Pickerington North girls tennis coach Brian Hoff might have been preaching to the choir when he reminded his players at the end of last season how critical offseason work would be to the Panthers' pursuit of another OCC-Ohio Division championship -- and more -- this year.
Many Panthers play year-round, but Hoff has seen that dedication translate into depth beyond first and second singles and take the team to another level this season. North was 15-1 overall before playing Westerville Central on Sept. 17 and went 5-0 in the league without dropping a court to win its third OCC-Ohio title in four years.
Sophia Anderson, Maggie Haas, Corinna Moesle, Kim Nguyen and Jessica Scruggs primarily have played doubles, but all have played singles at some point as well behind Toledo commit and three-time Division I state qualifier Cassie Alcala at first singles and Rhyan Cook at second singles.
"Cassie will win most of her matches and so will Rhyan, but we have to be strong down the line on our other three courts. We're such a deep team now," Hoff said. "If we want to be one of the top teams in the area and in the state, we have to win at doubles. We can count on any of our courts at any time.
"It's hard to improve during the season because we have so many matches and not much practice time. The vast majority of these girls have worked hard all year."
Before Sept. 17, North was 64-11 overall and 19-1 in the OCC-Ohio since the start of the 2016 season. The Panthers' only league loss in that span, to Pickerington Central in 2017, ultimately decided the championship.
Haas, a senior who plays in a summer league based at Scarborough East Tennis Club, has played every court except first singles over the past few years.
"We just naturally play a lot to better ourselves and better the team. I've been improving my serves. That used to be a weakness of mine," Haas said. "I just try to be ready for whatever (Hoff) throws at me so I can be what the team needs at that moment."
Nguyen, who originally was to spend more time at third singles but has been hampered by nagging injuries, said one challenge she has embraced has been adjusting to her partner on a given day.
"You just have to read (your partner's) mind, kind of, and know what they'll hit and what they won't. It takes time, but we're getting there," Nguyen said. "Both our doubles (teams) are much better than a few years ago. We're much more well-rounded than what we used to be. Our volleys are much better now. We're much more consistent, we run faster and we understand each other more."
North remains alive in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district tournament and will play host to Olentangy Berlin or Olentangy Orange in a district semifinal on a date to be determined. That winner will visit Central, Dublin Jerome or Upper Arlington in the district final.
Hoff entered the week still trying to figure out his lineup for the individual postseason. The Division I sectional tournament draw is Sunday, Sept. 22.
"I haven't seen many combinations that haven't worked yet," Hoff said. "I am still not sure what my two best teams are. I have a few avenues I can take. Do I want to have two equally talented doubles teams or want first doubles to be stronger? It's a nice problem to have."
Soccer teams sweep Tigers
The boys and girls soccer teams both started their OCC-Ohio schedules with wins Sept. 10, sweeping host Central for the third consecutive season.
Jackie Norris scored two goals and Tori Haggit added a goal and two assists as the girls won 4-1. Playing with a tweaked back, Haggit scored the winning goal with six minutes left in the first half as North extended its winning streak in the series to six games.
North tied Watterson at 1 on Sept. 14 and was 6-1-2 overall before resuming OCC-Ohio play Sept. 17 at Gahanna in a matchup between last year's co-league champions.
"(Central) liked to step up to the midfield. In the first half, we did not deal with that very well and we got some offsides calls, but in the second half, we took the time to play up and back and find small balls getting through," Haggit said. "We like to play a lot of through balls when we're on. I think we hoped this was where we'd be (at this point). Seeing how we play together has really made an impact."
Norris had a team-leading nine goals through nine games. Morgan Dragich had seven and Haggit and Kara Thomas each had four.
In the boys game, Alex Watros recorded his first career hat trick as the Panthers fell behind 1-0 in the first seven minutes but scored the game's final seven goals.
North tied Mason at 2 on Sept. 14 and was 5-0-3 overall before playing Gahanna on Sept. 17. The Panthers lead the all-time series with Central 10-2-2.
"I had been playing in the center midfield just to help get the ball moving, but (against Central) they moved me out wide, so I was able to push up more and be part of the attack," Watros said. "This was a great feeling. I was hoping for a night like this."
Golfers tie for third in league
Despite a strong finish to the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio tournament Sept. 11 at Turnberry, the boys golf team placed third in the round and tied for third overall in the league standings.
Carson Bellish shot a 77 and Tomasz Douangsy added a 78 as North shot a 319 as a team to finish behind Grove City (299) and Central (315) and ahead of Gahanna (320), Lancaster (342) and Reynoldsburg (407).
Also scoring were Elijah Hale and Hadyn Hunt, each of whom shot an 82.
North went 13-7 in the league, tying Gahanna for third behind Central (16-4) and Grove City (14-6) and ahead of Lancaster (4-16) and Reynoldsburg (0-20).
"(It was) disappointing," coach Steve Schill said. "We didn't put ourselves in a good position on the front nine. I give the kids credit; they grinded their way back into it on the back nine, but we can't put ourselves in that position to start."
Below are the coming schedules for the North cross country, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 21 -- Boys: Saturday Night Lights at Centerville; Girls: Tiger Invitational at Pickerington Central
Sept. 21 -- Upper Arlington Masters Invitational at Scioto Country Club
Sept. 23 -- Nolan Belden Invitational at Brookside
Sept. 19 -- Hartley at Jefferson
Sept. 21 -- Marysville Invitational at Darby Creek
Sept. 24 -- DeSales and Dublin Coffman at NorthStar
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Groveport in makeup from Aug. 27
*Sept. 24 -- Home vs. Lancaster
Sept. 19 -- Home vs. New Albany
*Sept. 24 -- At Lancaster
Sept. 19 -- At Dublin Scioto
Sept. 24 -- Home vs. Granville
*Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central. The Panthers defeated the Tigers 25-8, 25-11, 25-23 on Sept. 3.
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Watkins Memorial
*Sept. 24 -- At Gahanna. The Panthers lost to the Lions 25-17, 25-14, 18-25, 22-25, 15-8 on Sept. 5.