The Pickerington High School North boys soccer team is coming off a summer unlike any coach Darrin Monhollen can remember, in the hopes that the season will finish like no other in program history.
With a bevy of three-year starters on the roster, North added a second preseason tournament to its summer schedule. Preseason opponents included Division I powers Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome, three-time defending Division II state champion DeSales and New Albany, which defeated the Panthers in a Division I district final two years ago.
By design, all of North's summer contests were on the road and as many as possible were played on artificial turf. The Panthers play their home games on natural grass.
"We maximized our 10 summer days more than we have since I remember," said Monhollen, who is in his 16th season and the only coach in program history. "When you get to the point of the season that those tournament games are the most crucial, they'll all be on neutral fields and they'll all be on turf. That's our mindset. We're testing ourselves in every way we can. That's how we're going to grow."
Eleven players are in their third season on varsity. That group consists of seniors Jonathan Cunningham (midfielder), Will Harr (forward), Evan Herd (midfielder), Luke Kenyon (midfielder), Noah Kenyon (midfielder), Brendan Khan (defender), Kai Newman (defender), Brennan Nincehelser (defender), Drew Salinas (defender) and Guillermo Zarate (defender) and junior Reece Allbaugh (forward).
Harr scored 18 goals and Allbaugh added 10 last year as North went 12-4-2 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division, winning its second consecutive league championship and losing to Olentangy 1-0 in a district semifinal.
Nincehelser was named OCC-Ohio Player of the Year.
The Panthers were 2-1 before playing Groveport on Aug. 28. They opened with a 2-0 loss at St. Charles on Aug. 17 but routed Logan 11-1 in their home opener Aug. 23 behind three goals from Harr and two from senior midfielder Brayden Durbin and beat host Columbus Academy 6-3 on Aug. 25 as Durbin and Harr each had two goals.
Durbin, who previously played for Crew SC Academy, is an Ohio State commit.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Marcus Bailey (midfielder), Carson Rogers (defender), Adam Sherry (defender) and Justin Zentzovich (defender), juniors Abel Andebrhan (midfielder), Duvall Brannon (midfielder), Cade DeMattio (midfielder), A.J. Dinsmore (midfielder), Emery Mast (goalkeeper), Cory Pulles (goalie), Cameron Williams (midfielder) and Antonio Zarate (forward) and sophomore Ty Bowden (goalie).
North begins OCC-Ohio play Sept. 13 at home against Pickerington Central. The Panthers finished ahead of runner-up Grove City (3-1-1) in the league last year.
North has never won a district championship and has lost in district finals five times.
"When they are playing well together and get locked in, it's good stuff. It's like watching them paint a picture," Monhollen said. "They have set the highest expectations for themselves. I'm very pleased with what I've seen, but I hope to see more consistency. That's the biggest thing right now. Those high goals are achievable, but it's going to take a lot to get there."
Girls soccer team shaking off injuries
Girls soccer coach Greg Van Kannel normally might not like having 10 days between games, especially between the first and second games of the season, but he wasn't complaining after an injury-riddled preseason.
The Panthers started the season without senior forwards Alicia Donley, a University of Tennessee commit, and Avery Hart because of injuries. Donley had a right ankle injury and Hart was recovering from a hand injury.
Sophomore forward Tori Haggit also sat out two scrimmages because of a quad injury.
According to Van Kannel, who is in his seventh season, Donley might not return until mid-September. Last year's OCC-Ohio and district Player of the Year and a first-team all-state honoree, Donley had 26 goals as the Panthers went 17-2-1 overall and 4-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio, losing to Jerome 4-3 in overtime in a Division I regional semifinal.
North opened Aug. 17 with a 1-0 win at Marysville and did not play again until Aug. 28 at home against Groveport. Senior midfielder Camryn Dees scored the only goal against the Monarchs off a free kick in the first half.
"Having that time off isn't such a bad thing now," Van Kannel said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed. We're excited about this season, but we have a lot of work to do. We've looked all right. We've just been banged up. We have a lot of young girls and we've moved some girls around for now."
Dees, Donley and Hart lead a group of seven returning starters that also includes seniors Makenna Greer (defender), Grace Kenyon (goalie) and Aleece Lukacsko (midfielder) and junior Haley Moore (defender).
Kenyon recently committed to Seton Hill University.
Because of the injuries, Greer and Lukacsko began the season as forwards.
Hart added nine goals and Haggit scored six last year.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kaitlyn Caminiti (defender) and Kylie Jacobs (defender), juniors Lauren Brown (forward), Claire Combs (midfielder), Lindsi Filippi (midfielder), Jada Leyland (defender), Elise Moore (goalie), Mya Subedi (defender) and Zoey Thomas (midfielder) and sophomores Morgan Dragich (forward), Serenity Mason (forward) and Kara Thomas (defender).
North begins OCC-Ohio play Sept. 13 at home against Central. The Panthers went 4-0-1 in the league last year, just ahead of runner-up Gahanna (3-0-2). The two teams played to a scoreless tie last season.
