Other than the information he gleaned from a few conversations with his predecessor, Tyler Nelson had little familiarity with the Pickerington High School North boys lacrosse team when he became coach last winter.
But one thing former coach Danny Gibson told Nelson about senior long-stick midfielder Evan Hellmich not only stood out, but as far as Nelson is concerned, has proven true.
"(Gibson) said he'd be the backbone of the team," Nelson said, adding that Hellmich proved to be a key voice to his teammates as Nelson implemented his system. "That's a great thing to have as a new coach. You can lean on a senior who's been in the program and help you guide them along the way."
Hellmich, a Robert Morris recruit, has been a focal point not only for the Panthers' defense but for the entire team as they try to right themselves heading into the Division I, Region 3 tournament. North is 7-8 overall entering its regular-season finale Friday, May 12, at Granville and finished 4-3 in the OCC-Central Division with a 10-9 loss at Pickerington Central on May 4.
While Hellmich has 13 goals, Nelson and the Panthers largely lean on him to defend the opponent's best offensive player.
"I just bring athleticism," Hellmich said. "In transition, I think I perform well and I can hold down the defense. I think I've gotten better at being a leader and making others better. Last year and this year, I've had the other team's best player. It's a challenge every game. It's fun. I like doing it. It puts a chip on my shoulder. If I'm guarding the best guy, I really have to do my job."
Hellmich played junior varsity as a freshman but was promoted to varsity as a sophomore and has started ever since.
"He never gives up on a play," defender Carson White said. "He goes hard 100 percent of the time. He communicates often with everybody. Having him running down the field, getting clears and getting shots on goal is great for our team, and a lot of the time it leads to us scoring. He's a leader on defense and offense."
Hellmich has helped bring along a defensive unit that features several underclassmen, including sophomores A.J. Dinsmore and Adam Smathers and freshman Reid Bender.
Hellmich played football until his junior year, mostly as a defensive back, before choosing to focus on lacrosse. Recruitment followed, and several schools expressed interest. Hellmich was offered by Cleveland State, Jacksonville and Division II Seton Hill before choosing Robert Morris, where he plans to major in engineering.
Hellmich expects to play close defense, his natural position, in college.
"I transitioned to long-stick midfielder this year to be in transition more and get the ball more," Hellmich said.
Seeded 10th of the 19 teams in the regional tournament, the Panthers will play host to 13th-seeded Beavercreek in a second-round game Tuesday, May 15. The winner advances to a regional quarterfinal May 18.
In part because of Hellmich, Nelson lauded his team's "lacrosse IQ" as it prepares for the tournament.
"They are making smart decisions on the field and remembering what we have to do every play," Nelson said. "They're not forcing things."
Track teams to finish league meet
Girls track and field coach Jim Langenderfer expects his sprinters to be among the team's strengths as the OCC-Ohio meet wraps up Saturday, May 12, at Dublin Coffman.
The league meet began May 9 at Lancaster, where all field events, except for girls high jump and shot put, and all running preliminaries were competed.
"We've seen some really good runs lately," Langenderfer said. "Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going. The girls have been cutting time, and it's not easy to drop a lot of time in sprinting events. Our (3,200-meter relay) dropped 25 seconds at Canal Winchester (the Milt Will Invitational on April 27)."
Langenderfer said junior Alicia Donley, who will play soccer at Tennessee, and freshman Mayson Bates have been among the leaders.
"We've used (Donley) in the 100, 200 and 400 and the 400 and 800 relays. She's been a great addition to the team, and she's been good at keeping everybody balanced and focused," Langenderfer said. "Mayson's done the 100 hurdles, sprints and 300 hurdles and she's gone 5 feet in the high jump. She loves to challenge herself."
In the Hilliard Bradley Invitational on May 4, Donley won the 100 (12.59 seconds) and helped the 800 relay finish first (1:47.28) as North finished second (95.5 points) of eight teams, behind champion Marysville (111).
Brenna Burke won the 100 hurdles (15.69), Avery Hart was first in the pole vault (10-6) and Trina Echikunwoke won the shot put (32 feet, 4 inches).
Some Panthers competed in the Larkin/Crosten Invitational that same night. Bates was third in the 100 hurdles (15.82) as North finished fifth (62) of 12 teams, behind champion Central (126).
The boys finished third (66) at Bradley behind the host and champion Jaguars (110), as Ashwin Briggs won the 800 (1:54.99) and Kavaughn Robinson was first in the 100 (10.94).
After completing the league meet, the Panthers will turn their attention to the postseason, which begins with Division I district meets next week at Darby.
