoenly 6-2, 6-1 in the first round.
Boys runners win league title
Boys cross country coach Tim Starkey was confident his team had the talent to win the OCC-Ohio championship, and in the league meet Oct. 14 at Lancaster, everything came together.
Ashwin Briggs placed second (15 minutes, 59.69 seconds) to lead the Panthers to 36 points and their first title since 2013, finishing ahead of Lancaster (48), Central (69), Gahanna (88), Grove City (151) and Reynoldsburg (166).
Matt Duvall (fourth, 16:13.11), Harper Moore (fifth, 16:33) and Jake Prestileo (seventh, 16:57.6) also finished in the top 10. Spencer Moledor was 18th (17:23.59).
"All the elements have been there in the past. They just didn't line up right," Starkey said. "We have a strong team. This is one of three meets that we were after (the others being district and regional). Spencer and Jake really won this meet for us. It's not about time; it's about position, and they were exactly where they needed to be."
The girls finished fifth (118) in the league meet, behind Gahanna (26), Lancaster (47), Central (92) and Reynoldsburg (106) and ahead of Grove City (148).
Scoring for the Panthers were Courtney Chabot (20th, 21:42.77), Annabel Malone (21st, 21:57.6), Brianna Bowden (25th, 22:14.51), Allie Westall (28th, 22:31.38) and Emily Harness (30th, 22:43.25).
Both teams will compete in Division I district meets Saturday, Oct. 21, at Watkins Memorial.
The girls are in district 1 and the boys are in district 2. From both races, the top five teams and 20 runners advance to regional Oct. 28 at North.
Girls golfers fall short at district
Led by senior Caitlin Tasney's round of 78, the girls golf team's season came to an end Oct. 10 in the Division I district tournament at Cooks Creek.
North shot 353 to finish eighth behind champion Olentangy Orange (304) as nine teams scored. The top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21, at Ohio State's Gray Course.
Jerome (307) finished second.
Also scoring for the Panthers were freshman Cassie Tasney (85), senior Ally Perkins (90) and junior Zhanner Davis (100). Sophomore Allyson Rosen shot a 103.
"Caitlin has been playing extremely well the second half of the season and we were hoping she could come in around 72 and 74 and have a shot (at state)," coach Kitty McGrievy said.
"She just had a couple putts that didn't fall, but she played well."
North went 16-2 in the four-round OCC-Ohio tournament to tie Gahanna for first place, ahead of Grove City (9-9), Pickerington Central (5-13), Big Walnut (3-15) and Lancaster (0-9).
In the 11-team sectional Oct. 3 at Westchester, the Panthers shot 347 to secure the third and final district-qualifying spot behind UA (307) and New Albany (328).
"I am pleased with the progress we made," McGrievy said.
"In terms of returning varsity experience, we were pretty thin. We split the league championship, and I was pleased we were able to do that. We wanted to get to district, and we accomplished that."
Boys golf season ends at district
A season that did not meet the boys golf team's recent expectations ended in the Division I district tournament Oct. 10, when the Panthers finished last of 12 teams.
Senior Josh Tasney shot an 81 to lead North (346) as Jerome (294) and Liberty (307) advanced to state Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21, at Ohio State's Scarlet Course.
Also scoring for the Panthers were senior Jack Kowalczyk (83) and juniors Danny Heitmeyer (88) and Danny Corrigan (94). Sophomore Jake Chadwick shot a 95.
North's 12-year string of league championships was snapped this season, as it went 14-6 in the four-round OCC-Ohio tournament to finish second behind Gahanna (17-3) and ahead of Grove City (13-7), Central (12-8), Lancaster (4-16) and Reynoldsburg (0-20).
In a 13-team sectional Oct. 3 at Darby Creek, the Panthers shot a 320 to tie Olentangy for fourth place behind champion Jerome (280) but advanced to district on the fifth-score tiebreaker.