The day before its opener March 26 at Hartley, the Northland High School baseball team practiced at 8 a.m. despite drizzling rain and the temperature barely reaching the 40s.

It isn't the first time 33rd-year coach Dean Washington has set up an early practice time when Northland was off school.

"The kids are committed," Washington said. "They're working hard and getting better. How good we'll be, who knows? But we're playing hard."

The Vikings lost to the Hawks 11-1 in their opener, but expect to remain one of the most competitive teams in the City League-North Division after finishing third last season at 8-4, behind Whetstone (12-0) and Centennial (10-2).

Northland, which went 15-7 overall last spring and opened league action April 1 at home against Whetstone, has six key returnees and a strong addition this spring.

R.J. Dent, who sees time at shortstop, center field, first base and pitcher, leads a senior class that also includes Josh Cook (C/2B), Ezekiel Hannon (OF/2B), Leslie Morris (OF/P), Mike Nowling (C/3B) and Kahlil Washington (P/3B/1B/OF).

Senior transfer Kaleb Thompson was one of Tree of Life's top pitchers last season. He is eligible to play in the first half of the season, but as of last week, coach Washington wasn't sure whether Thompson would be available for the season's second half because of OHSAA transfer rules.

Thompson also will play shortstop and third base.

"We've got some seniors on our squad, and they're going to lead us," coach Washington said. "Kaleb's a pitcher who's pretty polished. I move kids around a little bit, and that's what we're working on, to see who can handle the movement and improving their baseball knowledge. Kaleb's a decent pitcher, but we've got to get him run support and play defense behind him. We'll see how things shake out."

Others looking to contribute include juniors Kevin Gonzalez (1B), Rameses Holland (2B/SS) and Jayden Rhynehardt (2B/OF) and sophomore Michael Burris (C/OF).

"We're a senior-laden team and we hope we can contend (in the City-North)," coach Washington said. "Whetstone's won it eight years in a row, so you always have to go through Whetstone. The potential is there to be decent."

Northland originally was scheduled to open City-North action against Beechcroft on March 27, but the game was moved to another date.

The Cougars have been struggling with low numbers, but first-year coach Brian Knisley is hoping to continue adding athletes to a nucleus that he expects to be at about 10.

Knisley, a Grandview graduate who previously coached at several other schools, including the past six years as an assistant at Centennial, took over the Cougars' program in the offseason for Charles Gibson. Gibson coached the Cougars for just one season but also is Beechcroft's football coach.

The Cougars, who are on their fourth head coach in as many years, won two games last season.

"We just need to see a little more consistency and practice time," Knisley said. "We're trying to get guys here."

Junior Alhaji Sidibe, who was a standout for the Cougars in football and wrestling, is expected to be at catcher and third base and has proven to be a leader off the field, according to Knisley.

Juniors Tyler Hasty (1B/P), Micah Newell (CF) and Sean Speakman (P/3B/1B) and freshman Jalen Leon (1B/OF) are other key players.

"(Sidibe and Newell) have been here about every single practice and showing the young guys the way," Knisley said. "Alhaji is a great kid who's very coachable. If I have to go and do something, I know (the team is) in good hands."

Briggs baseball team to build with youth

Coming off a 10th consecutive City League runner-up finish, the Briggs baseball team long has been established as the City-South's premier program.

The Bruins will test that history with one of their most inexperienced teams in recent memory.

Briggs opened March 26 with an 11-3 loss to Grandview before beating Marion-Franklin 12-1 on March 27 in its league opener.

Last season, the Bruins finished 16-11 overall and 14-0 in the City-South.

"We're young, but I don't know if the word 'young' is strong enough," fourth-year coach Joe Krabill said. "We're starting over."

The top returnees are seniors Jordan Lumbard (1B) and Jordan Brobst (2B) and juniors Zach Heston (utility/P), Jayden Osborne (SS/P) and Caleb Shope (3B/P).

"Shope has been a varsity pitcher since he's been a freshman, so he's an experienced, hard-nosed kid," Krabill said.

Seniors Eddie Horne (C) and Kyrin Talifero (OF) are new to the program.

Sophomores Richie Davis (CF), Luke Krafft (P/C), Austin McComas (P/INF) and Porfi Reyes (C) and freshmen Tyler Lumbard (P/OF), Jace Osborne (OF) and Tyler Robson (INF) are others looking to contribute.

"We're going to be good on the mound," Krabill said. "We have some talent, but they need to develop. There's a lot of teaching going on. Our infield defense should be solid. Offensively, it's all about Jordan Lumbard, who I think will put up all-state kinds of numbers."

Northland volleyball program growing

With 21 athletes out this spring, the Northland boys volleyball team has seven more out than it did last season.

Fourth-year coach Tiffany Rettig is hoping that translates into a winning formula for the Vikings, who opened March 26 by beating Delaware 25-21, 25-11, 25-14 and began City action March 28 with a 25-17, 25-9, 25-20 win over Whetstone.

Northland was 2-1 overall after losing to Pickerington Central 25-13, 24-26, 25-18 on March 30 and before facing Thomas Worthington on April 1.

"I've got a ton of kids," Rettig said. "It's an interesting squad. These kids don't necessarily interact with each other, but they have to here."

Senior Dal Sum (outside hitter/setter), juniors Rasi Bailey (middle hitter), Naseer Broadnax (utility) and Dal Kap (outside hitter/setter) and freshmen Pau Lian (utility) and Mang Sian (utility) are leading the way, according to Rettig.

Others looking to contribute include juniors Husam Ahmed (right-side hitter), Kyle Dumashie (right-side hitter), Kevin Gonzalez (middle hitter) and Nischal Gurung (utility), sophomores Praladh Upreti (utility) and Suan Tung (right-side hitter) and freshmen Kam Kap (setter), Piang Khup (setter) and Cin Mung (middle hitter).

Vikings softball team looking to battle

The Northland softball team has returned most of its roster from last season.

The Vikings opened March 27 with a 24-14 win over Beechcroft.

Leading the way, according to eighth-year coach Dan Zedeker, are seniors Iyauna Bonner (SS), Keyerra Norris (P/utility), Amara McCuen-Roberts (1B/P) and Ma'Kaila Warner (CF) and juniors Alyssa Dodd (P), Ashley Edwards (C) and Tenasia Watson (3B/P).

Dodd is an Upper Arlington transfer who is expected to be the No. 1 pitcher after Watson held that role last season.

Junior Shaniya Pegues (RF/3B) and sophomore Jayla McKinnie (2B) are other key players.

"Iyauna Bonner is so fast that I put her at shortstop," Zedeker said. "If we don't walk or hit batters, we're going to be good. I'm looking forward to competing for the (City-North) championship. We've got a bunch of great kids and I'm excited."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek