Less than thrilled with shooting an 87 during the fourth and final round of the OCC-Ohio Division tournament Sept. 4 at Mentel Memorial, Miriah Gabel of the Pickerington Central girls golf team let herself stew for a few minutes before becoming more a supportive teammate than a disappointed competitor.

When teammate Jenna Saythongphet closed the Tigers' day by recording a personal-best round of 101, approximately 10 shots below her season average and 29 better than her performance in the second round Aug. 14 at Royal American, Gabel couldn't contain her excitement.

The senior leapt out of the golf cart in which she'd watched her teammates play No. 18, hugged Saythongphet and even conducted a mock interview.

Part of that reflects two careers Gabel is considering -- journalism and motivational speaking. But in the moment, Gabel simply was the Tigers' senior leader and a cheerleader for her teammates.

"I was elated for (Saythongphet). She just got new clubs and she's been working hard," Gabel said. "I invest myself a lot in my 'kiddos' on the team. It's more than I originally thought. I care a lot about them."

Gabel is capping a career in which she has been a mainstay on small Tigers teams with her best season yet. She averaged 81.8 strokes during the OCC-Ohio tournament, fourth behind Grove City's Lizzie Saur (73.8), Pickerington North's Cassie Tasney (77.8) and Grove City's Abby Jones (81) to earn first-team all-league honors.

"Last year, if she broke 40 (for nine holes), she was really excited. Now, if she is at a 39, she's not happy. The expectations have risen," coach Alecia Larsen said. "She's definitely scored better this year than she ever has. She's been breaking 80 a lot of the time. She has more control over her swing and her mind and the execution part of it. ...

"Miriah is starting to learn how to score. I think she's always had that in her, but she's been much more consistent this year. It's about staying more steady."

Gabel's personal-best 18-hole round was a 77 during the first round of the league tournament Aug. 7 at Blacklick Woods. She is hoping for a repeat performance Wednesday, Oct. 2, in a Division I sectional on the same course.

At sectional, the top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.

Gabel averaged 100 shots in league play as a freshman but trimmed that average to 90.5 the next year and 84 as a junior. She has taken year-round swing lessons from Larsen and played several summer tournaments in and out of the area this summer.

"My mental game has definitely been more stable," said Gabel, adding that her chipping and putting have improved. "When something bad happens, I've learned to take it in stride and not let it affect my game."

Gabel hopes to golf in college. She is taking an official visit to Purdue Northwest in a few weeks and has talked with coaches from Bowling Green and a handful of small Christian schools.

"Miriah probably cheers the rest of the team on more than she cheers herself on," Larsen said.

"I call the girls 'the fearless foursome.' We've been bonding. They tell me they don't want to disappoint me, and I tell them the only way they'll disappoint me is if they don't give 100 percent effort every time they go out."

Cross country teams finish third at home

Both the boys and girls cross country teams placed third in their home Tiger Invitational on Sept. 21, paced by runners who led their respective teams for the first time this season.

Jailen Willis was 12th (16 minutes, 56.6 seconds) to lead the boys to 102 points and third place out of nine teams as OCC-Ohio rival Gahanna won (41). Also scoring were Brycen Rogers (16th, 17:03.6), Gavin Kelly (22nd, 17:49.1), Chase Balko (23rd, 17:51) and Andrew Scrape (29th, 17:59.1).

Balko, who according to boys coach Andy Fischer had battled illness last week, had been Central's top runner in each of its first three meets.

"Overall, we're a bit deeper. We have 12 to 15 guys who are in a good competition," Fischer said. "Chase has been excellent all year. Jailen had a good day (Sept. 21) getting under 17 minutes. He just stuck his nose in there and raced."

Freshman Talia Mauro was fourth (20:25.2) to lead the girls team to 73 points and third place out of seven teams, behind champion Gahanna (46). She was followed by Grace Osborn (eighth, 20:34.6), Ashley Carter (15th, 21:09), Amber Carter (17th, 21:12.3) and Grace Vega (29th, 22:08.9).

Osborn had led Central in its first three meets and has the Tigers' fastest time of the season, 19:21.17 in the Westerville Classic on Aug. 31 at Westerville North.

Volleyball team eyes postseason goal

Although a tough first half of the OCC-Ohio season took the girls volleyball team out of contention for its second consecutive league championship, coach Eric Hughes reminded his players of the goals they set before the season.

Central was 6-7 overall and 1-5 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Lancaster on Sept. 24. The Tigers lost two league matches last week, falling 25-17, 25-16, 25-12 to visiting Gahanna on Sept. 17 and 23-25, 25-23, 16-25, 25-21, 15-13 at North two nights later.

"Last year, a team goal was to win the OCC-Ohio. This year, nobody really mentioned (the league), but rather, they're focused on winning a (Division I) district championship," Hughes said. "We know we're not in the running for the league, but this wasn't our goal. A district championship is still our goal and all of these matches coming up are preparation for that goal."

Central's only win in the first half of league play came Sept. 10, when the Tigers defeated Reynoldsburg 25-16, 25-11, 19-25, 25-23.

Hughes lauded the front-row play by middle hitters Emma Beretich and Alayja Floyd, a freshman and senior, respectively, against North.

"Alayja put the team on her back. She blocked lights-out all night," Hughes said. "This was the best match Emma has ever played. We wanted to see when she'd come out of her shell and she did."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Central cross country, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

CROSS COUNTRY

Sept. 28 -- Panther Invitational at Pickerington North

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 26 -- Pickerington Cup at Turnberry

Sept. 28 -- Pickerington Central Fall Invitational at Turnberry

Oct. 2 -- Division I sectional at Turnberry. Top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.

BOYS SOCCER

Oct. 1 -- At Independence

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Watkins Memorial

Oct. 1 -- At Marysville

GIRLS TENNIS

Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Olentangy

Sept. 30 -- At Upper Arlington

Oct. 1 -- At Worthington Kilbourne

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 26 -- At Reynoldsburg. The Tigers defeated the Raiders 25-16, 25-11, 19-25, 25-23 on Sept. 10.

Sept. 28 -- Home vs. Westerville South

Sept. 30 -- At DeSales

*League contest