Distance runners and sprinters took turns scoring for the Pickerington High School North boys track and field team during the Division I, district 2 meet that concluded May 19 at Hilliard Darby, and that's exactly the dynamic coach Dave Spring wants.
Returning home for the regional meet was exactly what everybody wanted, and both the boys and girls teams brought plenty of momentum into the season's second-to-last week.
The boys distance runners scored 44 points to the sprinters' 37, and North had 90 points in all to finish second behind OCC-Ohio Division rival Gahanna (109) as 16 teams scored.
The girls racked up 109 points to win the district 3 meet that ended May 19 at Darby ahead of runner-up Olentangy Liberty (103) as 14 teams scored. Sprinters were responsible for 66 of the Panthers' points and two of their four wins.
The regional meet began May 23 and concludes Friday, May 25, at North.
"The sprinters are scoring their points and the distance guys are scoring their points," Spring said. "They'll go back and forth. The sprinters will throw down 10 points in a relay and the distance guys will come back and get 10 points. It's a good-natured rivalry.
"Track is such an interesting sport in that you have your cross country-type guys and your football guys and when you can get those groups of guys to jell into a team, that's when it's a lot of fun. They've done a pretty good job of jelling this year."
The boys team got wins from Tyrik Carter in the 110-meter hurdles (14.69) and Matt Duvall in the 3,200 (9:34.9) as the top four finishers in each event advanced at regional. Finishing second were Ashwin Briggs in the 800 (1:53.91) and 1,600 (4:17.94), Kavaughn Robinson in the 100 (11.14) and the 400 relay (42.68).
The 1,600 relay placed third (3:24.65), and Robinson was fourth in the 400 (22.75), a finish he said was better than he expected.
"Breaking (under 11) seconds (in the 100) a few times this year is a big bonus for me, a huge boost in confidence," said Robinson, who will play football at Thomas More College. "I got better out of my blocks and since that's happened, my time has dropped considerably."
The girls team benefited from finishing first and second in two events. Alicia Donley was first (57.79) and Nia Grant second (58.66) in the 400, and Jessie Kinder (9 feet, 8 inches) and Avery Hart (9-4) took the top two spots in the pole vault.
Mayson Bates won the high jump (5-2), and the 800 relay finished first (1:42.05).
Other regional qualifiers were Celeste Pierce in the 100 (second, 12.46), the 400 relay (second, 48.6), the 1,600 relay (second, 4:02.07), Amara Okpalaoka in the long jump (third, 16-8 3/4), Brenna Burke in the 100 hurdles (fourth, 15.74) and Jemeila Hunter in the 200 (fourth, 26.16).
At regional, the top four finishers in each event advance to state June 1 and 2 at Ohio State.
"We've improved every meet," Carter said. "We just go."
Volleyball team edges Golden Bears
The boys volleyball team took on host and top-seeded Darby in a Division I East Region semifinal May 22, hoping to continue a strong second half of the season and move toward their second regional championship in three years.
Seeded 10th in the region, North defeated 11th-seeded Upper Arlington 18-25, 29-27, 27-25, 25-22 in a second-round match May 19. The Panthers improved to 14-11 with the win, their seventh in eight matches dating to May 3.
The semifinal winner plays third-seeded Hilliard Davidson or fifth-seeded Dublin Jerome in a regional final Friday, May 25, at Westerville Central. The regional champion will advance to a state quarterfinal June 2 at Capital.
North lost two OCC-Ohio matches to Davidson during the regular season, falling 25-22, 25-23, 25-16 on April 10 and 21-25, 25-15, 26-24, 25-15 on May 1.
Schroeder loses at district in tennis
Grant Schroeder of the boys tennis team played only one match in the Division I district tournament May 17 at Hilliard Bradley, but the senior enjoyed his experience despite losing to Westerville South's Raphael Guilhem 1-6, 7-6, 6-3.
"I didn't have much information on him. I just went out there and gave it my all," said Schroeder, who reached district for the first time. "In the first set, things went my way, but he really battled back and I had a tough time in the tiebreak. It was a very even match, very competitive.
"This was the best of the best, all the great players in the area. This was a tremendous atmosphere."
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26, at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
Schroeder was the only district qualifier for North, which went 8-7 overall this season and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio to share the league championship with Gahanna and Pickerington Central, ahead of Lancaster (2-3), Grove City (1-4) and Reynoldsburg (0-5).
Schroeder placed fourth in a sectional that concluded May 12 at Central. The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to district.
More than half of the roster is eligible to return, including juniors Balakrishna Brahmandam and Theo Miller and freshmen Ethan Reece and Ben Starrett.
Baseball team showed resilience
Despite his team's season ending in a Division I district semifinal, baseball coach Tim Thomas called this the season "we got back on track" as the Panthers went 16-11 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Ohio.
That was an eight-win improvement from 2017, when North went 8-16 a year removed from winning the state championship.
