The Pickerington High School North boys cross country team returns home Saturday, Oct. 27, for the Division I regional meet after winning its second consecutive district championship.
While defending that title was "very high" on the Panthers' list of goals, according to senior Jake Prestileo, coach Tim Starkey said that was secondary on his mind Oct. 20 at Hilliard Darby to what had happened the week before, when North finished third in a tightly contested OCC-Ohio Division meet at Lancaster.
"(The league meet) left a bitter taste in our mouth," Starkey said. "That put a fire in the guys."
Matt Duvall won his first district championship in 15 minutes, 34.7 seconds, Harper Moore placed third (16:15.5) and Prestileo was 10th (16:46.9) to lead the Panthers, who scored 55 points in the district 3 race to finish first, ahead of runner-up Olentangy Liberty (84) as 21 teams scored.
Also scoring were Spencer Moledor (18th, 17:10.3) and Aaron Moraine (23rd, 17:17.8) on a cool day when the wind gusted as high as 45 mph.
The top six teams and top 24 individuals advance to regional.
"They took it to Liberty and that's exactly what we wanted to do," Starkey said. "Matt ran by himself the whole time in that wind. Jake really came through with his performance and so did Aaron Moraine just with their placements. This was a strong man's race. It was about who was the strongest, not necessarily the fastest."
Duvall defeated runner-up Aidan Harr of New Philadelphia by 21.2 seconds.
"I thought I could go 15:10 or less, but once I saw this wind, I still had high hopes. But it's tough when that wind is blowing up against you," Duvall said. "Most of the time, the wind was right in our faces, especially at the start. It would just hit you coming around a corner. During the finish, it definitely helped, but it was a big factor all the way around."
Prestileo said he felt as good at the district meet as he has in a few weeks because of illness.
"It felt great to get back into things this way," Prestileo said. "Everybody had to deal with the conditions to get through this. But a district championship feels very good. That's what we were hoping for. It's been a huge goal of ours the whole year. Everything now is just about place.
"It's great to show what North is really capable of."
The boys team will be joined at regional by girls runner Emma Rittman.
Rittman finished 13th (20:03) in the district 1 meet to earn an individual regional berth as the top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced.
North placed sixth (135) behind champion Thomas Worthington (36) as 15 teams scored.
Also scoring for the Panthers were Emily Harness (24th, 21:01.3), Brianna Gilmore (25th, 21:11.5), Allie Westall (34th, 21:43.4) and Ryona Gilmore (39th, 21:55.3).
At regional, the top five runners and top 20 individuals advance to the state meet Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway.
Despite its somewhat flat layout, Starkey said North's course presents different challenges than Darby.
"Our course is deceptively hard," Starkey said. "Our course runs maybe 30 seconds slower (than Darby) because of the inclines and hills, especially in the back."
Alcala falls in first round at state
Little fell Cassie Alcala's way during what turned out to be the junior's only match in the Division I state girls tennis tournament.
Alcala, who was state runner-up last year, lost to North Canton Hoover's Lauren Utterback 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in the first round Oct. 19 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason to finish the season at 24-2.
"(Utterback) really played the match of her life. We knew she was a good player, but she had her 'A' game and Cassie probably had her 'C+' game, so it was the perfect storm," coach Brian Hoff said. "(Utterback) got everything back. It was frustrating. Balls that Cassie hits that are winners against 99 percent of her opponents, she was getting everything back."
Alcala's only other loss this season was to Liberty's Maddie Atway, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Sept. 19. Atway and teammate Dani Schoenly repeated as Division I state doubles champions last weekend.
Alcala, a three-time state qualifier, was a sectional and district champion for the second consecutive year.
North went 16-3 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio to win its second league championship in three years. The Panthers are losing only one senior in Anna Stanley.
While North's lineup often was flexible behind Alcala, four district qualifiers are eligible to return in juniors Kim Anderson, Maggie Haas and Sophia Anderson and sophomore Corrina Moesle. All played doubles.
Junior Rhyan Cook usually played second singles and fell one win short of qualifying for district.
Volleyball team advances in tourney
Emma Perry had 12 kills and Lindsey Maziarz had seven to help the 19th-seeded girls volleyball team beat host and 18th-seeded Logan 25-16, 25-16, 25-22 in the second round of the Division I district tournament Oct. 18.
North, which improved to 12-11, played fifth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in a district semifinal Oct. 24 at Franklin Heights. The winner plays second-seeded Dublin Coffman or 21st-seeded Newark in a district final Saturday, Oct. 27, at Franklin Heights.
The district champion advances to a regional semifinal Nov. 1.
The Panthers lost to Coffman 25-13, 25-20, 25-14 on Aug. 23.
Girls soccer team wins tourney opener
Alicia Donley scored two goals and Claire Combs scored one Oct. 18 as the second-seeded girls soccer team beat visiting and 18th-seeded Dublin Scioto 3-0 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Goalkeeper Grace Kenyon made three saves as North improved to 12-1-3 and advanced to a district semifinal Oct. 23 at home against 17th-seeded Pickerington Central.
The winner plays eighth-seeded New Albany or 15th-seeded Westerville Central in a district final Saturday, Oct. 27, at a neutral site.
The district champion faces Coffman, Hilliard Davidson, Olentangy or Olentangy Orange in a regional semifinal Tuesday, Oct. 30, at a neutral site. The regional final is Nov. 3.
North tied New Albany at 1 on Sept. 27 and defeated Davidson 5-2 on Sept. 11 and Olentangy 2-0 on Oct. 4.
Boys soccer team edges Cavaliers
The boys soccer team entered the week needing two wins to capture the first district championship in program history.
Fourth-seeded North began the Division I district tournament Oct. 20 with a 3-2 win over visiting and 29th-seeded Chillicothe in a second-round game. Will Harr scored two goals and Reece Allbaugh scored one.
The Panthers were 16-1 before playing host to 19th-seeded Grove City in a district semifinal Oct. 24. The winner plays sixth-seeded Olentangy or 21st-seeded Thomas in a district final Saturday, Oct. 27, at a neutral site.
The district champion faces Darby, Hilliard Bradley, Liberty or Westerville Central in a regional semifinal Wednesday, Oct. 31, at a neutral site. The regional final is Nov. 3.
North defeated Thomas 4-1 on Sept. 6.