Pickerington High School North bowling coach Mike Rossi thought this might be a rebuilding season for the boys team given that it lost 2018 graduate William Hrivnak, who averaged more than 200 pins per game each of his final three seasons.
Rossi changed his mind after watching several of his bowlers during a practice session in late October.
"I just came to watch because I couldn't coach at that time and we had four or five guys bowling a 200 out there," said Rossi, who is in his sixth season. "I thought, 'So much for rebuilding. We might be OK.' ...
"We basically have three guys who came out of nowhere who probably will start for most of the year."
Led by seniors Kyle Mace, Justin Turnau and Steven Vance, North was 4-0 overall and in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division and 1-0 in the OCC-Central before a Dec. 18 match against Marysville.
Turnau, who is in his first season on varsity, was averaging 213.9 and Vance 181.1 through four matches to help lead a top five that has included sophomore Alex Zumock and freshman Ethan Yurko. Zumock was averaging 185.3 through four matches, ahead of Yurko (170) and Mace (149.3).
"I'm not surprised," Vance said. "We did a lot of recruiting when we were younger. There was a (Pickerington Youth Athletic Association) league here on Saturdays that we'd come in and coach. We've known a lot of these guys since they were little. Ethan Yurko, we've been coaching him for almost five years now. We've known him all the way up and he could be up there with (the upperclassmen) very soon."
Last season, North finished 11-2 overall, 11-0 in the COHSBC-B to finish first ahead of runner-up Worthington Kilbourne (9-2) and 4-2 in the OCC-Central.
The Panthers opened with a 2,186-1,996 win over Central on Dec. 4. They followed that up with wins over Thomas Worthington (2,093-1,852 on Dec. 5), Groveport (2,252-1,965 on Dec. 11) and Whitehall (2,256-1,938 on Dec. 13).
"If we clean up a few things like spares or being more consistent, we could average 2,100 to 2,300 pins every game," Vance said. "That would take us a long way."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Ryan DeGeeter and Kenny Whitmire, juniors Jacob Dollmatsch and Caden Thieken and freshmen Ethan Grundy and Jack Rodgers.
Sophomores Alana Robinson and Evy Vance are the only two returnees for the girls team, which was 0-4 overall and in the COHSBC-B and 0-1 in the OCC-Central before the match against Marysville.
Robinson had a team-best 137.3 average through four matches, followed by juniors Sienna Reedus (124) and Kathryn VanCourt (122.3).
VanCourt had a 251 two-game series in a 1,524-1,380 loss to Central and Reedus led the Panthers with a 286 series in a 1,378-1,264 loss to Thomas.
Last season, the Panthers went 8-5 overall, 7-4 in the COHSBC-B and 4-2 in the OCC-Central.
"We're all trying to see what we can do," Evy Vance said. "We're not looking for the most wins. We're just looking to have fun during the season and trying to find the best in all of us."
North also fell to Groveport 1,571-1,389 and Whitehall 1,446-1,423.
Also on the team are junior Shea Dooley and sophomore Piper Clark.
Girls team off to promising start
Having split its first four games overall and first two in the OCC-Ohio, girls basketball coach Silas Williams said his team is progressing at the pace he expected.
North pulled back above .500 with a 63-59 home win over Gahanna on Dec. 14. The Panthers were 3-2 overall before playing Westland on Dec. 18 and are 2-1 in the OCC-Ohio entering a Friday, Dec. 21, home game against Lancaster.
"We're still figuring out who we are and what we're going to be," Williams said.
"I like where we are and how we're playing. We're competing with a lot of effort in all facets of that game. That's what we have to be doing. We've gotten younger girls experience where we can and we've mixed up the lineup a little bit. We only had three or four girls back with varsity experience, so we knew we'd have girls learning during games."
Forward Saige Glover averaged 13 points through five games, ahead of Avery Hart (10.8) and Gabby Rullo (7.4). Glover had a game-high 21 points against Gahanna.
Several underclassmen have seen considerable playing time, including sophomores Malea Bess and Dru Ultican. Bess began the season as the Panthers' second point guard behind Mickale Bates but has earned her way into the starting lineup as a shooting guard while Bates continues to run the point.
Ultican has shared time at forward with Glover and Mayson Bates.
"Malea is still learning, but she's earned all the playing time she's gotten. She worked her way into starting. She has great skill and she's versatile," Williams said. "Dru has worked hard in and out of practice and she's a great option inside with Saige. Mayson Bates has been strong rebounding.
"We have great pieces. It's just about putting everything together and clearing the hurdles. We have a tough schedule. Those games are going to make us better."
Boys basketball team rebounds from loss
The boys basketball team's 85-77 win at Gahanna on Dec. 14 was its first game since an 80-67 home loss to Central seven days earlier, and with the Panthers facing four games in an eight-day stretch from Dec. 14 to Saturday, Dec. 22, coach Jason Bates spent some of last week boosting his team's confidence.
It seemed to have worked, as Hunter Shedenhelm had a career-high 33 points and Jack Sawyer scored 26 against Gahanna as North improved to 3-1 overall before playing Westland on Dec. 18 and is 1-1 in the OCC-Ohio. The Panthers scored 32 points in the third quarter to pull ahead for good after trailing 41-36 at halftime.
"We've been a good team and we'll be a good team," Bates said. "They've gained good experience. The season doesn't end with one loss. All our goals are still in front of us. We just had to refocus (after the loss to Central) and learn from it.
"We've defended well and used our defense to score. (Central) might have been the first time we've (trailed) all year. It's something to get used to in a game situation."
The Panthers have a back-to-back this weekend, as they visit Lancaster for a league game Friday, Dec. 21, and play Columbus East on Saturday, Dec. 22, in Coaches for a Cure at Capital.
*Dec. 4 -- Pickerington Central at Rule 3
*Dec. 5 -- Thomas Worthington at Rule 3
*Dec. 11 -- Groveport at Rule 3
*Dec. 13 -- Whitehall at Rule 3
*Dec. 18 -- Marysville at Marysville Lanes
Jan. 5 -- Buckeye High School Classic at HP Lanes
*Jan. 10 -- Hilliard Bradley at Rule 3
*Jan. 15 -- Gahanna at Rule 3
*Jan. 17 -- Lancaster at Tiki Lanes
Jan. 19 -- Central District Preview at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Jan. 22 -- Hilliard Davidson at Ten Pin Alley
*Jan. 29 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Jan. 31 -- Reynoldsburg at Rule 3
*Feb. 4 -- Hilliard Darby at Ten Pin Alley
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball and girls basketball teams:
*Dec. 21 -- At Lancaster
Dec. 22 -- Columbus East in Coaches for a Cure at Capital
*Dec. 21 -- Home vs. Lancaster