Brayden Durbin spent the past five years honing his soccer skills at Crew SC Academy, hoping to eventually play at a high level in college.
Having committed to Ohio State on June 13, Durbin could accomplish another long-term and more personal goal -- playing his senior season at Pickerington High School North.
Durbin has made an immediate impact on the Panthers, who will begin pursuit of their third consecutive OCC-Ohio Division championship Thursday, Sept. 13, at home against Pickerington Central. Thanks in part to his longtime friendships with several Panthers, some of whom he played with on youth teams, Durbin has fit in seamlessly.
He had five goals through seven games, tied for second on the team with Luke Kenyon behind Will Harr's 11, to help North to a 6-1 record before playing Watkins Memorial on Sept. 11.
"They brought me in like family. They didn't care that I hadn't been here," said Durbin, a midfielder. "My first goal was getting to commit and that had a big impact on me getting to come back. (Not committing) probably would have changed things a little bit, but not really. I had my mind set on playing here senior year."
Harr, who has his sights set on the program's single-season scoring record of 19 goals set in 2014 by his older brother, 2016 North graduate Jake Harr, said Durbin's presence has only served to make things easier on the entire offense despite switching from a 3-5-2 formation to a 4-3-3. Will Harr had a team-high 18 goals last year as a junior.
"Last year was pretty easy and this year it's easier because we have Brayden," said Harr, who played on youth teams with Durbin. "It's like he never left. It's been amazing. We don't even have to say things sometimes. It just happens.
"We switched formations, but (playing) a one-striker formation isn't that much different when you have Brayden."
Reece Allbaugh, who scored 12 goals as a freshman and 10 last year as a sophomore, has moved from forward into a defensive midfielder role.
"It's worked better with me being a center defensive mid because it allows us to play dynamically together," Allbaugh said. "We have a good forward cast anyway, so with me being a center defensive mid, we play a lot better together.
"The biggest difference (for me) is not pushing up all the time. I can't get caught up playing forward a lot. I have to be there for the defense. The hardest thing is making sure there is no gap between me and the defender."
Fourteen players had scored at least one goal through seven games, a stretch in which North averaged 5.1 goals per game. After being shut out 2-0 in their season opener Aug. 17 at St. Charles, North exploded offensively in wins over Logan (11-1 on Aug. 23) and Westerville North (10-0 on Aug. 30).
"When we are passing well, passing the ball around, it's very nice," coach Darrin Monhollen said.
"We're trying to maximize the amount of time we're actually doing that on the field. We've been good with possession overall. When we're impatient, that's where we make mistakes. But if we're moving the ball around, we can be exceptional."
North leads the all-time series with Central 8-2-2. The Panthers defeated the Tigers 5-0 last year.
"It's a long season, but we're off to a good start," Monhollen said. "We have a nice stretch of games coming up and hopefully we can start checking some goals off the list."
Girls tennis team wins league title
The girls tennis team had to wait four extra days, but the Panthers clinched their second outright OCC-Ohio championship in three years.
North finished a 5-0 run through the league with a 5-0 win at Grove City on Sept. 10. The match originally was scheduled for Sept. 6 but was postponed because Grove City was playing host to a football game that night.
The Panthers did not lose a court in league play. North was 10-1 overall before playing Columbus School for Girls on Sept. 12.
Central, which has won the OCC-Ohio nine of the past 10 years, finished league play at 4-1.
The Panthers clinched at least a share of the championship with a 5-0 win over Reynoldsburg on Sept. 4. They lost their first match of the season Sept. 8, falling to Mason 4-1 at Lakewood Tennis Club in Lexington.
The match originally had been scheduled to be played at North but was moved indoors because of bad weather.
North, which was ranked third in the state in Division I last week by OhioTennisZone.com, also advanced in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association district tournament with a 4-1 win over visiting New Albany on Sept. 5. The Panthers will visit Mount Vernon or Olentangy Liberty in a district semifinal on a date to be determined.
Girls soccer team set for league opener
The girls soccer team begins defense of its OCC-Ohio championship Thursday, Sept. 13, when it plays host to Central in the first half of a girls-boys doubleheader.
The girls game is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.
Before playing Hilliard Davidson on Sept. 11, North was 5-0 on the season and 25-1-1 in its previous 27 regular-season games dating to the 2016 season.
The Panthers are 10-1 all-time against the Tigers, including a 7-0 win last year. North has outscored Central 17-0 in their previous three meetings since a 4-3 loss to the Tigers in 2014.
North defeated Canal Winchester 2-1 on Sept. 4 in a rematch of a Division I district final last year that the Panthers won by the same score. A scheduled Sept. 8 game against Mason was postponed because of bad weather.
Below are the coming schedules for the North cross country, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 15 -- Boys: Central Ohio Invitational at Three Creeks Metro Park; Girls: Milford Invitational
Sept. 13 -- Pickerington Central at Turnberry
Sept. 17 -- Upper Arlington at Turnberry
*Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Mason
*Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
Sept. 15 -- Watterson at Otterbein
Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Westerville Central
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
Sept. 19 -- At Olentangy Orange
*Sept. 13 -- At Lancaster
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Big Walnut, Dayton Thurgood Marshall and Granville
*Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg