Pickerington High School Central girls volleyball coach Eric Hughes is confident that his different approach to practices this season has worked, but he still recognizes the need to be flexible.
The day after a 26-24, 25-19, 18-25, 25-21 win over Pickerington North on Sept. 18, the Tigers attempted to incorporate mental and physical flow in their practice.
"All the drills we ran were geared toward that and then the next night, we didn't get into a flow for maybe a game-and-a-half or two games against Grove City," Hughes said of a 25-16, 25-19, 25-27, 25-23 loss to the Greyhounds on Sept. 20. "It just took us a long time to settle in; we just mentally couldn't get into a good flow. So the next Monday (Sept. 24), we made practice as choppy as we could get it. Choppy drills, individually and team-wise. We changed after 15 minutes no matter what girl got to participate in what drill. We wanted to force them to mentally prepare themselves."
Hoping to improve on two Division I district runner-up finishes in the past three years, Hughes and his coaching staff brainstormed a different approach during the offseason. Rather than concentrating on the coming opponent, Hughes said every practice is geared around a mindset.
"That mindset could be really high intensity followed by a day of low intensity, or it could be swing-oriented or oriented toward another skill," said Hughes, whose was 15-3 overall and 4-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Lancaster on Oct. 2. "Rather than preparing for a team, we're preparing for a skill and worrying more about ourselves. It's focused more on them rather than an opponent we might have coming up.
"If we can prepare these girls to be the best they can be, we're going to take care of business."
Hughes and his staff plan practices a month at a time, paying attention to the match schedule mostly as a means of scheduling the practices themselves.
"Last year, we had a lot of great talent, so it was more about the physical aspect," senior setter Maddie Pletcher said. "We weren't happy with how we finished. We are playing more as a family. Everything we do revolves around that principle and good communication. Nobody does anything by themselves. I have no idea how many assists I have. (Outside hitter) Makayla (Estes) has no idea how many assists she's gotten. We are focused on being the best we can be. That's why we've had a lot more fun this season. We are just more focused."
Estes said the team's approach paid dividends during the second game of a 23-25, 25-21, 25-14, 25-21 win at Gahanna on Sept. 25. The Tigers trailed by seven points early before holding off the Lions and sweeping the final three games.
"We've done that in multiple (matches)," Estes said. "We can mentally come back. We have a lot of confidence. The communication has been huge and the mental aspect is so much better."
Central entered the week two matches behind first-place Grove City (6-0) in the OCC-Ohio. The Tigers visit the Greyhounds on Tuesday, Oct. 9, two days after the district tournament draw.
Central split a tri-match Sept. 29, losing to host Logan 25-17, 14-25, 25-19 and beating Dublin Scioto 25-22, 23-25, 25-17.
"We're putting ourselves in a very good position," Hughes said. "We think we know where the coaches in central Ohio see us. As long as the girls keep doing their part, that will pay off come tournament time."
Tennis team set for home sectional
Rachel Terbovich and Semmie Moore, who were the girls tennis team's top two singles players for most of the regular season, will lead Central into its home Division I sectional Thursday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 6.
Terbovich and Moore, who usually played first and second singles, respectively, will team up to play doubles in the postseason and are seeded third in the sectional. Teammates Ella Culver and Sophie Culver are seeded fourth in doubles.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to the district tournament Oct. 11 and 13 at Reynoldsburg.
The Tigers' singles lineup will consist of Talia DiLello, Ashleigh Gilligan and Khandice Thomas.
Central was 14-6 overall before wrapping up the regular season Oct. 2 at home against Hilliard Davidson. The Tigers went 3-0 last week, defeating Olentangy 3-2 on Sept. 25, Columbus School for Girls 4-1 on Sept. 26 and Bexley 4-0 on Sept. 27 but lost to Upper Arlington 4-1 on Oct. 1.
Boys soccer team ends winless drought
The boys soccer team ended a nine-game winless streak with a 2-0 win over host Fairbanks on Sept. 29.
Central, whose previous victory was a 1-0 decision over Big Walnut on Aug. 23 that improved it to 2-0 on the season, was 3-7-2 overall and 0-2-1 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Grove City on Oct. 2.
The Tigers lost 2-0 at Reynoldsburg on Sept. 25 as goalkeeper Garvin Osei-Frimpong made 15 saves.
The loss to the Raiders came after consecutive ties against Davidson (1-all on Sept. 18) and Lancaster (2-all on Sept. 20).
Golf teams hoped to extend season
The boys and girls golf teams competed in Division I sectionals Oct. 2, hoping to prolong their seasons into this week and beyond.
The boys team played in a sectional at their home course, Turnberry, from which the top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to the district tournament Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Apple Valley.
Central had not advanced to district as a team since 2010.
The girls were in a sectional at Mentel Memorial, where the top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 9 at Cooks Creek.
From both district tournaments, the top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advance to their respective state tournaments Oct. 19 and 20 at Ohio State.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 6 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington
Oct. 6 -- Pickerington North Fall Classic at Cooks Creek
Oct. 4 -- Home vs. Independence
*Oct. 9 -- At Gahanna
Oct. 4 -- Home vs. Newark
*Oct. 9 -- Home vs. Gahanna
*Oct. 4 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg. The Tigers defeated the Raiders 25-18, 25-23, 25-15 on Sept. 13.
*Oct. 9 -- At Grove City. The Tigers lost to the Greyhounds 25-16, 25-19, 25-27, 25-23 on Sept. 20.