Two consecutive Division I state tournament appearances allowed the Pickerington High School North boys bowling team to set the standard for the program.
But with three seniors and six returnees overall in their lineup, the Panthers' girls squad -- which gave the school its first state champion in any sport, individual or team, when Brittany Beeghley won the Division I title in 2012 -- wants this to be a season in which it leads the way.
Led by seniors Alex Oppenheimer and Alayah Robinson, the girls were 3-0 overall and in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division before their OCC-Central opener Dec. 19 against Lancaster at Tiki Lanes.
Oppenheimer began the season with a 368 two-game series against Thomas Worthington on Dec. 7 at Capri Lanes and was averaging 160.3 pins per game through three matches. Robinson was averaging 138.8.
"We have a good chance (to succeed) this season," Robinson said. "We have a lot of seniors and we're looking better overall. Each year, we keep going a little bit farther. If we ever (get to state), this would be a good year to do it since so many of us are seniors. It would be pretty awesome."
Seniors Lara Martindale and Tooba Salam and juniors Liz Arp and Katie Kezel also return from last season when the Panthers finished 10-6 overall and 18th in the district tournament. Robinson averaged 165.2 and Oppenheimer 149.3.
The girls were 7-8 in their inaugural season of 2015-16.
Fifth-year coach Mike Rossi also is optimistic about the addition of freshmen Alana Robinson, Alayah's younger sister, and Evelyn Vance. Alana Robinson was averaging 139.3 through three matches.
"Alana brings some next-level talent to the girls side. She has a chance to be very good," Rossi said. "They have a lot of confidence in themselves and they work well together. It's good to have a girls team. A few years ago, we didn't have nearly enough for a team. They're having a lot of fun and they've raised their expectations."
Senior William Hrivnak was averaging 218.0 through four matches for the boys team, which has finished 14th of 16 teams in the Division I state tournament each of the past two years and was 4-0 overall and in the COHSBC-B and 1-0 in the OCC-Central before Dec. 19.
The Panthers finished 17-1 overall last year, including 14-1 in the COHSBC-South to win the outright league championship ahead of runner-up Whitehall (13-2), and 5-1 in the OCC-Central to tie Marysville for the title.
Hrivnak averaged 209.6 last season, but the boys must replace their top scorer in Jarrett Powers (214.6) as well as Chris Hoyle (189.3), both of whom had been linchpins in the lineup their entire careers.
Hrivnak tied for 123rd of 1,418 bowlers in the U20 division of the Junior Gold Championships in July in Cleveland. Competitors must qualify for that tournament, which includes bowlers from across the country.
"I didn't have any pressure there ... and now I am more relaxed with something like this (high school play) that is less pressure," Hrivnak said. "I've been working with our new bowlers, just trying to get the fundamentals down. We have to keep in mind what we have. This year basically is a rebuilding year."
Rounding out the boys roster are senior Mason Gibson, juniors Ryan DeGeeter, Kyle Mace and Steven Vance, sophomores Jacob Dollmatsch and Caden Thieken and freshman Alex Zumock.
The boys opened Dec. 4 with a 1,966-1,904 win over Reynoldsburg at Holiday Lanes and followed that up with wins over Thomas (1,889-1,633 on Dec. 7 at Capri Lanes), Groveport (2,194-2,165 on Dec. 12 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl) and Columbus Academy (2,095-1,465 on Dec. 14 at HP Lanes).
The girls defeated Thomas (1,548-1,315), Groveport (1,585-1,548) and Academy (1,627-1,097).
North's home opener is Jan. 11 against Worthington Kilbourne at Rule 3.
Girls basketball team maximizing talent
With a limited rotation and injuries again playing a factor, the girls basketball team will take wins any way it can get them.
North was 4-1 overall before playing Westland on Dec. 19 and is 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio entering a game Friday, Dec. 22, at Lancaster. The Panthers rebounded from a 67-41 loss at Pickerington Central on Dec. 8 by routing visiting Whitehall 70-16 on Dec. 12.
Saige Glover scored a career-high 24 points and Kyla Sawyer added 18 as North led 20-0 by early in the second quarter.
The Panthers are playing without senior guard Maddie O'Connell, who is out with a right knee injury that coach Dave Butcher said is not related to a torn right ACL that cost her all of last season. According to Butcher, O'Connell is not expected back until early January.
"You need to get every game you can grab," Butcher said. "We don't have a lot of (personnel) options right now other than to play some young kids and develop some kids. Maddie is a huge loss for us right now. We've had that kind of luck for the last five years, and it's not the kind of luck you want."
Glover had 17 points and Sawyer scored 15 -- their exact averages through five games -- in a 55-52 league win at Gahanna on Dec. 15. Avery Hart added 11 points.
Glover, a sophomore forward, led several underclassmen who were seeing considerable playing time. Others in that group included freshmen Mayson Bates and Dru Ultican.
Sawyer, a senior forward, has been an effective 3-point shooter, having made 18 such shots through five games.
"I was glad to see Kyla go inside some (against Whitehall) and take it to the glass, but she is one of the best shooters in central Ohio," Butcher said.
"Other teams are seeing that now, which makes it more difficult. There is no reason she can't have an inside game, too, and that's only going to help her."
Boys basketball team wins without Hunter
Even without one of its best players in Jerome Hunter, the boys basketball team still improved to 2-0 in OCC-Ohio play with a 54-40 win over Gahanna on Dec. 15.
Eli McNamara led North with 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Chris Scott added 10 points.
Hunter was suspended for two games after being ejected during an 81-75 overtime loss to South Bend (Indiana) Riley on Dec. 9 in the Forum Tip-Off Classic at Indianapolis Southport. He also must sit out the Panthers' home game against Lancaster on Friday, Dec. 22.
North was 2-2 overall before playing Westland on Dec. 19.
*Dec. 4 -- Reynoldsburg at Holiday Lanes
*Dec. 7 -- Thomas Worthington at Capri Lanes
*Dec. 12 -- Groveport at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
*Dec. 14 -- Columbus Academy at HP Lanes
*Dec. 19 -- Lancaster at Tiki Bowling Lanes
*Jan. 9 -- Centennial at Sequoia Pro Bowl
*Jan. 11 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Rule 3
*Jan. 12 -- Hilliard Darby at Game of Western Columbus
*Jan. 17 -- Hilliard Bradley at Rule 3
*Jan. 18 -- Pickerington Central at Rule 3
*Jan. 24 -- Gahanna at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 31 -- Hilliard Davidson at Rule 3
*Feb. 1 -- Marysville at Rule 3
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, girls basketball and swimming & diving teams:
*Dec. 22 -- Home vs. Lancaster
Dec. 23 -- Home vs. Marion-Franklin
*Dec. 22 -- At Lancaster
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 22 -- Bexley at Columbus School for Girls