Not often is the second game of the season considered a critical contest, but Groveport Madison High School football coach Bryan Schoonover believes that's the case for his team, which plays host to Columbus South on Friday, Sept. 2.

Not often is the second game of the season considered a critical contest, but Groveport Madison High School football coach Bryan Schoonover believes that's the case for his team, which plays host to Columbus South on Friday, Sept. 2.

That's because the Cruisers lost to Westerville North 24-21 in their opener Aug. 26, with the host Warriors scoring the decisive points on a 1-yard run by Greg Shehee with 35 seconds remaining.

"The biggest improvement in teams during a season is said to be between weeks 1 and 2, and I'm hoping that's the case with us," Schoonover said. "There's a tremendous difference between being 1-1 and 0-2, and we're going to have to get better across the board to make that happen.

"We're focusing on us (this week). We don't care who the opponent is. We've got to improve on the fundamentals of blocking, tackling, kicking and taking care of the ball."

Groveport beat South 42-0 last year. The Bulldogs, who opened with a 41-8 win over Columbus East on Aug. 26, were shut out in the first four games last season en route to a 1-9 finish under then first-year coach Grady Parks Jr., but they are much more experienced this year with eight starters back on both sides of the ball.

South's offense is led by quarterback Dezujwann Robinson, who was named first-team all-City League-South Division and second-team all-district in Division III last season.

North had its biggest edge against Groveport in starting field position. According to Schoonover, that stemmed from a combination of punts and third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball.

"They pinned us deep quite a few times with punts, and part of that was our defense struggled to win on third-down situations," he said. "Our offense was forced to drive the length of the field."

The Cruisers led 14-3 after scoring on their first two possessions on touchdown runs by Malik Jolly (6 yards) and Corey Newman (8 yards). They led 14-10 at halftime, but North took a 17-14 lead on a Bodi Bien's 8-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.

Pinned deep in its end, Groveport scored on a 98-yard pass from quarterback Jacob Huffman to Izayah Aekins with 4:53 left to regain the lead, but the Warriors responded by driving 75 yards for the winning score.

"We were in position to make tackles but didn't," Schoonover said. "(North) did a good job with some screen passes and they went to an unbalanced line and did a nice job, especially on third downs. Give them credit. They executed with the game on the line and they're a better team than most people believe.

"It was a tough, physical game and both sides executed well at times, but not at others. Unfortunately, they executed on the last drive and we didn't make plays."

Huffman threw for 264 yards, with 222 of those being on connections with Aekins.

"We used the 24-hour rule," Schoonover said. "Last week is over. We've got to fix our mistakes and turn the page. You're either moving forward or backward in the process."

Volleyball team eyes first winning season

With five players back who earned starts in 2015, the girls volleyball team has high hopes of building on last season.

The Cruisers finished 8-16 overall a year ago after going 2-21 in 2014. They beat Northland 25-17, 25-20, 25-18 in the first round of the Division I district tournament for the program's second postseason win since 2005 before losing to second-seeded DeSales 25-9, 25-15, 25-9 in the second round.

"We want to establish ourselves as a strong team to compete in the new league," second-year coach Matt White said. "With the new OCC alignment, we're getting a fresh start and our goal is to have a winning season, which would be (the program's) first."

The Cruisers have moved from the OCC-Ohio Division to the OCC-Capital as part of OCC realignment. Also in the OCC-Capital are Big Walnut, Canal Winchester, Franklin Heights, New Albany and Newark.

Groveport was 4-1 before playing Pickerington North on Aug. 30. The Cruisers opened Aug. 20, beating Briggs 25-9, 25-17 and Whitehall 25-13, 26-28, 25-18. After losing to Pickerington Central 25-8, 25-16, 25-11 on Aug. 23, the Cruisers beat Central Crossing 25-19, 26-24, 25-13 on Aug. 25 and Columbus West 27-25, 25-20, 25-19 on Aug. 27.

The returnees are seniors Imani Johnson (middle hitter), Jasmine Merz (middle blocker), Kendra Soler (outside hitter) and Bianca Straughter (right-side hitter) and junior Carsyn Saunders (libero).

Soler, the team captain, was special mention all-league last season and Johnson was honorable mention all-league, as Groveport went 0-14 in the OCC-Ohio to finish last behind champion Gahanna (13-1).

"Kendra is the team's only three-year letterwinner," White said. "She is the leader on the floor in practice and in games. She has a great work ethic and always puts the team first. She was our top outside hitter (last season).

"Imani was one of the league leaders in blocks. Jasmine was injured and missed a good chunk of the season, but Bianca replaced her and did a nice job, so we have strong personnel in key positions in the middle, on the outside and at libero."

Johnson (5-foot-11) and Merz (5-10) are the only girls taller than 5-8.

Completing the roster are seniors Nora Miller (outside hitter) and Kennedy White (defensive specialist) and juniors Sara Gockenbach (outside hitter) and Morgan Whiting (setter).

"We have a lot of weapons and personnel to generate an attack," coach White said. "We want to start fast, own the nets and finish strong."

Numbers low for cross country teams

The boys cross country team has just four runners on its roster.

But third-year coach Aaron Fenzel sees potential in the group, which consists of seniors Mekel Harrison, Kudzovi Nuakey and Laderrick Palmer and sophomore Peyton Baker.

"Laderrick is the lone returnee and the veteran of the team," Fenzel said. "The others are new to cross country. Kudzovi could have the best season of the four. He plays soccer as well and he ran track last spring. He is a dedicated athlete who is determined to get better every day. I expect him to have a great season.

"Peyton had a really good track season last spring with the distance team. He was a standout and he has the highest ceiling of the four. All are capable and strong runners who will have to work hard every day and learn from their mistakes."

The Cruisers, who had no team score in the OCC-Ohio or Division I district meets last season, lost Brennan Watson to graduation.

The girls team has six runners on its roster, but seniors Reonna Harriston-Mitchell and Cleopatria Steward and sophomore Toni Woods are sprinters on the track team who are just out for the sport to stay in shape. Like last season, they may train with the team but not compete in meets.

Steward and Woods were members of the school-record setting 1,600-meter relay last spring.

Completing the roster are sophomores Sophia Barros and Adrienne Derouen and freshman Cherub Clarke. Derouen was the team's lone competitor in the district meet last season, where she finished 66th (25:10.08). Derouen and Steward competed in the league meet.

"Cherub Clark has a high ceiling with her abilities," Fenzel said. "I feel she could have a really good freshman year and great high school career. She's built like a distance runner and is easy to coach and work with.

"Sophia is a transfer from Lancaster who ran track last season but didn't run cross country. She may realize that cross country is her sport. I'm excited to see her and Cherub develop together and push each other in practice."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek

Schedules

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 31 -- Canal Winchester Invitational

Sept. 6 -- Falcon Invitational at Fairfield Union

Sept. 10 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial

Sept. 17 -- Central Ohio Cross Country Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park

Sept. 24 -- Marion Gray Invitational at Madison Christian

Oct. 5 -- Backwoods Two-Mile Fest at Thornville Sheridan

Oct. 8 -- Darby Dash at Hilliard Darby

Oct. 15 -- OCC-Capital meet at Newark

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

Aug. 20 -- at Whitehall with Briggs

Aug. 23 -- at Pickerington Central

Aug. 25 -- vs. Central Crossing

Aug. 27 -- vs. Columbus West

Aug. 30 -- vs. Pickerington North

Sept. 1 -- at Lancaster

Sept. 3 -- at Centennial

*Sept. 6 -- vs. Franklin Heights

*Sept. 8 -- at Canal Winchester

*Sept. 13 -- vs. New Albany

*Sept. 15 -- at Newark

Sept. 17 -- at Westland with Westerville South

*Sept. 20 -- vs. Big Walnut

*Sept. 22 -- at Franklin Heights

*Sept. 27 -- vs. Canal Winchester

*Sept. 29 -- at New Albany

Oct. 1 -- vs. Whetstone

Oct. 5 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

*Oct. 6 -- vs. Newark

*Oct. 13 -- at Big Walnut

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls tennis teams:

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 6 -- Central Crossing at The Links at Groveport

Sept. 7 -- Westland at The Links at Groveport

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Central Crossing

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 6 -- At Central Crossing

GIRLS TENNIS

*Sept. 1 -- At New Albany

*Sept. 6 -- At Newark

*League contest