Trinity Miller and Maddy Pletcher of the Pickerington High School Central girls volleyball team are certain that most fans aren't watching them during matches.
Miller is a defensive specialist and Pletcher a setter, so they usually are not making the blocks and kills that get spectators' attention. Nonetheless, they have played key roles as the Tigers pursued their first Division I district championship in more than two decades.
"A lot of people don't look at the passes. They only look at the hitters," said Miller, a senior. "Those are good, but, hey, everybody has their job to do."
Pletcher, who is a junior, had 630 of the team's 682 assists through 23 matches, and Miller led Central in serve receives (339) and digs (252) as the ninth-seeded Tigers were 15-8 before playing 12th-seeded Hilliard Darby in a Division I district semifinal Oct. 25.
"People look at the hit and how good it looks, but it takes the pass and the set to get there," Pletcher said. "When we get a big kill, that's the whole team getting a kill, not just one person."
Kills were balanced for Central through 23 matches. Gabbie Bullock had 188, followed by J'Lana Stone (141), Sydney Charlton (139), Macenzie Richards (123) and Havilyn Cummings (100).
Coach Eric Hughes credited that balance to Pletcher's increased ability to spread the ball between her teammates.
"She is a great setter. Her hands are beautiful and a lot of her work this year has been more to that position," Hughes said. "Her vertical is much higher this year. She is trying to mix things up more this year in terms of who she sets, trying to keep it even."
Pletcher said she has matured mentally since last season, when Central went 16-6 and lost in a district semifinal.
"I can take a lot more on my plate now," she said. "I don't shut down or get overwhelmed anymore. I can push through that and my teammates help me. Plus, I've been better on defense. I stay back and help out more. I think that helps our offense out, too."
Miller has played both defensive specialist and libero, but in an attempt to get Miller more involved in the offense, Hughes made Mason Steele the team's libero during Central's 25-15, 25-21, 14-25, 25-13 win over 27th-seeded Dublin Jerome in a second-round home match Oct. 18.
"She has a great back-row attack, so having her as a libero can kind of limit that ability," Hughes said. "Letting her play as a (defensive specialist) allows her to jump and swing, and that's something we want to check out."
The semifinal winner will play top-seeded Dublin Coffman or 25th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a district final Saturday, Oct. 28, at Whitehall. The Tigers defeated Scioto 25-12, 25-15, 21-25, 25-19 on Sept. 6.
The district champion advances to a regional semifinal Nov. 2.
Central is seeking its third district title and its first since 1994.
The Tigers fell behind in the third game against the Celtics before pulling away, a scenario Hughes expects his team to encounter as the postseason progresses.
"A little adversity is to be expected," Hughes said. "We knew we could be in control if we had the right mindset and came out and took care of business. If we take care of the first contact, we can take care of the ball and take care of the match."
Boys, girls runners heading to regional
Matt Scrape of the boys cross country team set the Watkins Memorial course record during the Division I, district 2 meet Oct. 21, highlighting a day on which the boys and girls teams both qualified for the regional Saturday, Oct. 28, at Pickerington North.
Scrape won the race in 14 minutes, 59.54 seconds, breaking the mark of 14:59.89 set by former Watkins Memorial runner Andrew Jordan in 2015, to lead Central to 67 points and a second-place finish behind North (56) as 17 teams scored.
Also scoring for the Tigers were Brady Johnson (fifth, 15:42.74), Tyler Gunderson (10th, 16:15.18), Chase Balko (23rd, 16:54.17) and Anthony Taranto (28th, 17:02.45).
The girls team also placed three runners in the top 10 to finish third (83) in district 1 behind champion Olentangy Liberty (42) as 11 teams scored.
The top five teams and top 20 runners in both races advanced to regional.
Amber Hamelin placed sixth (18:40.82) to lead the Tigers. Also scoring for Central were Lauren Marvin (eighth, 19:04.24), Grace Osborn (10th, 19:25.12), Maddie Schmidt (15th, 19:32.04) and Sydney Hansen (45th, 22:17.67).
At regional, the top five teams and top 20 runners advance to state Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway.
Boys soccer team loses tourney opener
A season of growing and adjustment ended Oct. 18 as the boys soccer team lost 1-0 at Groveport in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
Austin Snyder scored with 30 minutes left for the 26th-seeded Cruisers, who withstood several late scoring chances from the 28th-seeded Tigers. Central finished 4-12-1 overall.
"The later in the game we got, the more we turned it on. We started a little too flat and didn't win enough balls out of the air," coach Brett Neiderman said. "That kept us defending for large parts of the game, but I credit our guys for not giving up. They kept fighting to the last second."
Neiderman was in his first year as successor to Brad Monhollen, who coached the Tigers for 14 seasons.
Central's wins came against Westland (1-0 on Aug. 31), Whetstone (3-1 on Sept. 7), Lancaster (3-1 on Sept. 19) and Fairbanks (2-0 on Oct. 5).
The Tigers went 1-3-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division, finishing fifth behind Pickerington North (5-0), Grove City (3-1-1), Gahanna (3-2) and Reynoldsburg (1-2-2) and ahead of Lancaster (0-5).
Senior midfielder Dylan Azadi was named first-team all-league. Senior goalkeeper Tyler Peters was second-team all-league, sophomore midfielder Kwami Amoaki was special mention all-league and senior defender Joey Bitonte was named honorable mention all-league.
According to Neiderman, key players expected to return include sophomores Mirnes Bubalo (midfielder), Cavan Castellon (midfielder), Ujjwal Chhetri (midfielder) and Gabe Petrefski (midfielder) and freshman Koen Droese (forward/midfielder).
"We are slowly changing the culture, having guys hold each other accountable with timeliness, work ethic, all the things that have nothing to do with talent. We need to excel at those," Neiderman said. "We've been building on our tactical stuff, especially defending. Our improvement was up and down, but I know this will be a process that takes a couple years. I'm sure (the coaching change) wasn't easy for the guys, either. We took it day by day."
Season ends for girls soccer team
The girls soccer team's season came to an end Oct. 19 with a 6-0 loss at ninth-seeded Olentangy Orange in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Central, which was seeded 27th, finished 6-11 overall.
The Tigers began the 42-team district tournament with a 2-0 win at 25th-seeded Watkins Memorial in the first round Oct. 16. That was their first postseason victory since 2014.
Under first-year coach Maria Manzo, Central went 1-4 in the OCC-Ohio to tie Lancaster and Reynoldsburg for fourth place, behind North (4-0-1), Gahanna (3-0-2) and Grove City (3-1-1). The Tigers' only league win came against Reynoldsburg, 2-0 on Sept. 26.
Central expects to return several key players, including juniors Abby Augustyniak (midfielder), Katie Hickman (forward) and Lindsay Schmitt (forward) and freshmen Tatum McElwain (defender/midfielder) and Lea Petrefski (midfielder).