"Our players worked really hard to be able to compete in our tough (league)," Thomas said. "The team chemistry was outstanding and we couldn't have had a better group of kids to coach. We learned to compete on all levels. (I am) very proud of this team as we got better and better with that as the year went along."
North played its best late in the season, reeling off a six-game winning streak that included two tournament victories. Seeded 19th in the 48-team district tournament, the Panthers defeated 33rd-seeded Chillicothe 3-0 in the first round May 7 and 13th-seeded Canal Winchester 3-2 in a second-round game May 9 before losing to ninth-seeded Olentangy 4-2 in a district semifinal May 14 at Darby.
Included in the streak were walk-off wins over Gahanna (3-2 on April 27), Central (1-0 in eight innings on April 28) and Hartley (6-5 on May 3).
Senior Mitchell Smith (P/INF) led the Panthers in batting average (.345), hits (29), home runs (3) and RBI (14) and went 3-2 on the mound with a 1.60 ERA, 16 walks and 53 strikeouts in 48 innings and was named first-team all-league and all-district.
Junior pitcher Brock Vinci was 4-1 with a 1.00 ERA, 17 walks and 31 strikeouts in 42 innings.
North tied Grove City for third in the OCC-Ohio, behind co-champions Central and Lancaster (10-5) and ahead of Gahanna (8-7) and Reynoldsburg (0-15).
Vinci and junior catcher Luke Wilcox (.254, 10 hits, 9 RBI, 1 home run) were second-team all-league, and Vinci was honorable mention all-district.
Senior outfielder Jaret Wilcox (.280, 21 hits) was special mention all-league and junior outfielder Cam Jenkins (.256, 20 hits) was honorable mention all-league.
Seniors Matt Sciacca (P/OF) and Thomas Town-send (INF) will play at Concordia and Muskingum, respectively.
Girls lacrosse team experienced growth
A season of vast improvement for the girls lacrosse team came to an end May 15 when the Panthers, seeded eighth in the 17-team Division I, Region 3 tournament, lost to 11th-seeded Centerville in a second-round game.
North finished 10-7 overall, six wins better than 2017, and 3-3 in the OCC-Central.
"It was a step in the right direction. We played as a team, worked together, supported each other and learned from our mistakes," coach Christine Miller said.
"We worked on putting many players in places that will help us next year to be even stronger. Our defense was awesome and we improved offensively as well, especially on our transitions. Our goalies were fantastic and really helped to build our confidence."
According to Miller, freshman goalkeeper Erin Boder stopped 59 percent of the shots she faced.
Miller pointed to a three-game winning streak late in the season against Bexley (10-7 on April 27), Wellington (11-7 on May 1) and Central (10-8 on May 4) as the highlight of the season.
"Those were three really big wins for us," Miller said. "Our defensive team of (senior) Maddy Radanof, (sophomore) Mariel Wilkerson (and juniors) Rylee Jarvis and Sarah Pinkerton were as solid as a rock. Maddy had several interceptions that started offensive scoring opportunities and the defense stood strong against some really good opponents."
Senior attacker Sydnee Saksa is a Lincoln Memorial recruit.
Others eligible to return include junior Sophie Zimmerman and sophomore Elise Drager, both of whom play attacker and midfielder.
The Panthers finished fourth in the OCC-Central, behind UA (6-0), Dublin Coffman (5-1) and Gahanna (4-2) and ahead of Central (2-4), Davidson (1-5) and Marysville (0-6).
Most softball starters expected back
Softball coach Sarah Looker expects to return seven starters from a team that went 12-12 overall and reached a Division I district semifinal for the first time since 2015, losing to third-seeded Lancaster 10-2 on May 14 in the Panthers' home complex.
North won four of five games before losing to Lancaster, including a 12-0 rout of Grove City on May 2 and two tournament wins, 11-1 in five innings over 29th-seeded Whetstone in a first-round home game May 7 and 6-3 at 14th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley in the second round May 9.
The Panthers were seeded 24th of 46 teams.
"Our team effort the last half of the regular season improved dramatically," Looker said.
"Run-ruling Grove City ... helped with momentum going into (the tournament). After being seeded 24th (and) making a run to a district semifinal and finishing 12-12, our girls are very proud of what they accomplished."
Starters expected to return are juniors Gina Carlini (utility) and Casey Madison (P/SS) and sophomores Carley Auten (INF), Mackenzie Blazek (OF), Emma Dean (OF), Megan Ebbrecht (SS/OF) and Morgan Ebb-recht (OF/P).
North went 1-9 in the OCC-Ohio to place sixth, behind Lancaster (8-2), Central (7-3), Gahanna and Grove City (both 5-5) and Reynoldsburg (4-6).
Boys lacrosse team ousted by UA
The boys lacrosse team's season came to an end May 18 with a 10-0 loss at top-seeded UA in a Division I, Region 1 quarterfinal.
Keaton Trout scored and goalie Hayden Drennen made 18 saves for the 10th-seeded Panthers, who finished 8-9. North advanced with a 13-12 win over 11th-seeded Beavercreek in a second-round game May 15.