Pickerington North girls basketball player Drew Ultican doesn't think she was much of a leader the past two years, mostly because she didn't have to be.
But Ultican has embraced that role as a junior, first as the girls soccer team's starting goalkeeper this past fall and then as a forward and center on the girls basketball team.
"I think (being prominent in both sports) has helped me keep calm and steady. I am used to the pressure of being the last line of defense. Knowing I could do it in soccer helps me in here, too," said Ultican, who at 5-foot-11 is the Panthers' tallest player along with Jada Moultair. "(Coach Silas Williams) has told me a few times that I have to be consistent with how I play and just try to work hard. I try to be that person. That's evolved as I've gotten older. I wasn't a leader as a freshman and a sophomore. I wasn't starting as much then, so I wasn't as much of a leader then as I am now."
Ultican, classmate Alsaysha Grant and sophomore Adi Dorman have shouldered much of the leadership during a challenging season for North, which has only one senior in guard Lindsi Filippi.
Dorman, Grant and Ultican combined to average 17.6 points through 19 games for the Panthers, who were 2-18 overall before playing Canal Winchester on Feb. 4 and are 0-9 in the OCC-Ohio Division entering their regular-season finale Friday, Feb. 7, at home against Reynoldsburg.
Of those three, only Dorman was healthy last week. The 5-6 Grant is expected to be sidelined by shin splints for at least another week, which would mean she would not play another regular-season game, and Ultican was nursing a sprained right ankle last week.
"They've been solid. I told them at the beginning of the year that they're playing with more responsibility on their shoulders," Williams said. "Drew has been steady even though her numbers aren't great. Her rebounding has been impressive. Adi is one of those point guards who doesn't turn the ball over a lot and (Grant) has been trying to take on that scoring role."
Grant was averaging 6.8 points before her injury. Ultican, whom Williams called a necessary "steadying force" for the team, added 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds.
"We desperately need it. She's very good on the floor, but we rely on her for a steadiness in the locker room, too," Williams said.
The 5-8 Dorman, who agreed with Williams' assessment that she is a "pass-first point guard," was the backup to 2019 graduate Mickale Bates in that spot last year.
"I took a lot of what (Bates) did and tried to incorporate that into my game," Dorman said. "She was super aggressive. If situations weren't going in our favor, she would take control and calm the team. I try to do that a lot. If we're not doing our best, I want to gather us together and remind everybody what we need to focus on. I am not the most vocal person, so I'm definitely stepping out of my comfort zone."
Grant naturally is a shooting guard but played the point for a few games in December when Dorman was injured.
"That was actually a good opportunity because now, (Williams) wants me to bring up the ball sometimes so that experience helped," Grant said. "I hadn't been a point (guard) much until this year. I came in a lot during the summer and (Williams) would always remind me those were the important days, that once the younger players came in, they'd look up to me. If I didn't put in the work during the summer, the season could be a mess."
North received the 42nd seed in the coming 48-team Division I district tournament. The Panthers took a first-round bye and will visit sixth-seeded Westerville North or 37th-seeded Grove City in the second round Feb. 21.
Swimmers getting set for sectional
Swimming and diving coach Justin Dortch was encouraged by his teams' performances at the OCC-Ohio meet Jan. 26 at Kenyon College and expects them to continue improving at a Division I sectional meet Saturday, Feb. 8, at Upper Arlington.
Dortch called the weeks leading up to sectional the "broken down" part of the season because of both intensive training and the fact that no swimmers tapered prior to this week.
"We're wearing practice suits. They're old and dragging," Dortch said.
According to Dortch, swimmers who appear to be peaking include Connor Daniel, who was league runner-up in the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 3.97 seconds), and Marcus Schwartz, who was on the winning 200 medley relay (1:43.42) and finished second in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.65).
"(Daniel's IM) was one of the best swims of the day," Dortch said. "Marcus is a young, talented freshman who was a second off his best time in the 100 breaststroke. We're right there, right where we want to be (at this point). These kids are going to be there (by sectional), ready to get those best times. They know if something small goes wrong, their season might be over."
Eleven boys teams and 12 girls teams will compete at the UA sectional.
The winner of each event automatically qualifies for the district meet Feb. 13 at Ohio State. In addition, 27 at-large district berths will be awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
Divers do not compete until district, with the boys competing Wednesday, Feb. 12, at Ohio State, followed by the girls the next day.
The top four boys divers at district advance to state Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, and the top five girls divers advance to state Feb. 20.
Boys team hangs in league title race
Casey George had 15 points, Savion Marshall-Hamilton scored 12 and Hunter Shedenhelm added 11 to lead the boys basketball team to a 52-31 win at Lancaster on Jan. 31, a victory that kept the Panthers in contention for at least a share of the OCC-Ohio championship.
North was 15-4 overall before playing Canal Winchester on Feb. 4 and is 6-2 in the league entering a Friday, Feb. 7, home game against Reynoldsburg.
The Panthers are tied for second in the OCC-Ohio with Pickerington Central, a game behind Gahanna (7-1).
Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, bowling and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 7 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg. The Panthers defeated the Raiders 50-37 on Jan. 3.
*Feb. 6 -- Marysville at Dragon Lanes
Feb. 6 -- At Mount Vernon
Feb. 8 -- Fifth-seeded Hilliard Bradley in Division I, Region 6 team dual tournament quarterfinal at Hilliard Darby. Winner faces top-seeded Upper Arlington, eighth-seeded New Carlisle Tecumseh or ninth-seeded Grove City in semifinal. The final will take place later in the day. The regional champion advances to the state tournament Feb. 16 at Ohio State's St. John Arena. The Panthers are seeded fourth.