His team had just achieved a first in program history, but Pickerington High School North boys soccer coach Darrin Monhollen was quick to say Oct. 27 that he hopes the Panthers' Division I district championship is not the highlight of their season.
"We're pleased to move on. A district championship is quite an accomplishment," Monhollen said. "That said, we're hoping to accomplish a great deal more."
Having lost their previous five district final appearances, the fourth-seeded Panthers dominated sixth-seeded Olentangy throughout a 2-0 win at Grandview. It was their 18th consecutive win after a season-opening 2-0 loss at St. Charles on Aug. 17.
Brayden Durbin put North ahead midway through in the first half off an assist from Will Harr, and Reece Allbaugh added an insurance goal on a 30-yard blast with 13 minutes, 51 seconds to play.
Goalkeeper Cory Pulles made four saves.
"Reece is so stinkin' fast and our guys respected his speed a lot to the point that we backpedaled a little bit too much and might have been afraid to attack him more," Olentangy coach Kyle Hamrick said. "We didn't want to get burned and that ended up burning us."
Allbaugh, a three-year starter and North's second-leading scorer through 19 games with 15 goals, said he considers his speed his best attribute.
"It helps me everywhere within the game, defensively and offensively," Allbaugh said. "It feels amazing. I'm just glad we could win it this time."
North played the final 20 minutes without one of its best players in senior forward Brayden Durbin, an Ohio State commit who had to sit out after receiving two yellow cards. That results in a red card, but Durbin was eligible to play in the Panthers' regional semifinal against Olentangy Liberty on Oct. 31 at Dublin Jerome because the red card came as a result of the two yellow cards and not a single action.
The latter scenario results in a two-game suspension.
"We overcame some adversity," Monhollen said. "It was nice to tack on that second goal."
North advanced to the district final by beating 19th-seeded Grove City 5-0 in a semifinal Oct. 24 at home. Harr scored three goals, increasing his season total and single-season program record to 27 through 19 games, and Noah Kenyon added the other two goals.
The North-Liberty winner plays Dublin Coffman or St. Charles in the regional final Saturday, Nov. 3, at a neutral site.
The regional champion faces Cincinnati Anderson, Cincinnati Moeller, Cincinnati St. Xavier or Cincinnati Turpin in a state semifinal Wednesday, Nov. 7. The state final is Nov. 10 at Mapfre Stadium.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence," Monhollen said. "I always say that the difference between pressure and stress is pressure is what you feel in the big moment and stress is what you feel when you're not prepared for the big moment. When we're in the big moment, I think you can see we're prepared.
"They showed a lot of grit. We're going to enjoy this one."
Boys runners returning to state
First, the boys cross country team overcame gusty winds to win the Division I, district 3 meet Oct. 20 at Hilliard Darby.
Once the Panthers returned home for the regional Oct. 27, several hours of rain that continued through the meet rendered their home course a mud pit in spots.
North ultimately overcame the latest challenge, finishing fifth of 16 teams with 165 points, behind champion Hilliard Davidson (95). The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to state Saturday, Nov. 3, at National Trail Raceway.
The Panthers are returning to state as a team for the second consecutive year.
Matt Duvall built on his individual district title by winning the regional in 15:34.7. Also scoring were Harper Moore (third, 16:15.5), Jake Prestileo (10th, 16:46.9), Spencer Moledor (18th, 17:10.3) and Aaron Moraine (23rd, 17:17.8).
"There were a few spots where it was incredibly muddy. You just had to try to stay away from that and in a few other spots, you had to know where to cut and all that kind of stuff," said Duvall, who finished 7.4 seconds ahead of runner-up Elliott Cook of Jerome. "(Oct. 27) was about whoever had the most guts. The mud takes a toll; it takes some of your momentum away. You just have to pick yourself back up."
This is the Panthers' fourth trip to state. They finished 16th in 2006, 15th in 2007 and ninth last year.
"We'd like to have been a touch higher as a team (at regional), but central Ohio is stacked. We're happy to get to race at state," coach Tim Starkey said. "This was a competitor's race, not a trackster's race. The conditions leveled the playing field a little bit in terms of speed, so that played to the stronger runners."
Girls runner Emma Rittman, a freshman, fell three spots short of state, finishing 23rd (19:53.8) of 133 runners at regional.
Girls soccer team hangs on for title
The girls soccer team won its fourth consecutive Division I district championship and sixth in seven years by improving its play against two opponents that gave it fits in the regular season.
The second-seeded Panthers routed 17th-seeded Pickerington Central 9-0 in a district semifinal Oct. 23 before edging eighth-seeded New Albany 2-1 in a district final Oct. 27 at Olentangy Orange.
North, which was 14-1-3 before playing Olentangy in a regional semifinal Oct. 30 at Jerome, beat the Tigers 2-0 on Sept. 13 and tied the Eagles at 1 on Sept. 27.
"We're always better at the end of the year than in the beginning. We think we've focused better and we're playing better overall," said midfielder Camryn Dees, who scored the winning goal against New Albany on a penalty kick with 11:49 left. "We expected a tough game. We expected them to score on us and expected ourselves to score on them. We just hoped to get the win out of it."
Morgan Dragich scored in the first half off an assist from Alicia Donley. New Albany's Lydia Cornelius tied the game on a penalty kick less than six minutes into the second half.
The North-Olentangy winner plays Jerome or Watterson in the regional final Saturday, Nov. 3, at a neutral site. The regional champion faces Beavercreek, Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame, Loveland or Mason in a state semifinal Tuesday, Nov. 6, at a neutral site. The state final is Nov. 9 at Mapfre Stadium.
The Panthers lost to Watterson 2-1 on Sept. 15, tied Jerome at 1 on Oct. 11 and had a Sept. 8 game against Mason canceled because of bad weather.
Coach Greg Van Kannel complimented his team's unselfish play in recent weeks.
"I liked our intensity. I liked our work. We finished well," Van Kannel said. "I don't know if I lit a fire under them as much as they lit one under themselves. We talk a lot and we expect a lot out of them. It's all about the tournament. We've had a lot of tough games. We've had our hands full. These girls know you can't show up one day and not show up the next."
Volleyball team falls in district semi
The girls volleyball team's season came to an end with a 25-17, 16-25, 26-24, 25-15 loss to fifth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne in a Division I district semifinal Oct. 24 at Franklin Heights.
North, which was seeded 19th, finished 12-12 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Ohio, fourth behind co-champions Central and Grove City (both 8-2).
Junior outside hitter Emma Perry led the Panthers in kills through 23 matches with 202, ahead of sophomore outside hitter Lauren Greegor (141), junior outside hitter Lindsey Maziarz (107) and senior middle hitter Brianna Hollingshed (102).
Senior setter Megan Vayansky had a team-high 52 aces. Junior libero Kaitlyn Rhoades had 417 digs and 29 aces.
Hollingshed was named first-team all-league. Rhoades and Vayansky were second-team all-league and Greegor was honorable mention all-league.