Pickerington Central Roundup: Singles players showing strong work ethic for Tigers' girls tennis team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Alexis Heren (left), Khandice Thomas and Semmie Moore have been a consistent combination on the singles courts for the Pickerington Central girls tennis team. The Tigers recently won the OCC-Buckeye Division championship.

Pickerington Central girls tennis coach Kelli Rings stopped short of calling this year’s singles lineup the best in her 22 seasons, largely because she’s had more successful players than she can count during a tenure that has included 15 league championships. 

Still, the trio of Semmie Moore, Khandice Thomas and Alexis Heren stands out in its own way. 

“We’ve had a lot of great singles players who have carried their own, but the thing about these three is their commitment,” Rings said. “They’re not overshadowing each other. They work hard together. They don’t waste time. They’re so receptive to the team (and) to me. 

“While we’ve had a lot of great players, by the time you get to this point in the season, it can be like pulling teeth to get them to practice hard. These girls, I don’t have to say much to them. They practice with purpose and know we still have a lot to achieve.” 

With Moore at first singles, followed by Thomas and Heren at second and third singles, respectively, the Tigers went 5-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division and were 14-2 overall before playing Hilliard Bradley on Sept. 28 in an Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district quarterfinal. 

Moore, a senior, and Thomas, a junior, are in their second seasons on those courts. 

Heren, a sophomore, played some first doubles as a freshman with 2020 graduate Talia DiLello when Ella Culver was injured early in the season, but also had several matches at third singles. 

“(Rings) really believes in our positions and knows we can do well wherever she puts us,” Heren said. “I love my forehand. It’s very strong. My serve, I’ve worked a lot on that and I like it most of the time.”  

Moore, who played third singles as a freshman and moved up a court as a sophomore, said increased emphasis on her mental game also has boosted her confidence. 

“We’ve become stronger as a unit and with our own abilities,” Moore said. “The best way I’ve grown is mentally. Even if everything physical is gone for you during a match, you have to stay in mentally. That and making sure I stay more consistent throughout every point.” 

Like Moore and Heren, Thomas plays and trains all year. She broke into the lineup as a freshman, succeeding Moore at third singles. 

“I like my power with the ball and my mental game. I worked a lot on that in the offseason,” Thomas said. “Tennis is a year-round thing for me. When I’m not in season, I spend two to four days a week in a gym putting in two to three hours of work. I always want to improve.” 

In the OTCA district tournament, the Central-Bradley winner will play Reynoldsburg or Upper Arlington in a district semifinal. 

Boys soccer team  

gaining momentum 

Boys soccer coach Brett Neiderman admits he realized during his team’s 0-6-1 start that he “always took our four scrimmages for granted.” 

“It took us a little while to work through some things with our lineup and change a few things around,” Neiderman said. “We’re not very deep, so we need minutes out of everybody. We only have three seniors, which isn’t common for us. Several of our younger guys were playing junior varsity last year and they’ve had to step it up.” 

Patience paid off for Central, which snapped its slow start with a 4-2 win at Newark to open OCC-Buckeye play Sept. 15.  

The Tigers took a three-game winning streak into a Sept. 29 game against Logan, and were 3-6-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Buckeye. 

After its win at Newark, Central beat Westland 4-0 on Sept. 17 and Central Crossing 6-0 on Sept. 22 behind three goals from Elhadji Mbow. 

Koen Droese had 10 goals and five assists through 10 games. 

“Koen has been immense,” Neiderman said. “We’ve been good defensively, too. Michael Philabaum has been a warrior. He puts his body on the line every single game and at every practice. Ethan Simmons and Nathan Bauer have been huge back there, too.” 

Ian Camp and Aiden Sullivan have split time in goal. 

Volleyball team  

leading league 

The girls volleyball team rebounded from a three-match losing streak in early September in resounding fashion, winning six matches in a row – including its first five in the OCC-Buckeye – to sit in first place as the second round of league play begins Thursday, Oct. 1, at home against Newark. 

Central was 8-3 overall before playing North on Sept. 28 and finished the first round of OCC-Buckeye matches with a 25-20, 25-10, 25-16 win at Reynoldsburg on Sept. 23. That was the Tigers’ third win in as many nights. 

After a 25-27, 25-23, 25-14, 25-18 home win over Thornville Sheridan on Sept. 21, the next night the Tigers defeated their closest league challenger to date, Lancaster, 25-23, 25-21, 25-14 at home. That was the Golden Gales’ first league loss. 

Central won all but one of its first five league matches in three games. The only exception was a 25-13, 25-12, 21-25, 25-16 victory at Newark on Sept. 10. 

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekDave