Pickerington North boys cross country coach Tim Starkey marvels at the relationship between seniors Matt Duvall and Harper Moore, the top two runners on a Panthers team vying for its third consecutive Division I state appearance.
"Matt is very much the comic relief and Harper is the cerebral runner," Starkey said. "Matt takes everything in stride. Harper likes to plan everything out, every step he is doing.
"They're both phenomenal runners. They're both achieving exactly what we thought they would hit. It's a solid 1-2 punch. We couldn't ask for more out of them."
Duvall and Moore have spent virtually their entire high school careers as a formidable tandem. Entering the Les Eisenhart Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 5 at Thomas Worthington, they have finished next to each other 26 times in 32 races dating to their freshman year, including all eight meets last season and as the Panthers' first and second runners in each of their first four competitions this season.
"Harper and I have always had a great relationship," said Duvall, a three-time state qualifier and a district and regional champion last year who was undefeated in four races to start this season. "When you have two fast guys like that, people might think we don't get along, but we get along great. We'll crack jokes when we can. We want to get the guys laughing and cut down those nerves. At the same time, we're nervous, too."
Duvall started the season by winning North's Pickerington Classic on Aug. 24 in 15 minutes, 46.1 seconds, finishing .6 of a second ahead of runner-up Moore.
He cut time in every race after that and set a program record of 15:10.7 on Sept. 21 during Saturday Night Lights at Centerville. He admits to having his eye on breaking the Pickerington record of 14:59.54, set by 2018 Central graduate Matt Scrape.
Scrape now runs at Syracuse.
"I was all over the place last year. I'd have a really fast time and then the next two weeks, I'd be slower," Duvall said. "But this year, I've just been trying to improve as much as I can each week even though cross country is kind of hard with different terrain and different courses. (On Oct. 5,) I will try for the same thing, to improve my 15:10. But things have been good. Our team is doing the best it's ever done."
North was ranked sixth in last week's Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Division I state poll.
Moore ran a 15:56.8 at Centerville, where he finished 18th, and hopes to drop about 30 seconds from that time by the postseason.
"I want to fine-tune some more things to get the times I know I can hit," Moore said. "If I can stay down in the 15:20s or better, I'll be happy. There is a difference between guys who run in the 15:20s and 15:30s and I want to break that barrier. That's a huge goal for me."
Starkey said Duvall and Moore's relationship rivals that of the one between him and assistant Chase Schneider, who has been with the program for five seasons.
"The guys see him as the brother whereas I'm the dad," said Starkey, who is 11 years older than Schneider. "Schneider is very much into the technology aspect. I'm analog. I do things by paper and pencil. He's the comic relief and I'm the steadfast, grit-and-grind mentality."
The Panthers' results so far encourage Moore that this season could be the program's best yet. North has advanced to state as a team five times, including an eighth-place finish last year. The Panthers' best finish was fifth in 2009.
"Once we put it all together, things will be really good," Moore said. "We're more focused on the back end (of the season) with the OCC (-Ohio Division meet Oct. 12) and everything after that."
Girls tennis team reaches district final
The girls tennis team begins what it hopes will be a productive October on two fronts when it participates in a Division I sectional tournament Thursday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 5, at Reynoldsburg.
Cassie Alcala is seeded second in singles, and both North doubles teams also earned seeds as Maggie Haas and Kim Nguyen are second and Sophia Anderson and Corinna Moesle are third.
Rhyan Cook and Jessica Scruggs also are playing singles.
The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to district Oct. 10 and 12 at Reynoldsburg.
The Panthers were 19-1 overall before playing New Albany on Oct. 1. They won their only match last week, defeating Olentangy Orange 3-2 in an Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district semifinal to advance to the district final Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Upper Arlington.
The winner advances to a state semifinal Oct. 20 at Reynoldsburg.
Boys soccer team faces showdown
The boys soccer team remained undefeated entering the week as it was 8-0-4 before playing Westerville Central on Oct 1, and the Panthers will put their 3-0 record in the OCC-Ohio on the line Thursday, Oct. 3, when they play host to Reynoldsburg.
The Raiders improved to 3-0 in the league with a 2-1 win at Pickerington Central on Sept. 24 in which they scored twice in the last nine minutes.
North went 1-0-1 last week, routing visiting Lancaster 10-1 in league play Sept. 24 behind four goals from Reece Allbaugh and two from Duvall Brannon before playing visiting Olentangy Berlin to a scoreless tie on Sept. 26.
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
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. 1 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Royal American. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.
*Oct. 3 -- At Reynoldsburg
Oct. 8 -- Home vs. New Albany
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
Oct. 8 -- At Granville
Oct. 3, 5 -- Division I sectional at Reynoldsburg
Oct. 8 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg. The Panthers defeated the Raiders 25-18, 25-17, 25-21 on Sept. 12.
Oct. 8 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange