In two of its first three meets of the season, the Pickerington High School North boys track and field team's best individual finish was provided by sophomore distance runner Harper Moore.
Nonetheless, 11th-year coach Dave Spring expects that as the season goes on, the Panthers will become known as a well-rounded team, with distance perhaps being their biggest strength.
"Our distance runners are very strong, and I think we'll have some nice sprinters to complement them," Spring said. "We have depth in several areas. It's early to tell, but I think we might be deeper than last year. We've added depth to our distance unit in addition to having a few top-end guys."
North returns one of its two Division I state qualifiers from a year ago in senior Ashwin Briggs. Briggs was a district champion in the 1,600 meters and finished 14th at state last spring. And in the indoor state meet March 3 in Geneva, he placed third in the 1,600 (4:13.63) and eighth in the 800 (1:58.15).
Sophomore Matt Duvall was fifth in the 3,200 (9:26.2) in the indoor state meet.
Ben Pierce, a 2017 graduate, finished ninth in the pole vault at last year's outdoor state meet.
The Panthers opened March 26 by finishing fourth (66 points) of seven teams in the Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central behind champion Gahanna (100).
Moore won the 1,600 in that meet in 4 minutes, 23.61 seconds, and the next day in a tri-meet at Hilliard Bradley with Groveport, won the 3,200 (9:56.59).
In the Wildcat Premier on March 31 at Hilliard Davidson, the 440 shuttle hurdle relay won in 1:06.04 with senior Tyrik Carter, junior Shawn Shuster and freshmen A.J. Meyer and Zemen Siyoum. Sophomore Matt Duvall placed second in the 1,600 (4:34.34), and finishing third were sophomore Enrique Cabotage in the 200 (23.97) and Carter in the 110 hurdles (15.36).
"Tyrik is probably our No. 1 hurdler and definitely one of our top sprinters," Spring said.
Other expected contributors include seniors Brandon Arnett (pole vault), Kavaughn Robinson (sprints) and Chukwunonso Ubadineke (throws), juniors Jalaun Covington (relays) and Ben Johnson (middle distance) and sophomores Adrian Clarke (jumps) and Ellyson Jeffries (sprints).
Ubadineke threw 43 feet, 6 inches in the shot put to finish second at the Hammond Relays. Spring said he has hit 47 feet on multiple occasions in practice as well as in at least one meet, but fouled on that attempt.
According to Spring, Robinson is coming off shoulder surgery and missed the indoor season but was medically cleared in early March.
Despite finishing fifth in the OCC-Ohio Division meet last year, Spring is confident that the Panthers can challenge defending champion Gahanna as well as runner-up Central for the league title.
"We are in the best league in the state and I think we can be competitive for a championship," Spring said. "We want to get more guys back to state. We have the talent to do that, and our guys are willing to work hard."
The Panthers' biggest home meet, the Stingel Invitational, was canceled April 7 because of bad weather.
Kinder leading girls team early
Murray State commit Jessie Kinder earned three pole vault wins in the girls track and field team's first three meets, and 15th-year coach Jim Langenderfer hopes that helps set the tone for a season in which he thinks the Panthers could challenge for the OCC-Ohio championship.
Kinder had winning vaults of 10-6 in the Hammond Relays, the tri-meet against Bradley and Groveport and the Wildcat Premier. She also was on the winning shuttle hurdle relay in the Wildcat Premier (1:09.36).
North finished fifth (52) of seven teams at the Hammond Relays behind champion Lancaster (112).
"(Kinder) is an overall good athlete who is just strong. You have to be strong to be a good pole vaulter," Langenderfer said. "She worked on her strength and vaulting over the summer and I think her commitment will give her a lot of motivation. That takes some pressure off."
North lost its only Division I state qualifier from a year ago in 2017 graduate Jannie Kamara, who placed fifth in the discus and seventh in the shot put and now throws at Miami University. Kamara was league, district and regional champion in the discus.
Early standouts included junior Jemeila Hunter, who won the 100 (13.3) and 200 (27.52) in the tri-meet, and freshman Mayson Bates, who won the 100 hurdles (16.49) and 300 hurdles (53.52) in the tri-meet and was on the winning shuttle hurdle relay at Davidson.
Top contributors should include seniors Josie Balasooriya (high jump, sprints), Skylar Briggs (distance), Brenna Burke (hurdles, sprints), Vanessa Kruk (jumps, sprints) and Hailey Rung (pole vault), juniors Alicia Donley (sprints), Celeste Prince (sprints) and Desiree Sittle (jumps, sprints), sophomore Brianna Bowden (distance), McKenzie Craft (throws), Trina Echikunwoke (throws), Dani New (distance, hurdles, pole vault) and Payton Tackett (jumps, sprints) and freshmen Lauren Greegor (hurdles, jumps), Emily Harness (middle distance) and Brooke Norwood (hurdles, sprints).
