Cassie Alcala of the Pickerington High School North girls tennis team cringes at the memory of going 0-1 in the Division I state tournament last year.
The sophomore is thoroughly enjoying the chance to build on that, however, and her road toward another state appearance will continue at the district tournament beginning Thursday, Oct. 12, at Hilliard Bradley.
Seeded second in the Reynoldsburg sectional Oct. 6 and 7, Alcala lost to top-seeded Zoey Weil of Centennial 6-2, 6-1 in the final. Alcala held the upper hand early in the first set thanks to some powerful returns and solid serving.
"Zoey is such a strong player and I'm glad I got to play her (in order) to get better," Alcala said, acknowledging there could be a rematch at district, which concludes Saturday, Oct. 14, at Upper Arlington. "There wasn't much I could do at times. She has a variety of shots and those drop shots really got to me. It's hard to go against those the whole match."
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced at district, where Alcala will be joined by the doubles team of Maggie Haas and Kim Nguyen.
Haas and Nguyen finished fourth at sectional, losing to Olentangy Orange's Hannah Logan and Kortney Reed 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4) in the third-place match.
Alcala, the first state qualifier in program history, worked on her serve throughout the offseason, emphasizing both speed and accuracy.
"I practice all the time anyway and having a lot of good competition instead of easy matches makes me a lot better," Alcala said. "Groundstrokes have always been the strongest part of my game, but my serve was so bad at state last year and I feel like it's gotten a lot better. Speed and accuracy both (are better)."
Coach Brian Hoff said despite her success, Alcala struggled with confidence early this season, but he added that a 6-4, 6-3 win over Mason's Jamie Kim on Sept. 9 spurred more success. Alcala did not lose again until Oct. 7.
"She has always been a top-notch player, but sometimes, maybe surprisingly, she has struggled with confidence," Hoff said. "It happens to you no matter how good you are. She uses angles and is aggressive when it's there. Her serve has some more pace and it's more consistent. She was good with groundstrokes last year, but her serving was not where it should be. It is definitely better now."
Haas and Nguyen, who usually played singles during the regular season, both are making their first trip to district.
"We both are similar. We are really consistent and put things together well," Nguyen said. "I like my forehand and she likes her backhand."
Hoff said an adjustment during the sectional in which he dropped both players back to the baseline helped prolong their season.
"Their games complement each other and, if we're playing a team that's strong at the net, we can take girls off-guard by playing back," Hoff said. "They can execute well."
Also competing at sectional but failing to advance were singles players Rhyan Cook (3-1) and Sophia Anderson (1-1) and the doubles team of Corrina Moesle and Anna Stanley (2-1).
North was 13-6 before its regular-season finale Oct. 10 at Dublin Scioto.
At district, the top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to state Oct. 20 and 21 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
League meet awaits runners
The cross country teams will try to break a championship drought when they compete in the OCC-Ohio Division meet Saturday, Oct. 14, at Lancaster.
The boys, who were ranked ninth in Division I in last week's state poll, have not won a league title since 2012. The girls are seeking their first championship since 2010.
North's final tune-up for the OCC-Ohio meet was the Les Eisenhart Invitational on Oct. 7 at Thomas Worthington. The boys did not race, but the girls finished 19th (489 points) of 23 teams, behind champion Olentangy Liberty (62).
Courtney Chabot placed 86th (21 minutes, 20.9 seconds) of 198 runners to lead the Panthers.
At last year's league meet, the girls finished third (79) behind Gahanna (26) and Pickerington Central (54) and ahead of Lancaster (94), Grove City (114) and Reynoldsburg (162).
The boys were fourth behind Gahanna (56), Central (56) and Lancaster (58) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (133) and Grove City (159). Gahanna won the league title on the sixth-runner tiebreaker.
Tasneys lead girls golfers to district
Caitlyn Tasney shot a 75 and Cassie Tasney carded an 80 to lead the girls golf team to a third-place finish in a Division I sectional Oct. 3 at Westchester, clinching the final team berth to the district tournament Oct. 10 at Cooks Creek.
North shot a 347 to finish behind Upper Arlington (307) and New Albany (328) as 11 teams scored.
Also scoring for the Panthers were Zhanner Davis (95) and Ally Perkins (97).
At district, the top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the state tournament Oct. 20 and 21 at Ohio State's Gray Course.
North entered the week having advanced to state just once as a team, in 2007.
Boys golf team survives sectional
Jack Kowalczyk's 87 did not count in the boys golf team's score in a Division I sectional Oct. 3 at Darby Creek, but the senior ended up extending the Panthers' season.
North shot a 320 to tie Olentangy for fourth place behind Dublin Jerome (280), Westerville Central (314) and Hilliard Davidson (319) as 13 teams scored, but Kowalczyk won the fifth-score tiebreaker. Olentangy's fifth score was an 89.
The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the district tournament Oct. 10 at Apple Valley.
Scoring for North were Josh Tasney (77), Jake Chadwick (78), Danny Heitmeyer (82) and Danny Corrigan (83).
At district, the top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the state tournament Oct. 20 and 21 at Ohio State's Scarlet Course. The Panthers have made state as a team once, in 2013, when they finished second.
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 12 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
Oct. 21 -- Home vs. 20th-seeded Upper Arlington or 29th-seeded Westland in second round of Division I district tournament. The Panthers are seeded ninth.
Oct. 12 -- At Dublin Jerome
Oct. 19 -- Home vs. 34th-seeded Teays Valley or 35th-seeded Whetstone in second round of Division I district tournament. The Panthers are seeded first.
Oct. 12 -- At Olentangy Liberty
Oct. 18 -- Home vs. 37th-seeded Groveport or 39th-seeded Licking Heights in second round of Division I district tournament. The Panthers are seeded fifth.