Thrust into varsity play as a freshman, Pickerington High School North girls soccer player Avery Hart thought her senior year was an eternity away.
Once it arrived, Hart felt like it would never start as she was sidelined for the entire preseason and the regular-season opener because of a lacerated tendon in her left pinky finger. And then once she started playing, an injury to a teammate left Hart in a slightly unfamiliar role.
Now that the dust has settled, the forward is looking to help the Panthers make another deep postseason run as the Division I district tournament approaches.
Hart, a nine-time letterwinner between soccer, basketball and track and field, had eight goals and five assists through 13 games for North, which was 10-1-2 overall and 3-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Grove City on Oct. 9.
"Everything has gone by so fast," Hart said. "(As a freshman,) I never even thought senior year was going to come. It was going by so slow, school and everything, all my other sports, but I'm here in the blink of an eye. Last year at the end of soccer season, it kind of dawned on me that I was about to be a senior. I'm excited to see what the rest of the season brings."
Hart scored six goals as a freshman, when she started several games at forward in the absence of then-senior Ally Holter. Hart had a team-leading 17 goals as a sophomore when the Panthers lost to Springboro in a Division I state semifinal and nine last year when North lost in a regional semifinal for the second time in three years.
"She brings a lot of passion and a lot of energy. She's almost like a daughter. I'm around her a lot," coach Greg Van Kannel said. "Avery is passionate, hard-working and very unselfish. She brings a lot of energy, strength and athleticism to her game. She is fun to coach.
"When she stepped in as a freshman, we didn't lose a beat. She contributed several goals and became a big part of the program. She has been ever since."
North was without senior forward and University of Tennessee commit Alicia Donley for the first five games of this season because of two torn ligaments in her right foot. Hart remained a forward but moved into the middle, Makenna Greer went from defender to forward and Aleece Lukascko moved to forward from midfielder.
"Avery had to take the forwards more on her shoulders for a little while," midfielder Camryn Dees said. "She had to help the girls out who came up front (Greer and Lukacsko) and score on top of that."
Hart shrugged off any credit.
"I didn't necessarily have to do more, but I worked my hardest," she said. "We managed to make things work. We had to move a few girls around, but we still got the job done. Alicia coming back made our team even stronger."
Despite the time she missed, Donley had a team-high 10 goals through 13 games.
North finishes the regular season Thursday, Oct. 11, at home against Dublin Jerome.
The Panthers and Gahanna, who played to a 1-all tie on Sept. 20, both were 3-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio before Oct. 9. Gahanna wrapped up league play that night at Pickerington Central.
North earned the second seed in the 44-team Division I district tournament. The Panthers took a first-round bye and will play host to 18th-seeded Dublin Scioto or 40th-seeded Marion Harding in the second round Oct. 18.
"Our confidence is slowly building back up. We're getting everything together in time for the tournament," said Hart, who hopes to play in college and said she has talked to Capital University, among other schools. "Our communication is getting better across the entire team. We are starting to put things together from the defense through the midfield and into the forwards. The pieces are falling into place."
Boys soccer wins another league title
For the first time in program history, the boys soccer team has pulled off a three-peat.
North clinched the outright OCC-Ohio championship with a 3-1 win over Reynoldsburg on Oct. 2. The Panthers were 13-1 overall and 4-0 in the league before wrapping up OCC-Ohio play Oct. 9 at Grove City.
No other team in the OCC-Ohio had more than two league wins entering the week.
North extended its winning streak to 13 games with a 4-1 win over Hilliard Davidson on Oct. 4. Will Harr scored two goals for the second consecutive game to tie the program's all-time scoring mark set in 2014 by his older brother, 2016 graduate Jake Harr.
The Panthers, who finish the regular season Thursday, Oct. 11, at home against Westerville South, are seeded fourth in the 48-team Division I district tournament. They took a first-round bye and will play host to 29th-seeded Chillicothe or 39th-seeded Licking Heights in the second round Oct. 20.
Tennis team advances five to district
Cassie Alcala of the girls tennis team drew one round closer to competing in her third consecutive Division I state tournament, winning the singles championship in a sectional that concluded Oct. 6 at Reynoldsburg to lead five Panthers into district Thursday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 13, at the same complex.
Alcala went 5-0 at sectional, winning four matches by 6-0, 6-0 scores. The exception was a 6-3, 7-5 win over Jerome's Reagan Resor in a semifinal, before she shut out Jerome's Lalasa Nagireddy in the final.
The doubles teams of Sophia Anderson and Corrina Moesle and Maggie Haas and Kim Nguyen also advanced. Haas and Nguyen went 4-1 and finished second, losing to New Albany's Valentina DiLorenzo and Alexandra Vitellas 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the final, and Anderson and Moesle went 3-2 and finished fourth.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to district.
At district, the top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to state Oct. 19 and 20 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
North was 16-3 before its final scheduled dual of the season, Oct. 9 against Olentangy Orange.
Girls golfers advance to district
Freshman Kendall Burton came up big to help prolong the girls golf team's season Oct. 2 in a Division I sectional at Westchester, shooting an 88 to help North earn the third and final berth for the district tournament Oct. 9 at Cooks Creek.
Cassie Tasney's 78 led the Panthers to a team score of 345, third behind champion New Albany (302) as 11 teams scored. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district.
Olentangy Liberty (327) earned the other berth to district.
Also scoring for North were Caroline Kane (84) and Zhanner Davis (95). According to coach Nate Weibush, Davis was ill but still managed to put together about "10 to 12 solid holes" Oct. 2.
"She dug deep," Weibush said of Davis. "Kendall's score was big. She had some nice chips to gain herself some confidence and score well. Other than one bad hole, she set herself up nicely.
"We just needed to play our game to advance. New Albany was clearly the top team going in and we split our matches with Liberty (during the regular season). We gave ourselves a chance to keep our season going. That was exactly what we had to do."
At district, the top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state Oct. 19 and 20 at Ohio State's Gray Course.
Boys golf team returns to district
Danny Heitmeyer of the boys golf team insisted neither he nor his teammates did anything spectacular in a Division I sectional Oct. 2 at Turnberry, but rather were solid as the Panthers advanced to district.
Heitmeyer and Carson Bellish both had rounds of 76 to lead North to a team score of 311 and fourth place behind champion Liberty (303) as 13 teams scored.
The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 9 at Apple Valley.
Also scoring for the Panthers were Elijah Hale (78) and Tomasz Douangsy (81). Danny Corrigan shot an 84.
"I didn't really have too many highlights. It was more about just being consistent and making as many pars as possible and then I just grinded it out slowly," Heitmeyer said, adding that he made a 25-foot putt on No. 5 and that North felt it had to shoot 315 or better to advance.
"(Oct. 2) was good. We've shown we can put some solid scores together when we're kind of under pressure. We haven't always done that this year and we feel like we're getting it together now. It's good to make it out to Apple Valley."
OCC-Ohio rivals Gahanna (304) and Central (307) also advanced.
At district, the top two teams and top two individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state Oct. 19 and 20 at Ohio State's Scarlet Course.
Below are the coming schedules for the North cross country and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 13 -- OCC-Ohio meet at Lancaster
*Oct. 11 -- Home vs. Grove City. The Panthers lost to the Greyhounds 25-15, 25-21, 16-25, 22-25, 15-12 on Sept. 25.
Oct. 19 -- At 18th-seeded Logan or home vs. 25th-seeded Chillicothe in second round of Division I district tournament. The Panthers are seeded 19th.