The boys team is in district 2, for which field events take place Tuesday, May 15, followed by preliminaries for running events Wednesday, May 16, and running finals May 19.
The girls are in district 3. Field event finals will be May 16, followed by running preliminaries May 17 and finals for running events May 19.
The top four finishers in each event advance to the regional May 23 and 25 at North.
Girls lacrosse team finally beats Tigers
The last 90 seconds of the girls lacrosse team's May 4 game at Central couldn't go by fast enough for the Panthers, and when they did, five years' worth of emotions poured out.
Elise Drager scored three goals, the last coming with 9.1 seconds left, to help lead North to a 10-8 victory over the Tigers, marking its first win in the series since May 10, 2013, a span of five games.
Drager and Abbey Wilson each had three goals for the Panthers, who were 9-5 overall before playing Granville on May 8 and finished 3-3 in the OCC-Central.
"This means the world to us," Drager said. "It was extremely stressful because they just kept coming at us. It all worked out but it was all a blur and some panic, but we tried to keep it together and eventually we added a goal."
The win over Central was North's third in a row overall, after wins over Bexley (10-7 on April 27) and Wellington (11-7 on May 1).
"We've talked a lot about being patient and letting things come together. We executed that (May 4)," said coach Christine Miller, who coincidentally was Central's coach the last time North defeated the Tigers. "The defense trusted the offense and the offense trusted the defense. We didn't do a lot of subbing. They just had a job to do and they did it."
Wilson led North with four goals against Wellington.
The Panthers finish the regular season Friday, May 11, at home against Westerville North, and then will play host to 11th-seeded Centerville in the second round of the Division I, Region 3 tournament Tuesday, May 15.
The winner visits top-seeded Upper Arlington in a regional quarterfinal May 18.
North is seeded eighth of 17 teams.
Baseball team wins tourney opener
Brock Vinci and Alec Mendoza combined to pitch a two-hitter May 7 as the baseball team defeated 33rd-seeded Chillicothe 4-2 in the first round of the Division I district tournament to improve to 12-9 overall.
The 19th-seeded Panthers extended their winning streak to five games and advanced to play 13th-seeded Canal Winchester in the second round May 9.
North entered the tournament coming off a 6-4 regular-season win over top-seeded Olentangy Liberty on May 5.
The Panthers also defeated Reynoldsburg 14-7 on May 1 and 6-2 on May 2 and Hartley 6-5 on May 3, as Mitchell Smith hit three home runs against the Raiders and Jaret Wilcox had a walk-off single against the Hawks.
The second-round winner plays ninth-seeded Olentangy or 26th-seeded Coffman in a district semifinal Monday, May 14, at a neutral site to be determined.
That winner plays second-seeded Darby, 14th-seeded Teays Valley, 21st-seeded St. Charles or 42nd-seeded Logan in a district final Wednesday, May 16, at a neutral site to be determined.
The district champion advances to a regional semifinal May 24 at Coffman.
North's scheduled OCC-Ohio finale May 4 against Grove City was postponed because of bad weather, and according to coaches is not expected to be made up because it would not impact the final league standings.
The Panthers finished 8-6 in the league.
Softball team rolls past Braves
A six-run fifth inning powered the softball team to an 11-1, five inning win over 29th-seeded Whetstone in the first round of the Division I district tournament May 7.
Seeded 24th, North improved to 11-11 overall and advanced to play 14th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley in a second-round game May 9.
The Panthers won their last two scheduled regular-season games May 5 at home, defeating London 10-0 in five innings and Big Walnut 11-1 in six innings.
The North-Tri-Valley winner plays third-seeded Lancaster or 35th-seeded Licking Heights in a district semifinal Monday, May 14, at a neutral site to be determined.
The district final is May 18 and 19 at Pickerington Central.
The Panthers lost twice to Lancaster in OCC-Ohio play, 7-3 on April 26 and 21-10 in May 3 to finish 1-9 in the league.
North's only league win came May 2, 12-0 in five innings over Grove City. Carley Auten had a three-run home run in the third inning to pace the Panthers.
Boys tennis team set for sectional
The boys tennis team will travel across town Thursday, May 10, and Saturday, May 12, for a Division I sectional at Central.
Sam Marrison, Evan Ross and Grant Schroeder will play singles, while Balakrishna Brahmandam and Vamsi Vanguri will comprise one doubles team and Theo Miller and Ethan Reece will comprise the other.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament May 17 at Bradley and May 19 at UA.
North was 8-6 overall before its last scheduled regular-season match May 8 at Bexley.
Below is the coming schedule for the North boys volleyball team:
May 11 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
May 12 -- Home vs. Westerville North