The Pickerington North High School boys track and field team no sooner had completed its climb back up the Division I district standings than coach Dave Spring handed away the championship trophy.
After finishing fourth in 2016, third in 2017 and second last year, the Panthers used their depth to score 84 points in the district 2 meet that concluded May 18 at Hilliard Darby, tying Canal Winchester for first place ahead of third-place Olentangy Liberty (67) as 16 teams scored. But considering it was the Indians' first district title since 1971, when they were in Class A, Spring gave the actual trophy to Canal Winchester coach Kurtis Robinson until North receives a replacement award.
"We knew Canal was going to be there and Gahanna has a fantastic team. We had some injury issues, which you never want to see happen, but the guys pulled together and knew what they had to do," Spring said. "The team has jelled so much. We have a great combination of distance, field and sprinters, guys in all three categories who could be running for a few more weeks. We had setbacks and still ended up where we wanted to be."
Harper Moore had the Panthers' only first-place finish, winning the 800 meters in 1 minute, 57.95 seconds, but North got runner-up finishes from Matt Duvall in the 1,600 (4:22.16) and 3,200 (9:46.36), Steven McElroy in the 400 (48.47), Zemen Siyoum in the 110 hurdles (14.79) and the 3,200 relay of Duvall, McElroy, Moore and Jake Prestileo (8:04.67).
Moore also placed third in the 1,600 (4:24.61) as the top four finishers in each event advanced to regional May 22 and Wednesday, May 24, at North.
"I was going for a specific time (4:16) in the mile and I made the mistake of going out too fast. I led the first 3 1/2 laps and I had nothing left," Duvall said. "In the (3,200), I just wanted to qualify, just run behind the leader and make sure I advanced. I'm fine with second place. My legs were really tired, so I just tried to hang on."
Siyoum pulled up lame in the 300 hurdles and had to sit out the 1,600 relay, which still placed third in 3:25.22 with Enrique Cabotage, Jalaun Covington, McElroy and Moore.
Other regional qualifiers were Zhane Wallace in the long jump (third, 21-11 3/4), Connor Daniel in the pole vault (fourth, 13-0) and the 400 relay of Cabotage, Covington, Chris Scott and Wallace (fourth, 43.18).
"It's not the best that I could have done, but it's been an amazing season so far," Wallace said. "I did want to make it this far, but I haven't stopped yet."
Led by Jemeila Hunter's wins in the 100 (12.07) and 200 (25.39), the girls team finished fourth in district 2 behind champion Gahanna (186) as 14 teams scored.
Hunter also helped the 400 relay finish first (48.34) with Mayson Bates, Amara Okpalaoka and Celeste Pierce.
Bates placed second in the 100 hurdles (15.14) and was on the runner-up 800 relay (1:44.1) with Hunter, Pierce and Daijah Settle.
"I was very excited about the 100 hurdles because last year I didn't do too well, so this year I tried to redeem myself," Bates said. "For the relays, the goal was to get a faster time than we did (at the OCC-Ohio Division meet held May 9 and 11). Last year, I was a freshman, so they took me along for the experience. This year, it was very exciting to be a part of the relay and really get to contribute."
Okpalaoka was second in the long jump (17-8) and Avery Hart finished third in the pole vault (10-8).
At regional, the top four finishers in each event advance to the state meet May 31 and June 1 at Ohio State.
Baseball team reaches district semifinal
The eighth-seeded baseball team played 11th-seeded Hilliard Bradley in a Division I district semifinal May 21, needing two victories to capture the program's first district championship since winning the state title in 2016.
North edged 28th-seeded Hamilton Township 1-0 in the second round May 15 as Brock Vinci pitched a complete game, striking out seven and allowing five hits. The Panthers scored their only run in the first inning as they improved to 17-9.
The North-Bradley winner plays second-seeded Lancaster or 14th-seeded Marysville in a district final Thursday, May 23, at a neutral site. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal May 30 at Dublin Coffman.
North went 1-2 against Lancaster in OCC-Ohio play, winning 11-0 on April 16 and losing 9-3 on April 17 and 4-3 on May 6.
Softball team falls in district semifinal
Juniors Carley Auten (SS) and Emma Dean (OF) each had two hits in a Division I district semifinal May 14, but the 27th-seeded softball team committed six errors and lost to second-seeded Mount Vernon 11-2 in its home facility to finish 8-14 overall.
The Panthers were appearing in a district semifinal for the second consecutive season.
Coach Sarah Looker lauded her team's ability to push through adversity, including a handful of players playing out of position on occasion and senior Gina Carlini and junior Morgan Ebbrecht for sharing time pitching.
