For the second consecutive year, the Pickerington High School North girls tennis team will have to survive what on paper appears to be a grueling Division I sectional at Reynoldsburg just to return there for district the next week.
The Panthers, who were ranked sixth in the state poll last week by OhioTennis-Zone.com, will be joined at the site Thursday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 6, by, among other teams, fourth-ranked Dublin Jerome, OCC-Ohio Division rival Gahanna and perennial power New Albany.
"There is good and bad to that," coach Brian Hoff said. "It's good that you play them (at sectional) so you don't have to play them again to get to state until you've already qualified. Getting to district alone can be a challenge ... but it's a good strategy if you have aspirations of making the state tournament. In that sense, it definitely makes sense."
Cassie Alcala is seeded first in singles as she attempts to reach her third consecutive state tournament and improve on last year's runner-up finish. Rhyan Cook and Regan Webber round out North's singles lineup.
Maggie Haas and Kim Nguyen are seeded second in doubles as they attempt to return to district for the second year in a row. The Panthers' other doubles team will be Corrina Moesle and Regan Szott.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament Oct. 11 and 13 at Reynoldsburg.
Haas and Nguyen rarely paired up during the regular season but are eager to improve on last year's performance, when they finished fourth at sectional and went 0-1 at district. Their first match as a doubles team this season was Sept. 18 against Hilliard Davidson, and Hoff paired them again occasionally during the past two weeks.
"We are both really consistent and we both run really fast, so we depend on those things to beat other people," Nguyen said. "Sometimes both of us play back. We are not super strong at the net, but I've gotten better and I think she's gotten a lot better, too. I think it works out for us either way.
"It would be nice to make it to state, but district is our goal right now. Anything beyond that is a bonus."
Haas added that both she and Nguyen can display power when necessary.
"We try to keep our unforced errors down and work together and pump each other up when needed," Haas said. "We're both better at the baseline, but we both have times where we can kill it at the net, too. We can both be powerful when we need to be."
North was 16-3 before playing Granville on Oct. 3. The Panthers won their only match last week, 5-0 over Dublin Scioto on Sept. 26, and also edged host New Albany 3-2 on Oct. 1.
North is scheduled to wrap up the regular season Tuesday, Oct. 9, at home against Olentangy Orange.
A potential downside to the sectional that Hoff hopes his singles players can overcome is that Jerome players Lalasa Nagireddy, Katherine Wang and Reagan Resor are the second, third and fourth seeds, respectively.
"Rhyan's goal is to make it to the state tournament in singles and we will do everything we can to accomplish that goal," Hoff said. "I am sure Cassie having gotten there (the past two years) makes her strive that much harder to get that. Rhyan is driven. We will see how it plays out."
Rittman continues to lead girls runners
Emma Rittman has been the girls cross country team's top runner in each of its six races this season, something the freshman said she never would have guessed even a month ago.
"I am learning how to get out quicker. I've found my pacing and where I need to settle in on the course," Rittman said. "This is not what I expected from myself at all. I thought I'd be much slower than what I've been."
In the Division I race of the Panther Invitational on Sept. 29 at North, Rittman finished 12th (21 minutes, 9.4 seconds) to lead the Panthers to a fifth-place finish (137 points) out of 14 teams, behind champion Shaker Heights (38). Also scoring were Brianna Bowden (16th, 21:37.41), Emily Harness (26th, 22:11.73), Briana Cavendish (45th, 22:42.3) and Ryona Gilmore (59th, 23:01.79).
Rittman's best time this season was 20:06.5 in the Tiger Invitational on Sept. 22 at Pickerington Central, when she finished third.
Coach Jim Langenderfer continues to emphasize running in packs and says the approach seems to be paying off.
"We're a much better team than last year and we just want to keep building every week," Langenderfer said. "The girls were disappointed (Sept. 29), which tells me they have some goals they are aiming for. They can be reached, but it won't be easy."
That same day, the boys team finished second (203) of 39 teams in the Midwest Meet of Champions at Hilliard Bradley, behind champion Cleveland St. Ignatius (113).
Matt Duvall placed third (13:32.8) in the 2.7-mile race, followed by Harper Moore (fifth, 13:46), Spencer Moledor (48th, 14:38.4), Aaron Moraine (55th, 14:40.8) and Jake Prestileo (97th, 15:00.1).
Boys soccer team streaks into week
The boys soccer team entered its Oct. 2 game against Reynoldsburg seeking its 12th consecutive win, one that would clinch the Panthers' third consecutive OCC-Ohio championship.
North was 11-1 overall and 3-0 in the league before Oct. 2.
The Panthers finish league play Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Grove City. No other OCC-Ohio team had more than one league win entering the week.
North won its only game last week, 6-1 at Lancaster on Sept. 25. Reece Allbaugh scored four goals and Will Harr added two to raise his team-leading total to 15 through 12 games. Allbaugh had nine goals and Brayden Durbin had eight.
Golf teams hoped to extend seasons
The boys and girls golf teams competed in Division I sectionals Oct. 2, hoping to prolong their seasons into this week and beyond.
The boys team played in a sectional at their home course of Turnberry, from which the top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the district tournament Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Apple Valley.
The girls were in a sectional at Westchester, where the top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 9 at Cooks Creek.
From both district tournaments, the top two teams and two individuals not on qualifying teams advance to their respective state tournaments Oct. 19 and 20 at Ohio State.
The girls team is scheduled to wrap up its regular season Saturday, Oct. 6, with its annual Pickerington North Fall Classic at Cooks Creek.
Below are the coming schedules for the North cross country, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 6 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 4 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
*Oct. 9 -- At Grove City
Oct. 4 -- At Olentangy
*Oct. 9 -- Home vs. Grove City
*Oct. 4 -- Home vs. Lancaster. The Panthers defeated the Golden Gales 25-21, 26-24, 25-20 on Sept. 13.
*Oct. 9 -- At Reynoldsburg. The Panthers defeated the Raiders 25-10, 20-25, 25-18, 25-10 on Sept. 19.