Girls Soccer: Back line, seniors set tone for Pickerington Central
Her team's tough early season schedule notwithstanding, Pickerington Central girls soccer coach Maria Manzo might be more optimistic about this year's Tigers than any of her previous three teams at her alma mater.
Ten seniors, six of whom are regular starters, return from teams that have won 21 games the past two seasons and reached consecutive Division I district semifinals.
Five of them start either on defense or in the midfield, areas Manzo already calls the strength of the team just a few weeks into the season.
"My back line is the strongest we've ever had," Manzo said of a defensive unit led by seniors Tatum McElwain and Salma Suhaiba. "That line is no joke. They will keep us in a lot of games. They're the reason we'll have a chance every night."
Senior Lexi Herr, junior Brooklyn Miller and sophomore Kelsey Josephson also will see time at defender for Central, which was 0-3 before playing Westerville South on Sept. 3.
Seniors Kristina Faulds, Lea Petrefski and Kassidy Stanley and sophomores Kennedy Coles and Emma Morton have led a deep group of midfielders early. Faulds also plays goalie.
"This is by far the best senior class I've had," Manzo said. "I love this group. They play pretty soccer. They're motivated and dedicated. I have zero issues with this team.
"I've trained these seniors since they were 10. I've had them in club. This particular class is important to me personally just because I've had them for so long. We're building a program, so they know what's expected and tolerated and what's not. They want to get better. Everybody wants to get better. It's not always like that."
Senior Kyah Ewing and junior Ramiya Roy are Central's returning forwards.
Roy had the Tigers' only goals in their first two games, a 5-1 loss at Pickerington North on Aug. 21 and an 8-1 setback at Olentangy Liberty on Aug. 25. Central lost 4-0 at home to Gahanna on Sept. 1.
The season opener was a rematch of last year's second-round Division I district tournament matchup that Central won 2-0.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Nina Azadi-Ardekani (midfielder), Carmen Brown (midfielder) and Brooke Warnock (midfielder), junior Lauryn Evans (goalie) and sophomores Rylee Espartero (forward), Mallory Hinton (midfielder), Taylor Kelley (midfielder) and Mina Roy (forward).
Central begins OCC-Buckeye Division play Sept. 15 at Newark.
"Our schedule is tough, very challenging," Manzo said. "I'd rather it be a challenging game than us crushing a team 13-0. That won't help us. We're excited. We'll find out a lot about ourselves in these games. They tell us what we need to work on."
Panthers hope to meet expectations
North appeared ready to atone for its tournament loss and set the tone for a run to the OCC-Ohio championship in its opener, as senior forward Jackie Norris scored twice and the Panthers took early control against the Tigers.
Norris had a team-leading 18 goals last year for North, which was 2-0-2 before playing Canal Winchester on Sept. 5.
Senior forward Morgan Dragich added 12 last season and senior forward Tori Haggit, a Western Michigan commit, had 10 goals as well as leading the team in assists.
"Tori creates so many goals, too, in addition to scoring. She creates havoc and is so integral to everything we want to do," second-year coach Doug Peterson said. "Jackie does a fantastic job up there. Dragich is playing well. We have some good combinations on offense and a lot of girls we can depend on."
The Panthers also return key members of their defense in seniors Serenity Mason and Kara Thomas as well as Drew Ultican, who is in her second season as starting goalie, from last year's team that went 10-4-3 overall and 3-1-1 in the OCC-Ohio to fall just short of the league title.
The defense lost Haley Moore, a second-team all-state honoree and Capital recruit, to graduation.
A promising group of underclassmen includes sophomores Olivia Boggs (defender), Avery Bowden (midfielder) and Cate Pickering (defender), all of whom started against Central, and freshman Ava Briones (midfielder/forward), who scored against the Tigers.
"With no scrimmages, you wonder what your organization is going to look like because you haven't had that many chances to work things out, let alone see another team," Peterson said. "I like every area of this team. We have a lot of talent in every class and they're already playing well. The defense has been really solid and that comes back to good organization."
The Panthers tied host Olentangy Orange at 1 on Aug. 25 and visiting Liberty at 1 two nights later before routing visiting Lancaster 7-0 on Sept. 1.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Sarah Beechy (forward) and Alex Stein (forward), juniors Adrianna Marcum (forward), Jordan Maruskin (defender), Kate Mizer (midfielder) and Ele Shalawylo (defender) and sophomores Kylie Mizer (forward) and Sofia Walton (goalie).
North begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Sept. 15, at home against Westerville Central.
At a glance
*Coach: Maria Manzo, fourth season
*Top players: Kennedy Coles, Kyah Ewing, Tatum McElwain and Ramiya Roy
*Key losses: Mary Kathryn Berger, Kelsey Knudsen and Lexey Sheets
*Last season: 11-8 overall
*2019 OCC-Ohio standings: Grove City (4-0-1), Gahanna (3-0-2), Pickerington North (3-1-1), Pickerington Central (2-3), Reynoldsburg (1-4), Lancaster (0-5)
*2019 postseason: Defeated Teays Valley 4-0; def. North 2-1; lost to Marysville 2-0 in Division I district semifinal
*Coach: Doug Peterson, second season
*Top players: Morgan Dragich, Tori Haggit, Jackie Norris and Drew Ultican
*Key losses: Claire Combs, Lindsi Filippi and Haley Moore
*Last season: 10-4-3 overall
*2019 postseason: Lost to Central 2-1 in second round of Division I district tournament