Donley has committed to play soccer at the University of Tennessee.
Echikunwoke is the younger sister of Annette Echikunwoke, a 2014 North graduate who was last year's indoor national champion in the weight throw for the University of Cincinnati.
"Our sprinters are much stronger and deeper than last year. Lexi Walker has been outstanding. Celeste Pierce has been helping us a lot, too," Langenderfer said. "We want to make a push for the league meet. We think we can. Gahanna is always good, but we think we'll be able to challenge them. Lancaster is strong with its field events. For us, being in such a challenging conference makes us better because we must be at our best to hang with those teams."
Top of tennis team's lineup returns
Senior Grant Schroeder entered the season as the boys tennis team's first singles player, but 15th-year coach Brian Hoff plans to mix and match the lineup behind him for the time being.
Seniors Sam Marrison, Evan Ross and Vamsi Vanguri and junior Balakrishna Brahmandam also return from last year as North seeks its first OCC-Ohio championship since 2015. Last season, the Panthers finished 11-7 overall and 4-1 in the league, placing second to Gahanna (5-0) for the second consecutive season.
North was 1-0 overall and in the OCC-Ohio before playing Gahanna on April 10.
"Sam, Evan, Vamsi, Bala will see action at both singles and doubles," Hoff said. "Lack of practice time due to weather has put us behind in trying to figure out doubles combos. It's something we'll figure out over the next couple weeks. We're looking for the right combo of strengths (and) weaknesses and guys with personalities that mesh well on the court.
"Sam, Vamsi and Bala all have worked hard in the offseason and have certainly improved a lot."
North opened April 5 with a 3-2 win at Pickerington Central. The Panthers swept the doubles courts as Brahmandam and Vanguri won first doubles and Miller and Reece won second doubles, and Marrison won at second singles.
Rounding out the roster for the Panthers, who lost their only Division I district qualifier from last year to graduation in singles player Christian Keen, are junior Ethan Reece and freshmen Theo Miller and Ben Starrett. According to Hoff, they will primarily play doubles.
With four seniors in the lineup, Hoff said North is especially hungry to regain the league championship.
The Panthers, who won four consecutive league titles from 2012-15, have lost to Gahanna 3-2 each of the past two seasons.
"We've been close, but close losses don't get you anything," Hoff said. "We've got to find a way to get three courts off of them this year. It won't be easy. They return most of their team ... (but) I feel our senior-led team is up for the challenge."
April 3 -- at Dublin Coffman
April 4 -- vs. New Albany
*April 5 -- at Pickerington Central
*April 10 -- vs. Gahanna
April 11 -- vs. Chillicothe
*April 12 -- vs. Lancaster
April 16 -- at Granville
*April 17 -- at Reynoldsburg
April 18 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*April 19 -- vs. Grove City
April 24 -- at Hilliard Bradley
April 25 -- at Columbus Academy
April 26 -- at Westerville Central
April 30 -- vs. Watterson
May 1 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
May 2 -- vs. Olentangy
May 3 -- at Westerville North
May 7 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
May 8 -- at Bexley
TRACK & FIELD
March 26 -- Hammond Relays at Pickerington Central
March 27 -- at Hilliard Bradley with Reynoldsburg
March 31 -- Wildcat Premier at Hilliard Davidson
April 3 -- Cruiser Invitational at Groveport
April 7 -- Stingel Invitational at home
April 13 -- Elk Relays at Centerville
April 17 -- Girls: at Watkins Memorial
April 20 -- Fulton Relays at Lancaster
April 23 -- Girls: at New Albany with Groveport
April 27 -- Milt Will Relays at Canal Winchester
April 30 -- vs. Canal Winchester and Teays Valley
May 4 -- Boys: Hilliard Bradley Invitational; Girls: Larkin/Crosten Invitational at Upper Arlington
May 9, 12 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Lancaster and Dublin Coffman
Below are the coming schedules for the North baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball and boys volleyball teams:
April 12 -- Home vs. Briggs
*April 13 -- Lancaster at Beavers Field
*April 16 -- At Reynoldsburg
*April 18 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
*April 12 -- At Upper Arlington
April 14 -- At Columbus Academy
*April 17 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
*April 12 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*April 17 -- At Davidson
*April 12 -- Home vs. Gahanna
April 13 -- Home vs. Westerville South
*April 16 -- Home vs. Lancaster
*April 18 -- At Reynoldsburg
*April 12 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
*April 17 -- At Dublin Coffman