Even if bad weather had not forced the cancelation of the Stingel Invitational on April 7 at Pickerington North, Pickerington High School Central boys track and field coach Jason Roach did not plan on running many of his top athletes in the meet.

On one hand, it was too cold for his and his coaching staff's liking, as the temperature for most of the meet was not projected to exceed 40 degrees.

On the other, the experience of last year, when Roach believed injuries to some key athletes cost the Tigers a shot at the Division I state championship, is still fresh in his mind.

"With the amount of speed we have, we have to protect our guys," said Roach, who is in his 13th season. "We need to protect their hamstrings. We need to be healthy. It may have cost us a state title last year not being healthy. Our best sprinters wouldn't have run (April 7) whether there had been a meet or not.

"Finding the right balance is tricky. We just remind the kids that two minutes after these (early season) meets, nobody cares who won. It's nice to win, but ultimately it's not important."

Senior and University of Pittsburgh recruit Crockett Schooler, who placed eighth and 10th, respectively, in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles at state last year, and senior and Syracuse recruit Matt Scrape, the state runner-up in the 3,200 a year ago, lead a large group of returnees from a team that boasts five returning individual state qualifiers. The others are senior John Brown, who was 16th in the discus; senior Zach Robinson, who placed eighth in the 400; and junior Terry Simuel, who qualified in the 400 but was sidelined by an injury.

Schooler and junior Evan Matthews are back from the fifth-place 1,600 relay, and senior Tavyn Myers, Robinson and Simuel are back from the 800 relay.

Simuel placed eighth in the 400 (50.15) in the indoor state meet March 3 in Geneva.

Central opened March 26 by finishing fifth (54 points) of seven teams in its annual Hammond Relays behind champion and OCC-Ohio Division rival Gahanna (100).

According to Roach, other primary contributors will include seniors Solomon Aborbie (hurdles, jumps, sprints, throws), Malcolm Briley (jumps, sprints) and Ken Le (pole vault), juniors Marvin Brooks (sprints) and Brady Johnson (distance), sophomore Max Smart (middle distance) and freshmen Josiah Adams (middle distance), Lorenzo Styles (sprints) and Garner Wallace (distance, middle distance).

Brooks is a move-in from Groveport, where he owns the school record in the 400 (50.71).

Roach and his team are still well aware that their only postseason championship last year came at the district level.

"We didn't accomplish a lot of our goals last year," Roach said. "It hurts if we don't win league, district, regional or state. We won district, which as the top-ranked team, we should have. But that was all we won. It definitely gives us a lot of motivation."

Expectations high for girls track team

Many of the athletes responsible for the girls track and field team's fourth-place finish in last year's Division I state meet have yet to compete this season, but third-year coach Hunter Nichols plans to unveil the lineup "people are used to seeing" Saturday, April 14, in the Dublin Classic at Dublin Coffman.

State runners-up McKenzie Long (200) and Jaydan Wood (400), both seniors, are back, as are all of the fourth-place 400 free relay in seniors Trinity Brown, Shae Douglas, Destinee McGrady and Long and three-quarters of the fourth-place 1,600 free relay in Douglas, Wood and sophomore Brittany Miller.

Long is an Ohio State recruit.

Wood was indoor state champion in the 400 and placed fourth in the 200. Also in the indoor state meet, senior Shayla Boyd placed fifth in the long jump, Brown was fifth in the 60 hurdles, senior Iyonna Ross was sixth in the 400 and senior Dalajah Long, a move-in from Reynoldsburg, teamed with McGrady, Ross and Wood to win the 200 relay.

"We've had a lot of younger kids running early for a variety of reasons, so we've gotten a glimpse of what life will be like after this very good group of seniors graduates," Nichols said. "We're looking all right. We have to do some work to get our girls back to that (state meet) level. We try to keep our expectations grounded, but we do have very high expectations with this group. (Tennis great) Billie Jean King said, 'Pressure is a privilege,' and having high expectations says a lot about the group we have."

Central finished sixth (23) of seven teams in the Hammond Relays, behind champion and OCC-Ohio rival Lancaster (112).

Senior thrower Grace Luther, who placed 10th in the shot put at state last year, leads a group of just two throwers, according to Nichols. The other is sophomore Madison Potts.

