Something wasn't clicking for the Pickerington Central girls volleyball team, and it took coach Eric Hughes and his staff a while to figure out what might help.
The answer came when the Tigers changed their practice habits, shaking up their routine almost two months into the season by placing more emphasis on match play than drills.
The result was two Division I district tournament victories last week that allowed Central to make its fifth consecutive district semifinal appearance.
"It seems to have worked pretty well," Hughes said. "We weren't accomplishing the goals we wanted out of the practices we were having, so we went outside the box and did a lot more match play. We challenged the players to improve during play rather than during drills. The goal was to make them think better on the court (and) have higher energy on the court. We wanted practice to transition better into matches."
Seeded 24th of 49 teams in the district, Central began the postseason with a 21-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-17 win at 18th-seeded Canal Winchester in the first round Oct. 15 and beat visiting and 39th-seeded Briggs 25-6, 25-13, 25-11 in a second-round match two nights later.
The Tigers were 11-11 before playing top-seeded Olentangy Orange in a district semifinal Oct. 23 at Central Crossing.
Led by the front row of middle hitters Emma Beretich and Alayja Floyd and outside hitters Londyn Coles and Brittany Miller, Central led the third set against Canal Winchester by as many as 14 points and fended off a similar comeback to win the fourth.
According to Coles, the Tigers' new practice habits paid off last week, especially with serve-receive.
"Once you get to the end of the year, toward tournament time, things get repetitive, so we went six-on-six all the time and made sure to keep challenging each other," Coles said. "We tend to go outsides against outsides and middles against middles and it has gotten us all stronger at the end of the day.
"Our middles (against Canal Winchester), that's the best I have seen them block all season. They did their jobs, executed and scored a lot of points."
The semifinal winner will play 11th-seeded Big Walnut or 14th-seeded Grove City in a district final Saturday, Oct. 26, at Central Crossing.
The district champion advances to a regional semifinal Oct. 31 at Worthington Kilbourne.
Central lost twice to Grove City in OCC-Ohio play, 25-18, 18-25, 25-21, 25-21 on Sept. 12 and 25-19, 25-19, 18-25, 25-13 on Oct. 3.
"This team is all about our mental toughness," Hughes said. "If we have it, good things happen. If we don't, we have rough days."
Boys runners, Osborn advance to regional
The boys cross country team and Grace Osborn of the girls team will participate in the Division I regional meet Saturday, Oct. 26, at Pickerington North.
Jailen Willis was seventh (16 minutes, 26.6 seconds) in the district 1 meet Oct. 19 at Hilliard Darby to lead the boys to 131 points and fourth place behind champion Hilliard Davidson (39) as 16 teams scored. The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to regional.
Also scoring for the Tigers, who qualified for regional for the sixth consecutive year, were Chase Balkp (14th, 16:39.1), Brycen Rogers (32nd, 17:03.2), Gavin Kelly (35th, 17:11.1) and Andrew Scrape (42nd, 17:25.2).
In the girls district 1 meet, Osborn placed eighth (19:45.8) to earn an individual regional berth after advancing with the team each of the past two years.
Central finished sixth (154) behind champion Olentangy Liberty (63) as 14 teams scored.
Osborn was followed by Talia Mauro (22nd, 20:30.8), Ashley Carter (37th, 20:58.2), Amber Carter (40th, 21:01.1) and Grace Vega (47th, 21:28.3).
At regional, the top five teams and top 20 individuals advance to state Nov. 2 at National Trail Raceway.
Girls soccer team upsets Panthers
Goals from Brooklyn Miller and Ramiya Roy erased an early 1-0 deficit Oct. 19 as the 21st-seeded girls soccer team upset host and second-seeded North 2-1 in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Goalkeeper Lauryn Evans made two saves as the Tigers defeated the Panthers for the first time since the 2014 season and the second time overall. One of those losses was a 9-0 setback in a district semifinal last year.
Central was 11-7 before visiting ninth-seeded Marysville in a district semifinal Oct. 23. The winner will play 14th-seeded Canal Winchester or 16th-seeded Gahanna in a district final Saturday, Oct. 26, at a neutral site.
The district champion faces Big Walnut, Darby, Orange or Watterson in a regional semifinal Tuesday, Oct. 29, at a neutral site. The regional final is Nov. 2.
Central lost to Gahanna 3-0 on Sept. 14.
Boys soccer team reaches semifinal
The boys soccer team visited second-seeded Liberty for a Division I district semifinal Oct. 22, hoping to continue a hot start to the postseason that saw the 22nd-seeded Tigers outscore their first two opponents 12-3.
Central won two games at home last week, defeating 42nd-seeded Watkins Memorial 7-3 in the first round Oct. 15 and 32nd-seeded Teays Valley 5-0 two nights later.
Elvis Fianko's two goals led the Tigers past the Warriors. Koen Droese had a hat trick against Teays Valley as Central improved to 10-5-2.
The semifinal winner will play 11th-seeded Upper Arlington or 24th-seeded Gahanna in a district final Saturday, Oct. 26, at a neutral site.
The district champion plays Dublin Coffman, Dublin Scioto, North or Westerville Central in a regional semifinal Wednesday, Oct. 30, at a neutral site. The regional final is Nov. 2.
The Tigers defeated Gahanna 2-0 on Oct. 10 and lost to Westerville Central 3-2 on Aug. 27 and North 7-1 on Sept. 10.