The Pickerington Central girls tennis team entered the week with one loss and several goals still in its sights, but the Tigers plan to make the most of their setback during the final month of the season.
Central improved to 10-1 overall with a 3-2 win over Gahanna on Sept. 5 and finished 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division, losing only to state-ranked Pickerington North 5-0 on Aug. 22 to place second in the league behind the Panthers (5-0).
The Tigers also remained alive in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district tournament entering the week.
"On every court, we are improving," coach Kelli Rings said. "If we learn something through losses, through disappointment, we are improving. Us losing to North made us see we didn't play our best tennis (that day). This group really does care to win and improve."
With the exception of an ankle injury to doubles player Ella Culver that kept her out for about two weeks, the lineup has been stable. Semmie Moore has played first singles all year, ahead of Khandice Thomas at second singles.
Robyn Beaty and Sydney Vernadakis have played second doubles the entire season.
Alexis Heren has alternated between third singles -- a spot that also has been occupied by Katie Weidner -- and first doubles, where she teams with Talia DiLello. DiLello, a senior, also saw time at second and third singles early in the year.
"I've gotten more confident with myself and comfortable with my game. I'm willing to take low-percentage shots, but I think I've gotten better overall," said DiLello, who was 10-2 through Sept. 5. "I feel comfortable (on any court). I'll go wherever Kelli wants to put me because I think I can control myself and I can win anywhere she puts me."
Moore, who entered the week at 9-1, said steadily advancing through the lineup the past two years is paying off. She played third singles two years ago as a freshman and second singles last season.
"Whoever has come my way, I've had to make sure I am up for the challenge," Moore said. "Mentally, I am think I am a lot stronger. I make sure to keep my feet moving so I won't get stuck and make better decisions throughout the match. And I'm just having fun. I am trying to remember not to get so uptight if things don't go well. That's definitely a challenge, but in this sport, there are certain challenges you have to face. If you mess up, you have to keep moving forward."
Rings said a more offensive-minded approach has been key to Moore's success.
"Semmie's serve has really improved, and so has her movement and offense," Rings said. "She was a counter-puncher before. Her mentality has improved. That might have been the thing that had held her back. She is staying stronger mentally. The biggest battle when she was a freshman and sophomore was getting her to realize how good she really is."
Central began the OTCA district tournament with a 3-2 home win over New Albany in a second-round match Aug. 20. The Tigers advanced to play host to Upper Arlington in a district quarterfinal, a match Rings hoped to play this week, although a date had not been determined as of Sept. 6.
The winner will play host to Dublin Jerome in a district semifinal.
"We've had some rough days, but we've bounced back," DiLello said. "Kelli works us to where we need to be."
Girls golfers finish fourth in league
Although the girls golf team placed third in the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio tournament Sept. 4 at Mentel Memorial and fourth in the overall team standings, the Tigers and coach Alecia Larsen felt they left something on the course.
Miriah Gabel carded an 87 to lead Central in the final round, followed by Jenna Saythongphet (91), Ella Drake (95) and Riley Stewart (100). The Tigers shot a 373 to finish behind Grove City (344) and North (370) and ahead of Gahanna (379), Big Walnut (401) and Lancaster (483), and went 9-11 in league play to place behind Grove City (18-2), North (16-4) and Gahanna (12-8) and ahead of Big Walnut (4-16) and Lancaster (0-20).
"It was a good-weather day, but it was just one of those days you have on the course," Larsen said. "There was some inconsistency and some issues with court management (and a) lack of focus. They might have rushed their shots at times.
"We've held our own. I wanted to see more improvement because girls were back, but they've shown a lot of toughness. You just improve by more reps, more playing and learning the skill of scoring. That's a whole other game."
Gabel averaged 81.8 in the league tournament, ranking fourth behind Grove City's Lizzie Saur (73.8), North's Cassie Tasney (77.8) and the Greyhounds' Abby Jones (81) to earn first-team all-league.
Saythongphet's score was a career-best and an improvement of 33 shots from the season-opening Lady Lion Invitational on Aug. 5 at Jefferson.
Central fell just short of finishing at least .500 in the league for the second consecutive year. The Tigers went 11-9 in the OCC-Ohio last year and 5-13 two years ago.
Girls soccer team begins OCC play
Coming off a 7-0 win at Teays Valley on Sept. 5, the girls soccer team was 4-2 before playing host to North on Sept. 10 in its OCC-Ohio opener.
Kennedy Coles scored twice against the Vikings to lead the Tigers, who rebounded from a 6-1 loss at New Albany two nights before. Kyah Ewing scored against the Eagles and goalkeeper Lauryn Evans made three saves.
The loss to New Albany snapped a three-game winning streak.
Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 14 -- Galion Cross Country Festival at Amann Reservoir Park
Sept. 12 -- Grove City at Pinnacle
Sept. 14 -- Rodney Butt Classic at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 16 -- Lancaster Invitational at Lancaster Country Club
Sept. 12 -- Pickerington North at Turnberry
Sept. 17 -- Granville at Denison Golf Club
Sept. 12 -- Home vs. Fairbanks
*Sept. 17 -- At Lancaster
Sept. 12 -- At Hilliard Bradley
*Sept. 14 -- At Gahanna
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Lancaster
Sept. 12 -- At Granville
Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 18 -- At Bexley
*Sept. 12 -- At Grove City
*Sept. 17 -- Home vs. Gahanna