"Our girls accepted challenging roles by playing positions that they don't typically play. We have great respect for Morgan and Gina for taking on the shared pitching responsibilities," Looker said. "Overall, I'm proud of how we faced the adversity and stayed together as a team."
Junior Megan Ebbrecht (3B/C) led the team in batting average (.432) and hits (35). Dean batted .417 with 25 hits, Auten - an Akron commit - batted .395 with 30 hits and a team-high three home runs and Morgan Ebbrecht batted .360 with 27 hits.
North went 2-8 in the OCC-Ohio to finish fifth behind co-champions Gahanna and Pickerington Central (both 8-2).
Carlini is the only senior.
"We are very excited about returning so many girls," Looker said. "However, Gina was a great senior (and) we will miss her knowledge of and approach to the game."
Tennis season ends at district
A strong season for freshman Cole Alcala of the boys tennis team ended May 16, when he lost to Thomas Worthington's Kai Britz 6-3, 6-1 in a state-qualifying match during the Division I district tournament at Reynoldsburg.
Alcala beat Dublin Scioto's Santhust Prasad 6-0, 6-0 in the first round.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state Friday, May 24, and Saturday, May 25, at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
"It was a freshman without a ton of match experience against a senior who's been there before and is a crafty player. That was the difference, really," coach Brian Hoff said. "Cole has played some great matches this season and some where he's been inconsistent. That can happen with a freshman. He certainly had the talent and the ability coming in (to the season) to get here, but I certainly didn't expect him to win a sectional singles title or be one match away from making it to state. You never know."
Alcala was North's only district qualifier.
Most of the Panthers' lineup is eligible to return, including juniors Aaron Askew and Tyler Lape, sophomores Theo Miller and Ben Starrett and freshman Kevin Wang. North went 9-9 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio, finishing second behind Gahanna (5-0).
Boys lacrosse team showed growth
Two of the boys lacrosse team's top four scorers and its starting goalkeeper are eligible to return after it went 6-13 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Central.
Seeded 13th in the 16-team Division I, Region 3 tournament, the Panthers lost 20-12 at seventh-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a first-round game May 14. Senior Larry Martin (midfielder) had five goals and juniors Ethan Kevelder (attacker) and Keaton Trout (midfielder/attacker) each scored two.
Kevelder led North in goals (50) and points (66) and tied for the team lead in assists with 16. Martin added 29 goals and 11 assists, Trout had 25 goals and nine assists and Coleman had 21 goals and 16 assists.
"This was a season of growing and learning from struggle and having a lot of youth and inexperience," coach Tyler Nelson said. "We have a ton of talent coming back and we ended the season with three fantastic games that really helped (show) what our offense can do and is capable of. Our upper-class leaders coming back will be able to flow great with all the young players we have coming into the system to really have some fun next year."
Martin had 12 goals and four assists over the Panthers' final three games.
Sophomore goalie Joshua Smith made 123 saves on the season as North finished fifth in the OCC-Central behind champion Coffman (7-0).
Other key players eligible to return include junior defender Quinn Parlette and sophomore midfielder/attacker Kalib Severt.
Girls lacrosse team finishes solid season
Led by senior midfielder Sophie Zimmerman's 55 goals and 12 assists, the girls lacrosse team tied the program record for wins but lost its only Division I, Region 3 tournament game.
Zimmerman also had 38 draw controls and 23 ground balls for North, which went 13-5 overall. Seeded eighth in the 17-team regional tournament, the Panthers lost to seventh-seeded Springboro 19-6 in a first-round game May 13.
Senior attacker Lexie Johnson added 28 goals and junior midfielder/attacker Elise Drager had 21 goals and seven assists. Sophomore goalie Erin Boder made 143 saves.
"I am very proud of our team play and our ability to transition the ball with more control and speed," coach Christine Miller said. "We improved in so many areas as a team and I feel that there was individual growth as well. We have a lot of great players that will be returning next year and I am excited about our future seasons."
The Panthers went 3-3 in the OCC-Ohio to finish fourth behind champion Upper Arlington (6-0).
Other key players eligible to return include juniors Rylie Jarvis (defender), Emma Perry (attacker) and Mariel Wilkerson (defender).
Boys volleyball team falls to Jaguars
The ninth-seeded boys volleyball team lost to seventh-seeded Bradley 25-27, 26-25, 25-23, 25-21 in its Division I East Region tournament opener May 18 at Mount Vernon to finish 16-9.