Other expected contributors include juniors Lauren Marvin (distance) and Maddie Schmidt (distance), sophomore Kyla Gross (middle distance) and freshmen Zora Shakhan (distance) and Salma Suhaiba (distance).

"We're still feeling out what we have," Nichols said. "Not a whole lot individually has stood out yet, but we have a long way to go."

Boys tennis team returns most of lineup

Boys tennis coach Kelli Rings had no trouble making out her lineup for the Tigers' season opener April 5 against visiting North, nor is she worried that her top four players won't always play singles even though they are capable.

With senior Leyton Mathias at first singles, seniors Evan Gibson and Jeremy O'Coner and freshman Grady Phelps will compete for time at second and third singles. Whichever one of them does not play singles on a given day likely would be paired with junior Carson Stanley at first doubles.

"We've had some good challenge matches between those four," said Rings, who is in her 15th season. "I will be able to change things around here and there because they are so talented. Jeremy and Evan are seasoned at doubles, so it would be easy to play either of them with Carson. ...

"Leyton is our clear No. 1 at this point. He leads the pack."

Mathias and O'Coner were Division I district qualifiers last year as a doubles team, placing fourth in Central's home sectional before losing in the first round at district. The Tigers finished 11-9 overall and went 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio last season, placing third behind champion Gahanna (5-0).

Central was 0-2 overall and 0-1 in the league before an April 10 match against Lancaster.

The Tigers lost 3-2 to North, which originally was Central's third scheduled match. Home matches against Westerville South on April 3 and Chillicothe on April 4 were postponed because of bad weather.

Central lost to visiting Olentangy Orange 3-2 on April 9 in the first round of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district tournament.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Alex Hertl, Blake Johnson and Guneet Singh, junior Arya Johnson-Samuel and sophomores Stevan Klein and Cooper Stang.

"We have a nice batch of seniors leading the way who worked hard in the offseason," Rings said. "They're well-conditioned and solid with fundamentals. They know what to do on the court and don't have to think about it. They're consistent with their groundstrokes and they have some power, too."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BOYS TENNIS

April 3 -- vs. Westerville South

April 4 -- vs. Chillicothe

*April 5 -- vs. Pickerington North

April 9 -- vs. Olentangy Orange in OTCA match

*April 10 -- at Lancaster

April 11 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley

*April 12 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*April 17 -- at Grove City

April 18 -- vs. Dublin Scioto

*April 19 -- vs. Gahanna

April 24 -- vs. Groveport

April 25 -- vs. Olentangy

April 26 -- at Granville

April 30 -- at Watkins Memorial

May 1 -- vs. Westerville Central

May 2 -- vs. Logan Elm

May 3 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

May 7 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

May 8 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

May 9 -- vs. Westerville North

TRACK & FIELD

March 26 -- Hammond Relays at home

March 27 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

March 31 -- Wildcat Premier at Hilliard Davidson

April 3 -- at Dublin Jerome with Hilliard Darby

April 7 -- Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North

April 14 -- Dublin Classic at Dublin Coffman

April 17 -- at Canal Winchester with Reynoldsburg

April 18 -- Gahanna Relays

April 20 -- Wildcat Invitational at Westerville South

April 24 -- Gene Cole Invitational at Lancaster (freshmen and sophomores only)

April 27 -- Milt Will Relays at Canal Winchester

May 4 -- Larkin/Crosten Invitational at Upper Arlington

May 9, 12 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Lancaster and Dublin Coffman

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Central baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball and boys volleyball teams:

BASEBALL

*April 13 -- At Reynoldsburg

April 14 -- At Upper Arlington with Thomas Worthington

*April 16 -- At Grove City

April 17 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman

*April 18 -- Home vs. Grove City

BOYS LACROSSE

*April 12 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson

*April 17 -- At Gahanna

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 12 -- At Davidson

April 13 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange

*April 17 -- Home vs. Gahanna

SOFTBALL

*April 12 -- At Lancaster

April 13 -- Medina in Pickerington Central Showcase

April 14 -- Cardington and Teays Valley in Pickerington Central Showcase

*April 16 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg

*April 18 -- At Grove City

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*April 12 -- At Pickerington North

*April 17 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington

*League contest