Claire Combs and Haley Moore always seem to find themselves next to each other on the soccer field, just like when they took long car rides to tournaments when they were in elementary school.

Unlike in those days, when they were just learning the game, Combs and Moore now are a key combination for the Pickerington North girls soccer team.

Moore is in her third season as a starting defender, while Combs, a Marshall commit, is a second-year starter in the midfield. She scored 10 goals last year in an offensive-minded role, but moved to defensive midfielder after the graduation of Camryn Dees.

"We're pretty similar. We'll talk during games and tell each other if somebody messed this up or got this right," Moore said. "We just have the same mindset. We're so used to playing together that we mesh very well. Having her on the field is so nice because we know the game the same way."

The Panthers, who gave up 11 goals in their first 11 games, were 7-1-3 overall and 1-0-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Lancaster on Sept. 24. North shut out its first three opponents and allowed one goal in five other games.

Combs and Moore both have been on varsity since their freshman season, but had been best friends and teammates for several years by then.

"We've been together since we were like 10. That's when we started playing club soccer together and driving really far together in the car all the time," Combs said. "On the field, we can say anything to each other and it doesn't matter afterward. We just know how we play. It's on the field, not personal.

"She's a center back so I am right in front of her, so if my person runs, we can switch off (in coverage) and she can tell me what I need to tell the people in front of me to do."

Coach Doug Peterson rued having to remove Combs from a scoring role after she finished third on the team in goals last season behind 2019 graduates Alicia Donley (19 goals) and Avery Hart (12). They are now playing at Tennessee and Capital, respectively.

"She did well for us last year scoring as much as she did, but losing Camryn was critical and we knew we could trust Claire to fill that spot," Peterson said. "That position is so critical to the midfielder, keeping track of the whole field and letting everybody else know what's going on. Claire has an ability to see the larger picture and keep the ball going forward.

"Both (Combs and Moore) have impressed since their freshman year. They both kept up with some phenomenal athletes, which isn't easy when you're a freshman or sophomore facing seniors with the schedule we play. They kept up with some of the fastest girls in central Ohio."

North tied host Gahanna at 1 on Sept. 17 in a showdown between last year's OCC-Ohio co-champions and shut out visiting New Albany 3-0 on Sept. 19 behind two goals from Jackie Norris.

Combs and Moore, who plans to play in college but has not picked a school, both admit they will be emotional when their run as teammates ends.

"Even when we part ways, she's still going to be my best friend forever. I can't wait to watch her do big things in her career at Marshall," Moore said. "But as a team, I think we are looking good. We've struggled a little bit, but we've worked together to figure it all out. Hopefully in the (Division I district) tournament, people should be ready for us."

Volleyball team edges Tigers

The girls volleyball team's second win over Pickerington Central did not come as easily as the first, but the Panthers came from behind Sept. 19 to edge the visiting Tigers 23-25, 25-23, 16-25, 25-21, 15-13 and remain in contention for the OCC-Ohio championship.

North was 15-2 overall and 5-1 in the league before visiting Gahanna on Sept. 24. The Panthers' only losses entering the week came against the Lions (25-17, 25-14, 18-25, 22-25, 15-8 on Sept. 5) and Watkins Memorial (25-22, 23-25, 25-19, 25-18 at home Sept. 21).

Gahanna was 6-0 in the OCC-Ohio before Sept. 24.

North trailed Central 6-2 early in the fifth game and 13-10 late before scoring the final five points. The Panthers also defeated the Tigers 25-8, 25-11, 25-23 on Sept. 3.

"They took us out of our system and we had to figure out a way to get back into it," coach April Boudreau said. "My girls are fighters. We've been in situations like that back to the summer and during the season. We've had a few matches where it's been back and forth and we want the girls to believe no matter the situation."

Lilian Muszynski had a team-leading 129 kills and Emma Perry added 104 through 17 matches. Kaitlyn Rhoades led the Panthers in aces with 28 and digs with 229.

"I knew we had a lot of talent and I was thinking the first few weeks would help determine how the season would go," Boudreau said. "We will be better. We can finish pretty strong. It comes down to us not making errors."

Duvall wins again for boys runners

Matt Duvall of the boys cross country team remained perfect in four races this season, finishing first in 15 minutes, 10.7 seconds Sept. 21 to win Saturday Night Lights at Centerville.

The senior has not run slower than the 15:46.1 he posted in winning the season-opening Pickerington Classic at home Aug. 24.

At Centerville, North scored 205 points to finish sixth out of 23 teams as Peninsula Woodridge won (100). Also scoring for the Panthers were Harper Moore (18th, 15:16.8), Aaron Moraine (45th, 16:26.3), Spencer Moledor (57th, 16:37.1) and Daniel Newman (135th, 17:28.5).

The Panthers were ranked fifth in Division I in last week's Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches state poll.

The girls team stayed closer to home Sept. 21 to run the Tiger Invitational at Central, in which the Panthers finished second (63) out of seven teams, behind Gahanna (46).

Emma Rittman was fifth in 20:27.7, followed by Ashley Khatib (10th, 20:49.4), Brianna Bowden (13th, 21:02.8), Lainy Grube (16th, 21:11.2) and Emily Harness (19th, 21:36.8).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

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

CROSS COUNTRY

Sept. 28 -- Midwest Meet of Champions at Hilliard Bradley and Panther Invitational at home

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.

GIRLS GOLF

Oct. 1 -- Division I sectional at Royal American. Top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Olentangy Berlin

Oct. 1 -- At Westerville Central

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 28 -- At Olentangy

GIRLS TENNIS

Sept. 26 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome

Oct. 1 -- Home vs. New Albany

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 26 -- At Lancaster. The Panthers defeated the Golden Gales 25-21, 25-8, 25-21 on Sept. 10.

*League contest