Whether the Pickerington High School Central boys golf team can get over the hump not only in the OCC-Ohio Division but also in its quest to make the Division I district tournament for the first time since 2010 might come down to the combination of senior Trey Blalock and sophomore Blake Bennett.
"When they're on, they can compete with anybody in central Ohio and that will only help us as a team," 14th-year coach Chris Cores said. "But this team is going to be competitive. Trey has been through the ringer. He went through some rebuilding with us when he was a freshman, and now he's a veteran trying to hold off the younger guys."
That came to fruition Aug. 7 during the first round of the OCC-Ohio tournament at Darby Creek. Bennett and Blalock each shot rounds of 74 as Central shot a 312 to place second behind Gahanna (300) and ahead of Pickerington North (324), Grove City (326), Lancaster (338) and Reynoldsburg (370).
Blalock missed the season-opening Thomas Worthington Preview on Aug. 4 at Delaware Golf Club for personal reasons, but in his absence, Bennett shot a 74 as Central placed 12th (334) of 15 teams, behind champion Wellington (297).
Bennett's composure only strengthened Cores' confidence in him.
"He had a triple-bogey early, but he didn't let it bother him," Cores said. "He's played a lot of golf and he knows he can get things right again. He ended up having three birdies. That's the kind of attitude you have to have."
Central returns all but one golfer from a year ago, when it went 12-8 in the four-round OCC-Ohio tournament to finish fourth behind Gahanna (17-3) and placed fifth in a sectional on its home course, Turnberry, one spot shy of a district berth.
The Tigers' other returnees are sophomores Aiden Allen and Jaden Thompson.
Rounding out the roster are junior Cooper Martell, sophomore Jonathan Fries and freshmen Cole Crandall and Carter Woodward.
Crandall shot an 81 in the first round of the league tournament, ahead of Thompson (83) and Woodward (89).
"Our lineup is eight deep. There will be more juggling than we've had in the past," Cores said. "I expect a lot of competition from the freshmen coming in. We've already had some battles early. They can play solid golf. Some of them had very good summers, and they play a lot. I expect them to compete.
"We're really excited. They're going to get plenty of competition (early in the season). I hope(d) to have everything solidified by the time school started (Aug. 15). We ramped up the schedule with some big tournaments because we think the guys can handle it and we can hold our own."
Central again placed second in the second round of the league tournament Aug. 13 at Apple Valley, shooting a 314 behind Gahanna (311) and ahead of North (322), Grove City (326), Lancaster (335) and Reynoldsburg (361).
Veterans to guide girls tennis team
Girls tennis coach Kelli Rings is no stranger to having most of her roster return, but one thing she is not necessarily used to is not having a clear star player.
That is the case this year for the Tigers, who open Thursday, Aug. 16, at home against Westerville Central. All but two players are back from a year ago, when Central won its final 11 matches and finished 22-2 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio to win its ninth league championship in 10 years, ahead of runner-up North (4-1).
"We'll be strong all the way down the lineup because of the caliber of girls," said Rings, who is in her 20th season. "We don't have that horse at the top like we've had in some years. We have seven solid girls. I'd rather have seven solid girls than one star player and then a big falloff. There is a lot of talent, and I expect a lot of competition."
Senior Rachel Terbovich and sophomore Semmie Moore will play first and second singles in some order, ahead of a group that includes senior Sophie Culver, junior Ashleigh Gilligan and freshman Khandice Thomas. Each of them is in contention for third singles, and whoever does not fill that spot on a given day will have a chance to play first doubles, likely with junior Talia DiLello.
"Thomas is a hard worker with good talent," Rings said. "She's definitely in the varsity mix. I've been hearing about her for a while now."
Moore, Stang and Terbovich all were Division I district qualifiers last year in doubles. Both doubles teams -- Terbovich was paired with 2018 graduate Margaret Gordon -- fell one win short of the state tournament.
"It's been nice before the season not going through growing pains," Rings said. "These girls have worked all year and (improved) their games. They stayed active, and that's extremely important."
Rounding out the roster are senior Liz Vega, junior Emily Wurster and sophomore Ella Culver.
Central begins OCC-Ohio play Aug. 23 at North. The Panthers won the league title in 2016 and during that season handed the Tigers their only league loss in the past decade.
Gabel helping lead girls golfers
Junior Miriah Gabel began the season in the top spot for the girls golf team, as one of two upperclassmen on the six-person roster.
Gabel shot an 88 in the first round of the four-round OCC-Ohio tournament Aug. 8 at Cooks Creek to lead the Tigers, who shot a 402 in their season opener to place third behind North (342) and Gahanna (344) and ahead of Grove City (407), Big Walnut (411) and Lancaster (596).
