The Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference not only expanded from 48 to 49 teams this season when it added London, but it realigned from three 16-team divisions to four divisions ranging between 11 and 13 teams each.
Fifth-year Pickerington Central coach Jason Roach's immediate thought when he saw the B Division, in which the Tigers now compete, was that his teams will have survived multiple tests if they have a successful year.
"I just said to myself, 'These teams are really tough,'" Roach said of a division that includes Pickerington North, whose boys won the COHSBC-South title each of the past two years and which now has a senior-laden girls lineup, as well as high-scoring Hilliard Darby as well as former COHSBC-South foes Groveport, Lancaster and Reynoldsburg.
"Sometimes in the past, we'd look at the schedule and know there were matches here or there we were going to win. That is not the case now. We're in the big-boy league. We're going to be tested every day."
The boys passed their earliest tests, as they were 4-0 overall and in the COHSBC-B before a Dec. 19 match against Groveport and are 2-0 in the OCC-Central. The girls were 2-2 overall and in the COHSBC-B before Dec. 19 and are 1-1 in the OCC-Central.
Four of the boys' six bowlers were regulars in the lineup last year, a group that consists of seniors Zach Dewey and Jaret Negron and juniors Ethan Fisher and Evan Tailford. Senior Justin Sutherland, who was on the Division I state championship football team, bowled mostly junior varsity last year.
"(Sutherland) could make a difference," Roach said. "He's so talented that he's someone who could make an immediate impact. A handful of these guys did summer bowling on their own. They've been consistent. Not everyone is bowling to their capabilities yet, but we've already seen some good scores. That's encouraging. If we can get them averaging in the 180s and 190s, we'll be fine."
Senior Ryan Smith rounds out the boys' roster.
Central opened with back-to-back home matches that counted in both leagues, defeating Lancaster 1,875-1,867 on Dec. 4 and Reynoldsburg 2,014-1,799 on Dec. 5, and then beat Columbus Academy 1,884-1,507 on Dec. 12 at HP Lanes and Hilliard Darby 1,964-1,788 on Dec. 14 at Rule 3.
Last season, the boys finished 11-8 overall, 10-5 in the COHSBC-South to place fifth behind champion North (14-1) and 1-5 in the OCC-Central to tie Lancaster for sixth behind co-champions Marysville and North (both 5-1).
The girls team is younger, as its roster consists of five sophomores and a freshman and includes three returnees in sophomores Kathy Burgess, Kiara Kozak and Kate Merkel from last season, when the Tigers finished 9-7 overall, 8-6 in the COHSBC-South to place sixth behind champion Whitehall (14-0) and 1-4 in the OCC-Central to place fourth behind champion Gahanna (5-0).
Sophomores Frankie Moore and Sophie Makhoul and freshman Allison Wissman are first-year bowlers.
"We're getting better (but) we're leaving some spares out there," said assistant coach Greg Moore, who primarily is working with the girls team. "We're pleased, though, and the girls are having a blast. They're feeding off each other. There is room for improvement. We fall off on our Baker games a little bit ... but we have a solid foundation."
The Tigers opened with a 1,827-1,458 loss to Lancaster, then defeated Reynoldsburg 1,345-876 and Academy 1,386-1,179 before losing to Darby 1,578-1,327.
Moore, who teaches business and marketing education at Central, believes this team could lay a foundation for future success given its youth.
"We are hoping to build," he said. "We are thinking next year and the year after, once they get used to the format, could be big years."
Defense pacing girls basketball team
The girls basketball team took a 5-1 overall record into a Dec. 19 game against Groveport, but according to coach Johnathan Hedgepeth, the season hasn't always been pretty.
"We're getting situations that we want and executing what we want, but we're not doing a great job of finishing," Hedgepeth said. "We're not making shots all the time. We have to figure out how to put them in the basket. We're getting quality shots. Our last couple games (before a 51-38 win over Lancaster on Dec. 15), we've seemed to shoot the ball very well. But if we get into foul trouble, we get out of our rhythm."
Central led Lancaster 12-0 less than halfway through the first quarter but beat the Golden Gales by only one point from there and was outscored 28-26 in the second half. The Tigers, who are 3-0 in the OCC-Ohio, also have won games in a variety of styles as they had two victories by six points or fewer before Dec. 19 and two blowout wins.
Central edged Kettering Fairmont 44-41 in its opener Nov. 26 at West Chester Lakota West's Journey to the Tourney and Gahanna 59-53 on Dec. 5, and had lopsided wins over North (67-41 on Dec. 8) and Westerville North (86-14 on Dec. 9).
The common theme for the Tigers has been defense, as they allowed an average of 39.0 points through six games.
"(Defense) is our focus. We try to hold teams under 40 points a game and we feel like we can score 40," Hedgepeth said. "We are really good, so we should be balanced. It's just a question of where (scoring) will come from. We are getting great shot distribution, but we just have to finish those shots."
Kyla Whitehead's game-high 14 points led the Tigers past Lancaster. Madison Greene added 12 points, Maliya Perry scored 11 and Bexley Wallace 10.
Garcia returns in boys team's win
Originally expected to miss a few weeks because of a sprained right ankle, Javohn Garcia of the boys basketball team returned Dec. 15 and scored a game-high 15 points in a 67-42 win at Lancaster.
According to coach Eric Krueger, the 6-foot-3 junior guard injured the ankle Dec. 4.
Josiah Fulcher scored 13 points and Juan Elmore added nine for Central, which was 3-1 overall before playing Groveport on Dec. 19 and is 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio entering a home game Friday, Dec. 22, against Reynoldsburg.
Jeremiah Francis, a junior point guard, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Dec. 12 to remove loose cartilage and said afterward on Twitter that the "surgery went great." The North Carolina commit is expected to be out until mid- or late January.
*Dec. 4 -- Lancaster at Rule 3
*Dec. 5 -- Reynoldsburg at Rule 3
*Dec. 12 -- Columbus Academy at HP Lanes
*Dec. 14 -- Hilliard Darby at Rule 3
*Dec. 19 -- Groveport at Rule 3
*Jan. 4 -- Thomas Worthington at Rule 3
*Jan. 8 -- Centennial at Sequoia Pro Bowl
*Jan. 10 -- Hilliard Davidson at Rule 3
*Jan. 12 -- Gahanna at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 17 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 18 -- Pickerington North at Rule 3
*Jan. 29 -- Marysville at Rule 3
*Feb. 2 -- Hilliard Bradley at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys basketball, girls basketball, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 22 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Dec. 27 -- Kissimmee (Fla.) Osceola in Battle at The Villages at The Villages, Fla.
*Dec. 22 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Dec. 27 -- Belmar (N.J.) St. Rose in Diamond State Classic at Wilmington (Del.) St. Elizabeth
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 22 -- Bexley at Columbus School for Girls
Dec. 27-28 -- Greater Miami Valley Wrestling Association Invitational Tournament at Vandalia Butler