Jason Miller did not always play his preferred position last year for the Pickerington High School North boys volleyball team, nor was he always a starter.

That never changed coach Marci Truex's high expectations for Miller, which he seems to be living up to this season.

The senior libero is anchoring the passing game for North, which was 10-4 overall and 7-4 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Hilliard Davidson on April 30. Miller had 93 digs, 12 assists, seven services aces and only 10 errors in 119 serve-receive attempts through 13 matches.

"He's our rock," Truex said. "His position is one that doesn't get talked about enough in terms of how important it is. Passing is so vital to the success of any (volleyball) team. If he's not available, that's our problem. If you can't get the ball in play, you can't get your offense going, and that's a problem."

Miller came off the bench as a sophomore, splitting time between defensive specialist and libero, and backed up Kyle Roach at defensive specialist last season, when the Panthers shook off a 5-7 start to advance to a Division I regional semifinal.

He embraced a leadership role this season and admitted being humbled at Truex's praise for his play.

"I love to hear that from a coach. I just want to hold the team together and get us going, keep us energized," Miller said. "This year is my shot to be a captain and I want us to be ready to go no matter what. If we're in a slump, it's the captain's job to get us out."

North's record through 14 matches was its best since 2016, when the Panthers started 13-1 and went on to win their first East Region championship before losing in a state semifinal.

Despite Miller playing what he considered out of position last season, Truex said she regularly reminded him that would change for this year and that he would need to serve as a liaison between players and coaches on the floor.

"He's known," Truex said. "Every year, we chat. Last year, we talked about why he was where he was, (why he was) not at libero all the time. I didn't have to worry about him. He came in hot (this season) and he's continued to meet expectations. We're in constant communication because that role is very important. He is just somebody I can count on."

The Panthers won two of their three league matches last week. After losing to Gahanna 25-21, 25-21, 25-18 on April 22, they beat Reynoldsburg 25-4, 25-13, 25-17 the next night and New Albany 25-12, 25-12, 25-18 on April 25.

Miller has played at the club level for several years, first at Vanguard Volleyball Club and more recently at Advancement Academy Volleyball Club in Lewis Center with Panthers teammate Bradley Johnson. That work also translated into a scholarship offer, and Miller was scheduled to sign May 1 to play at Indiana Tech, an NAIA school in Fort Wayne.

"He gives us all the opportunity to keep scoring by giving Seth (Burton) and Isaac (Lambert) good passes to score off," Johnson said. "I've seen him playing well in club for a while. I was excited to see what he could bring us this season and he's doing what we knew he could."

Miller chose Indiana Tech because that is one of the schools that recruited him while having both a men's volleyball program and his preferred major of engineering. He hopes to be an electrical, energy or software engineer.

"(Playing in college) is something I've wanted for a long time," Miller said.

"But we've still got a lot of things to accomplish this season."

Boys lacrosse coach seeing growth

Boys lacrosse coach Tyler Nelson said he has seen his team turn a corner the past few weeks, whether in wins or losses, and feels like a "breakout game" is in the near future.

North is 4-11 overall and 3-3 in the OCC-Central entering a Friday, May 3, home game against Central. The Panthers will try to end a three-game losing streak that includes a 17-4 loss to Massillon Jackson on April 27 at New Albany and a 17-8 setback at Columbus Academy on April 29.

"One huge hurdle that we have just gotten over is tackling concepts with our offense (as opposed to) running specific predictable plays. This was a huge struggle through the entire season until our Marysville game when everything clicked," Nelson said. "The defense is starting to find our groove as we push towards shutting offenses down."

North split two league games last week, defeating Marysville 12-5 on April 23 before falling to Dublin Coffman 17-2 on April 25. The Shamrocks were undefeated through that game and ranked first in the state by LaxNumbers.com.

Bryce Coleman and Ethan Kevelder scored against the Shamrocks.

Nelson cited a 17-5 loss to Upper Arlington on April 11 as another sign of progress. The Panthers lost to UA 10-1 in a Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal to end last season.

"The way the boys played against UA really showed me of how far we have come from just last year in our playoff game against them to this year. What is standing out to me is the constant growth that we have from game to game," Nelson said. "We are right there to break through our glass ceiling. That breakout game is right there."

North lost to Central 10-9 last season, snapping a five-game winning streak in the rivalry.

That game will be the second half of a doubleheader that begins with the Tigers-Panthers girls game. North won the girls game 10-8 last year to break a four-game skid against Central.

The girls team is 9-3 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Central and had won four consecutive games before losing to Coffman 12-7 on April 25.

The Panthers defeated Marysville 20-5 on April 23 as Elise Drager and Sophie Zimmerman both scored four goals and Paige Wilson scored three.

Peterson named girls soccer coach

Doug Peterson has been a familiar face with the girls soccer team for all but one season of its existence, and now he will oversee every aspect of the program.

Peterson, who had been an assistant coach for 15 of the Panthers' 16 seasons, was announced April 23 as the team's head coach, pending school board approval.

Peterson succeeds Greg Van Kannel, who resigned in November after going 180-32-16 overall and 60-5-3 in the OCC-Ohio in 11 seasons.

"I am thankful for the opportunity to continue on with the team," Peterson said. "The girls are extremely talented and have built an amazing tradition. That said, it's humbling to try and pick up where Greg Van Kannel left off. He (did) an amazing job and will be missed."

Peterson, who is a branch chief overseeing corporate contracts for the Defense Logistics Agency, was junior varsity girls coach at Olentangy for five seasons before coming to North when the school opened in 2003.

The only season that he did not coach the Panthers was 2011, when Van Kannel left the program for a year before returning in 2012.

North finished 15-2-3 overall and 4-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio last season, tying Gahanna for the 12th league championship in team history. The Panthers went on to win their 11th Division I district title.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the North baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:

BASEBALL

*May 2 -- At Grove City in makeup from April 26

*May 3 -- At Gahanna. The Panthers lost to the Lions 3-1 on April 10 and 6-2 on April 12.

May 4 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley

*May 6 -- At Lancaster. The Panthers defeated the Golden Gales 11-0 on April 16 and lost 9-3 on April 17.

*May 8 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg. The Panthers defeated the Raiders 7-2 on April 22 and 1-0 in 11 innings on April 24.

BOYS LACROSSE

*May 3 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central

May 5 -- Home vs. Beavercreek

May 7 -- Home vs. Westerville Central

GIRLS LACROSSE

*May 3 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central

May 5 -- Home vs. Beavercreek

May 7 -- Home vs. Westerville Central

SOFTBALL

*May 2 -- Home vs. Lancaster in makeup from April 25. The Panthers lost to the Golden Gales 14-3 on April 16.

May 4 -- Home vs. Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph and DeSales

May 8 -- At 26th-seeded Dublin Scioto or home vs. 28th-seeded Olentangy Orange in second round of Division I district tournament. The Panthers are seeded 27th.

BOYS TENNIS

May 2 -- At Hilliard Bradley

May 6 -- At Dublin Scioto

May 7 -- Home vs. New Albany

TRACK & FIELD

May 3 -- Larkin/Crosten Invitational at Thomas Worthington

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*May 2 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central. The Panthers defeated the Tigers 25-16, 30-28, 28-26 on April 11.

May 4 -- Home vs. Beavercreek, Mount Vernon and Stow-Munroe Falls

*May 7 -- At Dublin Coffman. The Panthers lost to the Shamrocks 21-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-19 on April 16.

*League contest