Junior Leah Childers shot a 101, followed by sophomore Riley Stewart (105) and freshman Ella Drake (108).
The second round was Aug. 15 at Mentel Memorial.
"The girls are a little but rusty, but I'm excited," second-year coach Alecia Larsen said. "I'm sure they were a little bit nervous and those nerves came out. This is a very, very talented group. They're better than those scores showed. We saw some 90s from them in tryouts, so we know that talent is in there. They will surprise people this season. They're a cohesive group and they're driven.
"Miriah has set some high expectations for herself. She's at her best when she's steady and we trust her to come through with solid scores. Everybody looks up to her."
Rounding out the roster are freshmen Audrey Roberts and Jenna Saythongphet.
Central went 5-13 in the league last year, finishing fourth behind co-champions Gahanna and North (both 16-2).
Aug. 4 -- Thomas Worthington Preview at Delaware Golf Club
Aug. 6 -- Pickerington Central Invitational at Turnberry
Aug. 7 -- OCC-Ohio at Darby Creek
Aug. 8 -- Westerville Central Invitational at Rattlesnake Ridge
Aug. 10 -- Mount Vernon Invitational at Chapel Hill
Aug. 11 -- Steve Youmans Classic at Oakhaven
Aug. 13 -- OCC-Ohio at Apple Valley
Aug. 14 -- Dublin Classic at Golf Club of Dublin
Aug. 18 -- Watkins Memorial Invitational at Cumberland Trail
Aug. 21 -- Lancaster at Lancaster Country Club
Aug. 28 -- OCC-Ohio at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 4 -- Lancaster Invitational at Lancaster Country Club
Sept. 8 -- St. Charles Invitational at Brookside
Sept. 12 -- OCC-Ohio at Turnberry
Sept. 15 -- Rodney Butt Classic at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 22 -- Worthington Kilbourne Invitational at Worthington Hills
Sept. 24 -- OCC Shootout at Moundbuilders
Sept. 25 -- Grove City and Olentangy Berlin at Pinnacle
Sept. 27 -- Pickerington Cup at Pine Hill
Sept. 29 -- Pickerington Central Fall Invitational at Turnberry
Aug. 8 -- OCC-Ohio at Cooks Creek
Aug. 10 -- Panther Invitational at Turnberry
Aug. 13 -- Lancaster at Turnberry
Aug. 15 -- OCC-Ohio at Mentel Memorial
Aug. 20 -- Lakewood at Turnberry
Aug. 21 -- Granville and Lakewood at Denison Golf Club
Aug. 23 -- Newark Catholic at Links at Echo Springs
Aug. 27 -- Marysville at Turnberry
Aug. 29 -- OCC-Ohio at Westchester
Sept. 4 -- Marysville at Darby Creek
Sept. 5 -- Big Walnut and Pickerington North at Royal American
Sept. 8 -- Eagle-Panther Invitational at TBD
Sept. 10 -- Granville at Turnberry
Sept. 12 -- OCC-Ohio at Royal American
Sept. 13 -- Pickerington North at Turnberry
Sept. 17 -- Lakewood at Harbor Hills
Sept. 18 -- Canal Winchester at Turnberry
Sept. 20 -- Lancaster at Valley View
Sept. 22 -- Marysville Invitational at Darby Creek
Sept. 24 -- Big Walnut and Watterson at Turnberry
Sept. 25 -- Gahanna, Granville and Worthington Kilbourne at TBD
Oct. 6 -- Pickerington North Fall Classic at Cooks Creek
Aug. 16 -- vs. Westerville Central
Aug. 17 -- vs. Toledo St. Ursula
Aug. 18 -- Pickerington Central Invitational
Aug. 21 -- at New Albany
*Aug. 23 -- at Pickerington North
Aug. 25 -- vs. Springboro
*Aug. 28 -- vs. Lancaster
*Aug. 30 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 4 -- vs. Grove City
Sept. 5 -- vs. Watterson
*Sept. 6 -- at Gahanna
Sept. 11 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley
Sept. 13 -- vs. Granville
Sept. 18 -- at Olentangy Orange
Sept. 20 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
Sept. 25 -- at Olentangy
Sept. 26 -- at Columbus School for Girls
Sept. 27 -- vs. Bexley
Oct. 1 -- vs. Upper Arlington
Oct. 2 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson
Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 21 -- At Granville
Aug. 17 -- At Bexley
Aug. 21 -- Home vs. Delaware
Aug. 21 -- Home vs. Groveport