With eight returning starters and 15 seniors, the Pickerington High School North girls soccer team is looking to build on last season and return to its 2010 postseason form.

With eight returning starters and 15 seniors, the Pickerington High School North girls soccer team is looking to build on last season and return to its 2010 postseason form.

Last season, the Panthers went 12-3-2 overall and went 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division to tie Pickerington Central for second, behind Gahanna (7-0) and ahead of Grove City (4-2-1), Reynoldsburg (2-5), Lancaster (1-4-2), Groveport (0-5-2) and Newark (0-5-2).

Seeded third, North opened the Division I district tournament with an 8-0 win over Mount Vernon before losing to Watterson 2-1 in a district semifinal. In 2010, the Panthers reached the state final, where they lost to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit 3-0.

North opened against Watterson on Aug. 21 and plays Thursday, Aug. 23, at Dublin Scioto.

"With 15 quality seniors and a roster of 24, we expect to play a lot of girls," said coach Greg VanKannel, who is in his second stint with the program, having coached the Panthers from 2007-10 and replacing Molly Cornwell during the offseason. "We have talent all over the field and expect many to step up their play during the season.

"Heather Laefuer (verbal commitment to Central Michigan), Ashlynn Jones (verbal to Memphis), Dani Wenger and Christy Macioce (verbally committed to Dayton for basketball) were starters along with Christina Williams on the team that went to the state finals in 2010. Rachel Weigman and Alexa Cheripko also played quality minutes on that team."

Cheripko (midfielder), Laefuer (goalkeeper), Macioce (defender), Weigman (forward) and Wenger (midfielder) are seniors who started last season. Jones (forward) did not play as a junior but was second-team all-league as a sophomore. Williams (midfielder) is a junior who could miss much of this season after suffering a knee injury in the spring.

Other returning starters are senior defenders Abby Hart and Laura Neilon.

Also back are junior Morgan Bittengle (midfielder) and Morgan Greer (midfielder) and sophomores Kelly Eisenhower (defender), Aubery Lukacskko (midfielder), Megan Marasco (forward) and Emily Thomas (forward).

Bittengle scored a team-high 17 goals last season and Wenger had 10. Weigman and Marasco scored six apiece.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Morgan Beemiller (midfielder), Layne Collier Sr. (midfielder), Paige Doughty (defender), Brooke Durbin (defender), Laura Hammerstein (forward), Kate Prewitt (midfielder) and Rylie Shaw (defender) and juniors Casey Gerhard (defender) and Hannah Wilson (goalie).

Macioce, Weigman and Wenger were second-team all-league last season and Laeufer was honorable mention all-league.

"We have a lot of experience and skill at the forward, midfield and defensive positions," VanKannel said.

"We have decent speed, especially up front. We will try to possess the ball but can play a direct style at times. We try to put a lot of pressure on the defense and force turnovers in the front half of the field.

"We have the talent and experience to go far, but can we put the pieces of the puzzle together to make us a championship team?"

North opens league play Tuesday, Aug. 28, at Newark.

Central returns experienced lineup

Central returns 11 letterwinners for first-year coach Jillian Walters, an assistant with the Tigers the past four seasons who has head coaching experience at the club level. Walters takes over for Angie Pinion, who stepped down after five seasons.

Last season, Central finished 11-6-1 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Ohio to tie North for second. The Tigers opened the Division I district tournament with a 4-3 overtime win over Olentangy Liberty before losing to eventual district champion Gahanna, the fourth seed, 6-0 in a district semifinal.

The loss snapped a program-record seven-game winning streak.

"Our strength this year is our ability to support each other and play as a team," Walters said.

"We have worked extremely hard on improving our fitness and trying to improve our ability to adjust to how other teams play. We must find a way to play the entire game with a high level of intensity and focus. We have the talent, speed and endurance to beat any team we want on any given day, but it will come down to our passion and dedication in game situations."

The Tigers opened Aug. 21 against Liberty and begin league play Tuesday, Aug. 28, at Lancaster.

Central returns seniors Lizzie Awuah (forward), Samantha Gengler (forward/ midfielder), Amy Hawley (midfielder), Jordan Lewis (defender) and Libby Roesch (defender), juniors Darby Burch (midfielder), Rachel Koch (midfielder/defender), Casidy Simonis (midfielder/ defender) and Lisa Slattery (goalie) and sophomores Megan Davis (defender/midfielder) and Taylor Johnson (midfielder).

Junior defender Nicole Karavakis, who was honorable mention all-league last season, is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Awuah scored 16 goals last season after starting out as goalie. She scored all four goals in the tournament win over Liberty and made first-team all-league.

Slattery posted four shutouts last season.

"Libby Roesch and Lizzie Awauah stand out among their peers," Walters said.

"Their teammates recognize them as leaders on the field and voted them captains. As a defender, Libby is solid. She doesn't get shaken up and maintains her composure. Her past experience as a midfielder makes her a valuable asset on defense because she is able to read what other players intend to do and she is able to switch into an offensive frame of mind and become an active part of our scoring.

"Lizzie has an incredibly accurate and powerful shot and her size allows her to beat multiple defenders at once. She is definitely a force to be reckoned with."

Also on the team are seniors Shannon Brennan (midfielder) and Shelby York (forward/midfielder), juniors Samantha Oberdorf (forward) and Emma Safranek (defender), sophomores Stephanie Murray (midfielder) and Haleigh Young (forward) and freshmen Jaelyn Cunningham (goalie) and Aisha Suhaiba (forward).

"Jaelyn Cunningham will be of great benefit in the goal this year," Walters said.

"She is very aggressive and already a leader on the field despite only being a freshman. Aisha Suhaiba has incredible speed and the ability to read the game to make dynamic runs.

"We look to see a lot of goals or assists from her."