With four returnees leading an 11-player roster, Pickerington Central girls volleyball coach Eric Hughes is testing his team early on to see what it can handle.
That was one reason he did not call a timeout during the third game Aug. 20 at Groveport, when a nine-point lead dwindled to three before the Tigers hung for a 25-4, 25-21, 25-21 win.
"We have a lot of seniors but not a whole lot of returning varsity players, so we need to see some mental toughness," said Hughes, who is in his fourth season. "I want to see them work through some problems on their own. We've done well with that. We didn't make very many mistakes twice in a row (against Groveport)."
Seniors Londyn Coles (outside hitter), Alayja Floyd (middle blocker), Mackenna Glass (defensive specialist) and Brittany Miller (outside hitter) return from last year's team that went 21-4 overall and 8-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division, tying Grove City for the league championship, and lost to Watterson 25-18, 25-18, 25-16 in a Division I district semifinal. The Tigers set the program record for wins and won their first league title since 1993.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Kairston Moorer (right-side hitter), Sydney Palenick (libero) and Ainsley Watkins (defensive specialist/outside hitter), juniors Kennedy Chambers (outside hitter) and Vanessa Glass (defensive specialist), sophomore J.J. Bouarouy (setter) and freshman Emma Beretich (middle blocker).
Central is 4-2 overall entering a Thursday, Aug. 29, home match against New Albany and begins league play Tuesday, Sept. 3, at home against Pickerington North.
The Tigers opened Aug. 16 with a 25-19, 25-18, 25-16 loss at Westerville Central and defeated Westerville South 25-13, 25-19, 25-16 in their home opener Aug. 22.
Central then went 2-1 in the Sharon Huesman Memorial Quad on Aug. 24 at Hilliard Davidson, defeating the host Wildcats 25-20, 25-22 and Hilliard Darby 25-22, 22-25, 25-19 and losing to Watkins Memorial 25-20, 25-13.
"The expectations are something that we're starting to live with," Hughes said. "The girls are embracing it now with their work in the gym and the weight room. They understand what we have to do to keep this going. We don't want to slip back to what Central volleyball was six or seven years ago and beyond. They know what work has to be put in every day."
Experienced Panthers out to fast start
With seven returning starters, five of whom are seniors, North got off to an undefeated start and hoped to gather momentum toward its primary goals of challenging for OCC-Ohio and Division I district championships.
North was 5-0 overall before playing Groveport on Aug. 27.
The Panthers' returning starters from last year's team that went 12-12 overall and 5-5 in the league and lost to Worthington Kilbourne 25-17, 16-25, 26-24, 25-15 in a district semifinal are seniors Lindsey Maziarz (middle blocker), Emma Perry (outside hitter), Kaitlyn Rhoades (libero), Peyton Roberts (opposite-side hitter/middle hitter) and Lily Wittman (defensive specialist/libero) and juniors Lauren Greegor (outside hitter) and Brooke Norwood (setter).
Perry and Greegor had 208 and 144 kills, respectively, last year to lead North. Maziarz was fourth with 113 kills and Rhoades had a team-high 447 digs.
"We have excellent senior leadership and a deep bench with kids that can come off and contribute," sixth-year coach April Boudreau said. "We are very scrappy and play defense well. (An) area of improvement (for us) would be blocking."
Rounding out the roster are juniors Jordan Gerriston (opposite-side hitter), Anna Martin (defensive specialist), Lillian Muszynski (middle blocker) and Emily Piekenbrock (middle block/outside hitter) and freshman Kyleigh Bryant (defensive specialist).
North opened Aug. 17 by going 3-0 in the Spikefest at Marysville, defeating Jonathan Alder 26-24, 19-25, 25-22, Marysville 25-14, 25-18 and New Albany 25-14, 25-18.
The Panthers swept Westland 25-14, 25-8, 25-12 in their home opener Aug. 20 and edged host Dublin Coffman 25-14, 20-25, 25-16, 26-24 on Aug. 22.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central and North:
Aug. 31 -- Asics Hot Summer Bash at Hilliard Davidson and Westerville Classic at Westerville North
Sept. 4 -- OCC-Ohio at Mentel Memorial
Aug. 29 -- At Logan
Sept. 3 -- Home vs. New Albany
Aug. 29 -- At Newark
Sept. 3 -- At New Albany
*Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
*Sept. 3 -- At Grove City
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. New Albany
*Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
Aug. 31 -- Boys: Granville Invitational at Bryn Du Mansion; Girls: Miamisburg Invitational
Aug. 31 -- Pinnacle Classic at Pinnacle
Sept. 3 -- Watterson at Champions
Sept. 4 -- OCC-Ohio at Mentel Memorial
Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Olentangy
Aug. 31 -- At Westerville South
Sept. 3 -- At Watkins Memorial
Aug. 29 -- At Dublin Coffman
Sept. 3 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
*Aug. 29 -- Home vs. Lancaster
*Sept. 3 -- At Reynoldsburg
Aug. 29 -- At Canal Winchester
*Sept. 3 -- At Pickerington Central