The personnel has changed somewhat because of the natural turnover in high school athletics, but two Division I district runner-up finishes in three seasons have gotten on the Pickerington High School Central girls volleyball team's nerves.
With four starters back from last year's team that went 16-9 overall and 6-4 in the OCC-Ohio Division and lost to Dublin Coffman 25-11, 25-12, 25-18 in a district final, third-year coach Eric Hughes said the mentality has changed slightly although overall expectations remain the same.
"Last year, our team put a lot of expectations on ourselves and although it was our winningest year since the school split (in 2003), things still felt unfinished," Hughes said. "I think this year the seniors especially have decided to take a different mentality for the season. The most important thing this year is that they accomplish everything together. As long as they come together as one unit, they will accomplish everything they want."
The Tigers improved to 5-0 after going 3-0 in the Sharon Huesman Memorial Quad on Aug. 25 at Hilliard Davidson, defeating Hilliard Darby 25-23, 25-20, the host Wildcats 25-22, 25-17 and Dayton Thurgood Marshall 25-5, 25-7.
Returning starters are seniors Sydney Charlton (right-side hitter), Makayla Estes (outside hitter), Rachel Gordon (defensive specialist/libero) and Maddie Pletcher (setter). Pletcher committed to the University of Texas at Tyler in late July.
Charlton had 139 kills last season, best among all returnees and third on the team, while Pletcher and Estes had 39 and 31 aces, respectively, to lead the Tigers.
Hughes said the defense behind his middle blockers, juniors Londyn Coles, Alayja Floyd and Brittany Miller, might be the team's biggest strength.
"In years past, our defense at the net and our offense were our strongest points, so this year is somewhat uncharted territory," Hughes said.
"Our biggest improvement is our leadership. (With) losing six seniors, it has been really fun from a coaching standpoint watching the new leaders of this program step up."
Central opened Aug. 21 with a 25-16, 25-23, 25-20 home win over Groveport and defeated Westerville South in three games on Aug. 23.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Sydney Moore (libero/defensive specialist) and Ytien Pham (defensive specialist), juniors Mackenna Glass (defensive specialist/setter), Kairsten Moorer (right-side hitter/setter) and Sydney Palenick (defensive specialist) and sophomores Kennedy Chambers (middle hitter) and Vanessa Glass (defensive specialist).
"All six of our seniors are returning letterwinners, so (this year) is more of a reload than a rebuild," Hughes said. "All of that comes from planning for change and not reacting from change."
Central begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Sept. 4, at Pickerington North.
The Tigers finished third in the league last year behind the champion Panthers (9-1).
Boys soccer team expects more offense
The boys soccer team returns a handful of key players, and second-year coach Brett Neiderman hopes that experience will bring a harder edge and more potent offense.
Juniors Kwami Amoaki (midfielder), Mirnes Bubalo (midfielder), Cavan Castellon (midfielder) and Gabe Petrefski (defender) and sophomore Koen Droese (forward) are expected to anchor Central, which fell to 2-1 with a 5-0 loss to Canal Winchester on Aug. 25.
Droese scored all three of the Tigers' goals through three games. Central opened with a 2-1 win at Granville on Aug. 21 and defeated Big Walnut 1-0 on Aug. 23 in its home opener.
"The biggest lesson they've learned is they have to work harder than the other team," Neiderman said.
"I think we're going to be much better offensively than last year. We didn't score all that many goals last year, but in our scrimmages, we had seven or eight. Our midfielders and forwards are a lot stronger. Kwami is one of those guys who will be very important to how we do. We're using him more at center midfielder this year, but we may move him outside sometimes, too."
Central scored just 18 goals last year, when it went 4-12-1 overall. The Tigers were shut out six times in 2017, including three times in a row to start the season.
Central's defense largely is new, including seniors Noah Atiyah, Terek Evans, Cody Hepker and Ryland Roberts in front of first-year starting goalkeeper Garvin Osei-Frimpong. Petrefski played midfielder last year.
"We've put a lot of focus on our defense. It's improved, but we're not where we want to be yet," Neiderman said.
"We're real big on the team being more competitive. We're slowly turning the program around. That starts with accountability, things like being on time, making a commitment and having a competitive edge. Don't be OK with giving less than your best. Get better every day."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Thomas Allen (defender), Mohammed Jasim (midfielder), Emmanuel Mensah (forward) and Evans Osei-Tutu (forward), junior Zach Jones (defender) and freshmen Daniel Asiamah (defender) and Jace Meuser (forward/midfielder).
The Tigers begin OCC-Ohio play Sept. 13 at defending league champion North. Central went 1-3-1 in the league last year to finish fifth behind the Panthers (5-0).
