Pickerington North boys cross country standout Matt Duvall's mind mostly was on making his fourth consecutive Division I state appearance during the regional Oct. 26 on his home course, but he drew some motivation by looking back instead of ahead.
Seven days earlier in the district 3 meet at Hilliard Darby, a rare cramp helped cost Duvall a win as he finished second, 14.9 seconds behind Dublin Jerome's Elliott Cook.
"That was my first time ever cramping up in a race. I don't know if it was because I didn't drink enough water or something, but I did this week," Duvall said. "Regional is motivation enough, but this is my hometown. This is my home course. You have to represent well."
Duvall left nothing to chance Oct. 26, steadily building his lead to win in 15 minutes, 33.8 seconds, 15.8 seconds ahead of runner-up Cook to lead the Panthers to their third consecutive state berth as a team.
North finished fifth (165 points) behind champion Gahanna (100) as 16 teams scored. The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to state Saturday, Nov. 2, at National Trail Raceway.
"I wanted to be around fifth through the first mile and that didn't go quite as planned," said Duvall, who won his second consecutive regional title. "I think we were four-deep, maybe four across, at the mile marker because it was wide open. The hill at about 1.8 miles (in), I tried throwing a 10-second surge in to get some separation and I just continued from there. The last mile was all downhill. I just kept trying to separate. If I went as hard as I could, I didn't think they could catch me."
Also scoring for the Panthers were Harper Moore (sixth, 16:01.8), Spencer Moledor (41st, 16:54.2), Aaron Moraine (72nd, 17:20.9) and Nick Whitehead (76th, 17:23.5). North finished five points ahead of sixth-place Lancaster (170).
"It was a tough day out there," coach Tim Starkey said. "Matt and Harper had really good days and our other guys kind of performed on an average basis so we just need to retool for the state meet.
"You don't have to perform great at the regional. You just have to perform great at the state meet. That is the week when we want to perform best. If we can make it to the state meet performing below average, below what we expect from ourselves, then fine. (This week) is where we will improve."
North is making its sixth state appearance in program history. The Panthers finished eighth last year and ninth in 2017.
In the girls regional race, North finished 13th (385) behind champion Hilliard Davidson (36) as 17 teams scored.
Emma Rittman was 29th (19:47.8), followed by Ashley Khatib (58th, 20:29.5), Brianna Bowden (71st, 20:38.7), Emily Harness (74th, 20:42.4) and Lainy Grube (106th, 21:18.8).
"I can't imagine there's any way to really prepare for a (rainy) day like this, but you just play through it," coach Jim Langenderfer said.
"I'm pretty happy that the girls weren't afraid of racing this kind of competition, as shown by the places we had. We had some head colds going around, but the girls were pumped up and ready and they got after it."
Boys soccer team falls in semifinal
The boys soccer team's only loss of the season also ended its year, as the fourth-seeded Panthers lost 3-2 to visiting and 23rd-seeded Westerville Central in a Division I district semifinal Oct. 22 to finish 11-1-6 overall.
Senior midfielder Duvall Brannon and senior forward Cameron Williams scored for North, which led 1-0 at halftime. Alex Perrini scored twice and Jack Bumbico added a goal for the Warhawks.
Senior goalkeeper Cory Pulles made 10 saves for North.
The Panthers went 3-0-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division to finish second behind Reynoldsburg (4-0-1), ending their three-year streak of league championships. North and Reynoldsburg played to a 1-all tie on Oct. 3 and the Panthers' 1-all tie against Grove City on Oct. 10 gave the Raiders sole possession of the title.
Among North's 13 seniors is senior forward Reece Allbaugh, who scored a program-record 51 career goals.
Players eligible to return include juniors Ty Bowden (goalie), Tyler Reitano (midfielder) and Alex Watros (midfielder) and sophomore Uche Odemana (midfielder).
Girls soccer coach reflects on season
The girls soccer team expects to return its top three scorers in junior forwards Jackie Norris (18 goals), Morgan Dragich (12) and Tori Haggit (10) after falling short of a Division I district final appearance for the first time since 2011.
North went 10-4-3 overall but lost to visiting and 21st-seeded Pickerington Central 2-1 in the second round of the district tournament Oct. 19.
The second-seeded Panthers went 3-1-1 in the OCC-Ohio to finish second behind champion Grove City (4-0-1).
"Looking back at the season, the girls should be very proud," coach Doug Peterson said. "With so many players in new positions, it took a few games for everyone to work through roles and responsibilities. But as the season progressed, it was very impressive to watch the girls work together and move the ball."
Other players eligible to return include juniors Claire Combs (midfielder), Serenity Mason (forward), Kara Thomas (defender) and Drew Ultican (goalie).
Combs, a third-team all-district honoree, is a Marshall commit.
Senior defender Haley Moore earned first-team all-district honors and will play at Capital.
Restuccio named boys lacrosse coach
Kurt Restuccio has been named boys lacrosse coach pending board approval, athletics director Molly Feesler announced Oct. 24.
Restuccio, who served as junior varsity coach the past two seasons and previously had coached at Lakeview Junior High and in Westerville schools, is a fifth- and sixth-grade visual arts teacher at Diley and Harmon middle schools.
"I'm very grateful for another opportunity to work with our students," Restuccio said. "Over the years, I've become more comfortable with what being a coach is, as well as the roles and responsibilities that come with it. Each season, I've been able to mesh a bit more of what I've learned from previous players, parents, and coaches with my own style - high energy (and) high expectations, but always looking to develop young men with high character."
Restuccio replaces Tyler Nelson, who went 14-22 overall and 6-8 in the OCC-Central in two seasons. According to Feesler, Nelson resigned after a promotion in his full-time job meant he would be unable to continue coaching.