Knowing that almost their entire starting lineup from last season would be back, members of the Pickerington High School Central boys volleyball team took coach Luke Rininger's offseason to-do list to heart.

Knowing that almost their entire starting lineup from last season would be back, members of the Pickerington High School Central boys volleyball team took coach Luke Rininger's offseason to-do list to heart.

Rininger emphasized year-round participation, and on a smaller scale increased work on passing.

Early on, that focus paid off, as the Tigers were 6-1 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Pickerington North on April 12.

Central's first five wins came in a span of less than 48 hours between March 31 and April 2.

"They needed to play volleyball in the offseason, get touches and work on passing and ball control," said Rininger, who is in his fifth season. "Many of them went and played club. They increased their knowledge of the game in a short period of time.

"We're playing as well as we are because of the increased level of passing. And confidence has always been what's lacking with this team. Now they know they can win."

The Tigers returned six full- or part-time starters from last season, when they went 12-13 overall and 1-9 in the league, losing to Westerville Central 25-17, 25-19, 25-22 in the first round of the Division I East Region tournament. Central is seeking its first winning season since 2004, when it went 16-9.

The returnees are seniors Will Culver (outside hitter), Matt Lashley (middle hitter), Max Stotridge (middle hitter) and Austin Walker (defensive specialist) and juniors Paul Augenstein (outside hitter) and Liam Manofsky (defensive specialist).

Central defeated North Union 20-25, 25-10, 25-19, 27-25 on March 31 and edged Dublin Jerome 25-18, 22-25, 25-18, 25-21 in its home opener April 1.

The Tigers added three more wins April 2 in a home quad-match, defeating Northland (25-22, 25-13), Thomas Worthington (25-14, 22-25, 25-19) and Whetstone (25-15, 25-10), before beating Delaware 25-19, 25-16, 25-23 in their OCC-Capital opener April 5.

Olentangy handed Central its first loss, 25-15, 25-11, 25-20 in a league match April 7.

"The chemistry is all there because we didn't really lose anyone," Augenstein said. "Serving is good, and we do have a new setter (sophomore Kahle Keys), but he is working very well with the hitters."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Isidro Daniels (utility), Matt Gilligan (right-side hitter), Drake Harris (utility) and Michael Isaac (right-side hitter), sophomore Nick Corbett (defensive specialist) and freshmen Nathan Lee (defensive specialist) and Jason Orr (defensive specialist).

"A lot of people are playing all the way around. Some of it works and some of it doesn't," Stotridge said.

"After these (early) matches, we see what we need to work on, and we need to keep working on the simple stuff."

Panthers out to strong start

With an abundance of first- and second-year players, 13th-year North coach Marci Truex held off on assigning specific positions to start the season.

The first version of her roster listed two setters, a libero, two defensive specialists and 12 hitters.

"They are pretty much hitting where they are in the rotation," said Truex, whose team was 6-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Capital before April 12. "We have lots of rotations that we can run. It's about building chemistry and what they are comfortable with. This maximizes that.

"Every team is different, and this one has been crazy from the get-go. It's been a challenge, but in a good way."

Ohio State commit Dejon Clark, a 6-foot-4 senior setter/hitter who had 55 aces, 249 digs and 462 assists last season, is one of four returning veterans along with seniors Cameron Bruce (hitter), Bryce Johnson (setter/hitter) and Tyler Vermilion (hitter).

Johnson led the Panthers in kills last year with 175, just ahead of Vermilion's 166, to go with 143 digs. North finished 16-10 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Capital, placing fourth behind champion Mount Vernon (9-1), and lost to Hilliard Davidson 25-20, 25-15, 25-22 in a Division I East Region final.

Clark, who chose the Buckeyes over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and UCLA among other schools, hardly will be just a setter this year.

"I've switched positions multiple times. I wouldn't be surprised if I am playing libero at (some) point," Clark said. "I am taking on whatever role I am needed to take on."

Bruce, who has committed to play golf at the University of Findlay, is recovering from a stress fracture and is expected back in the next few weeks.

North has two first-year players in senior hitters Ryan Walker and Alan Waterhouse.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Jacob Bartges (defensive specialist/hitter), Gerhardt Bornschlegl (hitter), Michael Diehl (hitter), Jake Elston (libero), Billy Keller (defensive specialist) and Ronnie Turner (hitter) and juniors Alex Johnson (hitter) and Andre Thomas (hitter).

The Panthers opened with two close wins at home, defeating Davidson 25-19, 21-25, 25-20, 30-28 on March 30 and Westerville South 19-25, 25-18, 25-15, 22-25, 19-17 on March 31.

North then went 2-1 in the Cleveland St. Ignatius Invitational on April 2, beating Lakewood St. Edward (23-25, 25-17, 25-23) and Akron Hoban (25-23, 25-20) and losing to St. Ignatius (25-21, 25-19, 27-25).

The Panthers defeated Olentangy 14-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-18 in their league opener April 5 and defeated Mount Vernon 25-18, 25-20, 25-21 in a league match April 7.

Schedules

CENTRAL

March 31 -- at North Union

April 1 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

April 2 -- vs. Northland, Thomas Worthington and Whetstone

*April 5 -- at Delaware

*April 7 -- vs. Olentangy

*April 12 -- at Pickerington North

*April 14 -- at Mount Vernon

April 16 -- at Hamilton with Cincinnati Colerain and Miamisburg

April 18 -- at Upper Arlington

*April 19 -- vs. Gahanna

*April 21 -- vs. Delaware

April 22 -- at Westerville North

April 23 -- at Dublin Jerome

*April 26 -- at Olentangy

*April 28 -- vs. Pickerington North

*May 2 -- vs. Mount Vernon

May 4 -- vs. North Union

*May 5 -- at Gahanna

May 6 -- at Watterson

NORTH

March 30 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

March 31 -- vs. Westerville South

April 2 -- Akron Hoban, Cleveland St. Ignatius and Lakewood St. Edward in St. Ignatius Invitational

*April 5 -- at Olentangy

*April 7 -- vs. Mount Vernon

*April 12 -- vs. Pickerington Central

*April 14 -- at Gahanna

April 16 -- vs. Beavercreek, St. Charles and Stow-Munroe Falls

*April 19 -- vs. Delaware

April 20 -- vs. Dublin Coffman

*April 21 -- vs. Olentangy

April 23 -- at Watterson

*April 26 -- at Mount Vernon

*April 28 -- at Pickerington Central

April 30 -- Centerville Invitational

*May 3 -- vs. Gahanna

*May 5 -- at Delaware

May 11 -- at DeSales

*League contest