New-look volleyball team reloading
Despite returning four starters, the girls volleyball team entered the season with more questions than answers as they try to defend their OCC-Ohio championship and improve on last year's Division I district runner-up finish.
Leading the returnees are seniors Bri Hollingshed (middle hitter), Lauren Norwood (right-side hitter), Kaitlyn Rhoades (libero) and Megan Vayansky (setter).
Vayansky is a Lourdes University commit.
"We're young, really young. We're inexperienced. We're a work in progress right now," fifth-year coach April Boudreau said. "We're trying to figure out what lineup works best, whether we should be running a 6-2 (offense) or a 5-1. We just lost a lot from last year and we have people who were here last year playing new positions. That's just where we are. We haven't been in this position for a few years."
Hollingshed had 222 kills last season.
Rhoades played defensive specialist a year ago, when the Panthers went 20-5 overall and 9-1 in the league, losing to Olentangy Orange 25-18, 25-20, 25-16 in a district final.
North was 3-2 before playing Groveport on Aug. 28.
The Panthers went 2-1 in the season-opening Marysville Spike-Off Invitational on Aug. 18, losing to Jerome 25-21, 27-25 before defeating first-year Olentangy Berlin 25-14, 28-26 and Chillicothe 25-11, 25-22.
North won 25-14, 25-14, 25-11 at Westland on Aug. 21 and lost to Coffman 25-13, 25-20, 25-14 in its home opener Aug. 23.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Allison Bartholow (defensive specialist) and Zaria Neal (right-side hitter), juniors Lauren Gill (right-side hitter), Lindsey Maziarz (outside hitter), Emma Perry (outside hitter), Peyton Roberts (middle hitter) and Lily Wittman (defensive specialist/libero) and sophomores Lauren Greegor (outside hitter) and Brooke Norwood (setter/defensive specialist).
Boudreau said she would like to have a clearer picture of how the season might go by the time North begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Sept. 4, at home against Central. The Panthers finished one match ahead of runner-up Gahanna (8-2) in the league last year.
"We want to get through (being a) work in progress and start to jell and be a team here within the next couple weeks," Boudreau said.
"We have seen a lot of improvements out of both of our outsides (Greegor and Perry) just learning that the game is faster and you have to hit certain shots. It's not always about (making) the strongest hit you can from the outside position. ... They are learning those things. They're power hitters and they jump well, so when they played at younger levels and against weaker competition, they could overpower the block. That's not the case in the OCC-Ohio."
Aug. 17 -- at St. Charles
Aug. 23 -- vs. Logan
Aug. 25 -- at Columbus Academy
Aug. 28 -- at Groveport
Aug. 30 -- vs. Westerville North
Sept. 4 -- vs. Canal Winchester
Sept. 6 -- at Thomas Worthington
Sept. 11 -- vs. Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 13 -- vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 15 -- vs. Mason
*Sept. 20 -- at Gahanna
*Sept. 25 -- at Lancaster
*Oct. 2 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
Oct. 4 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
*Oct. 9 -- at Grove City
Oct. 11 -- vs. Westerville South
Aug. 17 -- at Marysville
Aug. 28 -- vs. Groveport
Aug. 31 -- Evansville (Ind.) Reitz Memorial in Zionsville (Ind.) Lady Eagle Invitational
Sept. 1 -- Fishers (Ind.) Hamilton Southeastern in Lady Eagle Invitational
Sept. 4 -- at Canal Winchester
Sept. 8 -- vs. Mason
Sept. 11 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*Sept. 13 -- vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 15 -- Watterson at Otterbein
*Sept. 20 -- vs. Gahanna
*Sept. 25 -- vs. Lancaster
Sept. 27 -- at New Albany
*Oct. 2 -- at Reynoldsburg
Oct. 4 -- at Olentangy
*Oct. 9 -- vs. Grove City
Oct. 11 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
Aug. 18 -- Marysville Spike-Off Invitational
Aug. 21 -- at Westland
Aug. 23 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
Aug. 28 -- at Groveport
Aug. 30 -- vs. Canal Winchester
*Sept. 4 -- vs. Pickerington Central
*Sept. 6 -- at Gahanna
Sept. 11 -- at Olentangy Orange
*Sept. 13 -- at Lancaster
Sept. 15 -- vs. Big Walnut, Dayton Thurgood Marshall and Granville
*Sept. 19 -- vs. Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 25 -- at Grove City
*Sept. 27 -- at Pickerington Central
Sept. 29 -- at Watkins Memorial
*Oct. 2 -- vs. Gahanna
*Oct. 4 -- vs. Lancaster
*Oct. 9 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Oct. 11 -- vs. Grove City
Below are the coming schedules for the North cross country, boys golf, girls golf and girls tennis teams:
Sept. 1 -- Boys: Ashland Invitational; Girls: Westerville Classic at Westerville North
Sept. 1 -- Pinnacle Classic at Pinnacle
Sept. 4 -- Lancaster Invitational at Lancaster Country Club
Aug. 30 -- Olentangy and Olentangy Liberty at Turnberry
Sept. 5 -- Big Walnut and Pickerington Central at Royal American
*Aug. 30 -- At Lancaster
*Sept. 4 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg