Michael Philabaum left an immediate impression on his new Pickerington Central boys soccer teammates during the preseason, earning a starting spot in the defense despite being a freshman.

"His positioning was something that I don't even know if I ever needed to coach him or correct him," coach Brett Neiderman said. "He was always in the right spot. He reads the game very well. (His teammates) recognized his talent, his passion and his energy out there. He would have been an important player this year. For a freshman to come in and do something like that, I think the older boys have that much more respect for him. He fit in right away."

Philabaum started his first varsity game, a 4-2 loss at Olentangy Orange on Aug. 20.

No one had any idea that the persistent pain in his groin meant that less than two weeks later, Philabaum would be in intensive care and fighting for his life.

What originally was thought to be a sports hernia actually was a bacterial infection that had spread into his bloodstream. Philabaum was in septic shock and had pneumonia in both lungs when he was admitted to Nationwide Children's Hospital on Aug. 31.

He underwent three surgeries within the next week and spent two weeks in intensive care before 12 days in the infectious disease unit.

"During the summer, he'd complained of pain in his groin so we iced, stretched and did what you'd normally do for muscle pain," said Scott Philabaum, Michael's father. "After (Central's) first scrimmage, we saw the trainer and took four or five days off. He played in that opening game and said he was sore and we thought of course he is, he just played in a game.

"Two days later, he couldn't walk. We got an MRI (Aug. 23) and we got the results (Aug. 26) that it was a sports hernia. We made an appointment with a surgeon and scheduled a surgery, but the pain never subsided. We were basically carrying him everywhere."

By the morning of Aug. 31, Philabaum was jaundiced. His parents rushed him to the hospital, where the diagnosis shocked family, friends and teammates alike.

"No one expects to hear something like that," forward Kwame Amaoko said. "The rest of the season is dedicated to him now. He's fighting. We just want to honor him."

Central was 5-5-2 overall before playing Independence on Oct. 1 and is 1-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division entering a Thursday, Oct. 3, game at Grove City.

Center back Jaden Snell expected to play next to Philabaum, but instead wears an armband for every game adorned with Philabaum's No. 17.

"Every game is for him. It means a little extra to me," Snell said. "He was hungry. He never wanted to let anybody pass him. He's a really smart player. He made it because of his skill and his IQ."

Several teammates visited Philabaum in the hospital Sept. 25, two days before he returned home and four days before his 15th birthday. All Central players signed a team poster and a fundraiser held during a Sept. 10 boys-girls doubleheader against Pickerington North raised more than $400.

Philabaum, whom his father said has lost about 20 pounds in the past month, is undergoing occupational and physical therapy to rebuild his muscles and some motor skills.

Scott Philabaum provides Neiderman with daily updates on his son's progress.

"We reflect on it every day and I read that update to the team," Neiderman said.

"I ask the guys, 'Can you put yourself in his shoes or his family's shoes?' Can they imagine not walking for 28 days? It's things we take for granted."

Girls tennis team set for sectional

Both of the girls tennis team's doubles pairings are seeded in a Division I sectional Thursday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 5, at home, and coach Kelli Rings is optimistic that the Tigers can advance a large contingent to district.

Semmie Moore and Khandice Thomas are seeded first in doubles and Ella Culer and Talia DiLello are third. Moore and Thomas have been the Tigers' first and second singles players all season, while Culver and DiLello are Central's usual first doubles team.

Alexis Heren, Sydney Vernadakis and Katie Weidner will play singles.

The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to district Oct. 10 and 12 at Reynoldsburg.

"Semmie and Khandice were a doubles team early in the season and they've practiced doubles quite a bit this season," Rings said. "I've had those pairings in the back of my mind all year. (Moore and Thomas) have had great seasons. Semmie could have been a top seed in singles, but I felt that pairing was best for us."

Central was 15-4 before playing Worthington Kilbourne on Oct. 1. The Tigers won two home matches last week by 4-1 scores, against Columbus School for Girls on Sept. 25 and Olentangy the next day, and lost 5-0 at Upper Arlington on Sept. 30. Central pulled out three third-set wins against the Braves.

"I think we're in a good place," Rings said. "The girls are confident. They never let their nerves in the way. It doesn't matter what the score is. They stay mentally strong."

Girls soccer team extends win streak

The girls soccer team sought its fourth consecutive win when it visited Marysville on Oct. 1.

Central was 7-5 overall before playing Marysville and is 2-2 in the OCC-Ohio entering its league finale Thursday, Oct. 3, at home against Grove City. The Tigers defeated visiting Lancaster 4-0 on Sept. 17, host Reynoldsburg 2-1 on Sept. 24 and visiting Watkins Memorial 3-1 on Sept. 26. Ramiya Roy had two goals against the Warriors and Ashley Mason and Emma Morton each scored against the Raiders.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

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

CROSS COUNTRY

Oct. 5 -- Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington

BOYS GOLF

Oct. 2 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Turnberry. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.

Oct. 5 -- Wedgewood Showcase

GIRLS GOLF

Oct. 2 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Blacklick Woods. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.

BOYS SOCCER

*Oct. 3 -- At Grove City

Oct. 8 -- Home vs. Northland

GIRLS SOCCER

*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Grove City

Oct. 5 -- Home vs. Westerville South

Oct. 8 -- At Logan

GIRLS TENNIS

Oct. 3, 5 -- Division I sectional at home

Oct. 8 -- Home vs. Watkins Memorial

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Grove City. The Tigers lost to the Greyhounds 25-18, 18-25, 25-21, 25-21 on Sept. 12.

Oct. 5 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto and Logan

*League contest