Girls soccer team seeking consistency
With the majority of her team back, second-year girls soccer coach Maria Manzo said she is not surprised with the progress she has seen early on.
"We had an unlucky breakaway (in the season opener Aug. 17 at Bexley) when we gave up a goal, but other than that, we played a dominant game," Manzo said.
"Our possession and defense have been good. We've been winning more balls out of the air and our passing has been stronger. We're feeding our forwards well. Overall, there's been a lot of progress and our senior class has everything to do with that. They're all leaders."
Central is 1-2-1 entering a Thursday, Aug. 30, game at Fairfield Union.
Among the returnees from last year, when the Tigers went 6-11, are seniors Abby Augustyniak (forward), Danica Hanschu (goalie), Katie Hickman (forward), Lindsay Schmitt (midfielder) and Lexi Smith (midfielder). Although Central lost to Olentangy Orange 6-0 in the second round of the Division I district tournament, that came only after a 2-0 first-round win at Watkins Memorial, the Tigers' first postseason victory since 2014.
Central opened with a 1-all tie at Bexley on Aug. 17. The Tigers lost their home opener, 5-1 to Delaware on Aug. 21, and got their first win of the season two nights later, 3-0 at Watkins Memorial before losing 3-0 at Westerville Central on Aug, 27.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Mary Kathryn Berger (defender), Olivia Bitonte (defender), Kelsey Knudsen (midfielder), Ashley Mason (midfielder) and Lexy Sheets (midfielder), sophomores Tatum McElwain (midfielder), Sydney Fraley (midfielder), Leah Petrefski (midfielder), Sydney Stillwell (midfielder), Kassidy Stanley (defender), Selma Suhaiba (defender) and Brooke Warnock (defender) and freshmen Lauren Evans (goalie), Brooklyn Miller (midfielder) and Ramiya Roy (forward).
Central will attempt to improve on last year's finish in the OCC-Ohio when it begins league play Sept. 13 at North. The Tigers went 1-4 in the league to tie Lancaster and Reynoldsburg for fourth behind the champion Panthers (4-0-1).
"I don't want us to play kickball soccer. The girls know what I expect," Manzo said. "We have to be consistent, and I am seeing more of that. My job is to train them to play good, solid soccer, to play the game right."
Aug. 21 -- at Granville
Aug. 23 -- vs. Big Walnut
Aug. 25 -- vs. Canal Winchester
Aug. 28 -- vs. Westerville Central
Aug. 30 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 4 -- at New Albany
Sept. 6 -- at Westerville South
*Sept. 13 -- at Pickerington North
Sept. 18 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*Sept. 20 -- vs. Lancaster
*Sept. 25 -- at Reynoldsburg
Sept. 29 -- at Fairbanks
*Oct. 2 -- vs. Grove City
Oct. 4 -- vs. Independence
*Oct. 9 -- at Gahanna
Oct. 11 -- vs. Westland
Aug. 17 -- at Bexley
Aug. 21 -- vs. Delaware
Aug. 23 -- at Watkins Memorial
Aug. 27 -- at Westerville Central
Aug. 30 -- at Fairfield Union
Sept. 4 -- vs. New Albany
Sept. 6 -- vs. Buckeye Valley
Sept. 11 -- at Teays Valley
*Sept. 13 -- at Pickerington North
Sept. 18 -- vs. Logan
*Sept. 20 -- at Lancaster
*Sept. 25 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*Oct. 2 -- at Grove City
Oct. 4 -- vs. Newark
*Oct. 9 -- vs. Gahanna
Oct. 11 -- at Hilliard Davidson
Aug. 21 -- vs. Groveport
Aug. 23 -- at Westerville South
Aug. 25 -- Sharon Huesman Memorial Quad at Hilliard Davidson
Aug. 28 -- vs. Westerville Central
Aug. 30 -- at New Albany
*Sept. 4 -- at Pickerington North
*Sept. 6 -- vs. Lancaster
*Sept. 13 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 20 -- vs. Grove City
Sept. 22 -- Circleville Tournament
*Sept. 25 -- at Gahanna
*Sept. 27 -- vs. Pickerington North
Sept. 29 -- at Logan with Dublin Scioto
*Oct. 2 -- at Lancaster
*Oct. 4 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*Oct. 9 -- at Grove City
*Oct. 11 -- vs. Gahanna
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, boys golf, girls golf and girls tennis teams:
Sept. 1 -- Asics Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 4 -- Lancaster Invitational at Lancaster Country Club
Sept. 4 -- Marysville at Darby Creek
Sept. 5 -- Big Walnut and Pickerington North at Royal American
*Aug. 30 -- At Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Grove City
Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Watterson