Alecia Larsen is confident this year's Pickerington High School Central girls golf team will be remembered, and the Tigers still have at least three weeks left in the season.
Already this year, Central has set post-split program records for best nine-hole (176) and 18-hole (359) teams scores, and was in the top half of the OCC-Ohio Division standings entering the fourth and final round of the league tournament Sept. 12 at Royal American.
Perhaps most exciting for Larsen, who is in her second season as coach, is that she has no seniors on her roster and scores have dropped considerably since the start of the season.
Central shot a 402 in the first round of the league tournament Aug. 8 at Cooks Creek, a score it trimmed by 36 shots for the second round a week later at Mentel Memorial.
"We've seen success and jelled as a team and that's great for a coach to see," Larsen said. "We're about on pace. They're a young team -- two sophomores (Leah Childers and Riley Stewart) and one junior (Miriah Gabel) are consistently in the top five. They've taken time to learn the ropes. I've told them that I'm here to coach and tell them what they need to do, but ultimately how they do is up to them."
The Tigers shot a 176 in a nine-hole quad Aug. 23 at Denison Golf Club that also included Columbus School for Girls, Granville and Worthington Kilbourne. Gabel shot a 40 to lead the team, but was closely followed by Stewart (43), Childers (44) and Ella Drake (49).
Six days later in the third round of the league tournament, Central's 359 became the team's best 18-hole score since the school district split in 2003. Gabel shot an 82 as the Tigers finished fourth behind Pickerington North (338), Gahanna (340) and Grove City (353) and ahead of Big Walnut (404) and Lancaster (472).
Central was 8-7 through three rounds of the OCC-Ohio tournament, behind North (15-0) and Gahanna (12-3) and ahead of Grove City (7-8), Big Walnut (3-12) and Lancaster (0-15).
"We've really created a bond. We rely on each other a lot and we trust each other," Stewart said. "My short game has been the key for me. I'm making my putts and I've improved my accuracy."
Although Childers, Drake, Jenna Saythongphet and Stewart have moved around in the second to fifth positions, Gabel has been the team's clear No. 1 all season.
"She'll have a breakthrough soon," Larsen said. "She's helping the team understand what it means to compete. She's learning how to score and get the ball in the hole. I sense some low rounds coming from her soon, (maybe) in the 70s. She's picking up more of the subtleties of the game."
Beginning with a Thursday, Sept. 13, dual against North at Turnberry, Central has five scheduled nine-hole matches and two 18-hole tournaments leading up to a Division I sectional tournament Oct. 2. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 9 at Cooks Creek.
Even if the Tigers do not make district as a team, they'll still have two tournaments in October, as the Pickerington North Fall Classic will be played Oct. 6 at Cooks Creek.
"Our goal is 350 or under (for 18 holes) now," Stewart said. "We used to think 370 was a good team score and then we shot 359. We're already 50 strokes better than we were last year. I don't think it will take that much for us to drop 10 more strokes now."
Girls tennis team's lineup stabilizing
After what coach Kelli Rings called an uncharacteristically rough start, the girls tennis team righted itself and brought a six-match winning streak into the week.
Central was 7-3 overall before playing Hilliard Bradley on Sept. 11 and finished 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio following a 5-0 win at Gahanna on Sept. 6. The Tigers' early losses were to Perrysburg (5-0 on Aug. 17), New Albany (3-2 on Aug. 21) and North (5-0 on Aug. 23), and although North was ranked third in the state and Perrysburg 11th by OhioTennisZone.com last week, Rings did not use their success as an excuse.
"We definitely had a tough schedule early, but I am not sure we stepped up to the plate enough," Rings said. "We could have beaten New Albany and we could have beaten North. We just get didn't the shots we needed at the right time to really turn (those matches) in our favor. But we've worked on that and things have gotten better."
Central rebounded from those losses to beat Springboro (3-2 on Aug. 25), Lancaster (5-0 on Aug. 28), Watterson (5-0 on Aug. 29), Reynoldsburg (5-0 on Aug. 30), Grove City (4-1 on Sept. 4) and Gahanna.
The lineup largely has been stable. Rachel Terbovich and Semmie Moore have played first and second singles all season, Ashleigh Gilligan has played third singles in all but the first few matches -- when Khandice Thomas assumed that role -- while Ella Culver and Sophie Culver have taken over first doubles with Talia DiLello and Thomas at second doubles.
Rings said that although she has not determined her postseason lineup, which will need to be finalized by the sectional tournament draw Sept. 23, she is thinking of keeping it as is, something she has not usually done in recent years. Usually, she moves her top singles players to doubles for the postseason.
"I might do some moving around. I am not sure yet," Rings said. "Ashleigh has been a good fit at singles and Khandice is getting more confident in herself. She's learning more about doubles. Ella and Sophie have been a good pair. Ella is a little more aggressive toward the net and Sophie is more laid back. Sometimes it's tougher to play with your sibling, but if they have a disagreement, they get past it."
Girls volleyball team out to hot start
Although a 22-25, 24-26, 25-11, 25-20, 15-13 loss at North on Sept. 4 ended the girls volleyball team's 7-0 start, coach Eric Hughes is confident not only that the Tigers' strong play will continue, but also that a lineup that has been in flux will sort itself out.
"They've been resilient," Hughes said. "Having lost six seniors (from the 2017 team), we've moved girls around in the lineup. It's been competitive and they never quit. We were down two sets against New Albany and found a way to win (25-27, 22-25, 25-16, 25-11, 17-15 on Aug. 30). Even against North, we played well for most of the match."
Central is 8-1 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio entering a Thursday, Sept. 13, match at Reynoldsburg. The Tigers evened their league record with a 25-20, 25-20, 25-16 win over Lancaster on Sept. 6.
Most of the movement in the Tigers' lineup has come in the hitting spot, where Londyn Coles and Brittany Miller have alternated between middle hitter and outside hitter, and at libero, where Rachel Gordon and Sydney Moore have split time. Gordon also has been a back-row defender.
"We have benefited from having girls who can play a number of positions," Hughes said. "We've been able to move Makayla Estes between the front row and the back row. The thing with her is finding time for her to get some rest. If it were up to her, she'd never come off the floor."
The Tigers' match at Reynoldsburg is their only one in a two-week span. Their next contest is Sept. 20 at home against Grove City, the first of eight matches in a 10-day span.
"(The league schedule) is out of our control, but we really don't like it," Hughes said. "It's a period where we basically practice for two weeks in the middle of the season. Obviously, there are always things we can improve on, but the girls would rather be playing matches."
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 15 -- Otterbein Invitational
Sept. 15 -- Rodney Butt Classic at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 13 -- Pickerington North at Turnberry
Sept. 17 -- Lakewood at Harbor Hills
Sept. 18 -- Canal Winchester at Turnberry
Sept. 18 -- At Hilliard Davidson
*Sept. 13 -- At Pickerington North
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Logan
Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Granville
Sept. 18 -- At Olentangy Orange
*Sept. 13 -- At Reynoldsburg