Pickerington Central Roundup: Chase Balko, Grace Osborn maintain lofty goals

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Central's Chase Balko and Lancaster's Noah Johnson compete in the OCC-Buckeye Division meet Oct. 17 at Central. Balko placed fourth and Johnson finished sixth as the Tigers wound up in second place behind the Golden Gales.

Grace Osborn stopped short of saying her approach to the postseason would be “state or bust.”

Instead, the Pickerington Central girls cross country team’s senior standout took her quest for a fourth consecutive Division I regional appearance on a week-by-week basis throughout the regular season and beyond, beginning with the district 2 meet Oct. 24 at Hilliard Darby.

“I just have to keep my legs fresh,” said Osborn, who entered the postseason seeking her first state berth. “I’m just working on peaking in the postseason, which is now. I have let myself approach things that way and not push myself as hard as I have in years past during the (regular) season.”

Osborn finished third (20 minutes, 23.3 seconds) in the OCC-Buckeye Division meet Oct. 17 at Central, a race in which she admitted preserving some energy for subsequent races, and expected a considerable time drop on a traditionally fast course at Darby. Her personal-best time entering district was 19:21.

Osborn was 50th at regional as a freshman and 40th as a sophomore, running with her team both those years, and 34th at regional a year ago. At district, the top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to regional Saturday, Oct. 31, at Pickerington North.

“(My approach) comes with experience,” Osborn said. “Freshman year, I would pace myself way too fast and come out at maybe 5:57 for my first mile and I’d die out the rest of the race. Now, I know if I come out slower and preserve my energy, I’ll have some at the end.”

Osborn led four teammates in the top 10 in the league meet, although Central finished second (47 points) behind Lancaster (26) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (65), Newark (102), Central Crossing (138) and Groveport (147). 

Amber Carter was fifth (20:34.2), followed by Talia Mauro (ninth, 21:07.3), Anna Heren (10th, 21:21.7) and Grace Vega (23rd, 22:14.6).

“We’ve been plagued with injuries this whole season,” coach Jacob Schimberg said. “Ashley Carter and Brenna Todd (who is out for the season) haven’t been in that top group, so the girls behind them have been training hard to step up and fill that gap.

“I talk about how they’ll have to train like they race. They’ve had to make more aggressive target times. They have to accelerate those paces. If they can do that on a consistent basis throughout the weekend, then on Saturdays they will run faster.”

In the boys race, Jailen Wilis was second (16:25) and Chase Balko fourth (16:40.7) to lead Central to second place (44) behind Lancaster (33) and ahead of Reynoldsburg (73), Newark (88) and Central Crossing (152). Also scoring for the Tigers were Brycen Rogers (11th, 17:12.8), Gavin Kelly (13th, 17:16.6) and Andrew Scrape (14th, 17:21).

Balko, who has run at regional each of the past three seasons and began the postseason seeking his second consecutive state berth, said he is ahead of where he was last year. Balko was 17th at regional and 139th at state as a junior.

“I am feeling a lot stronger. I’d say I’m running a lot better than I did last year. I am confident,” Balko said. “We’re trying to get to regional and then make it to state. That’s the final goal. Whatever happens from here, we’ve worked towards that and that’s what matters.”

The top five teams and top 20 individuals in the boys district meet advanced to regional.

At regional, the top five teams and top 20 individuals qualify for state Nov. 7 at Fortress Obetz.

Junior J.J. Bouarouy recently became the third consecutive setter on the Central girls volleyball team to record 1,000 assists.

Volleyball player

reaches milestone

Girls volleyball setter J.J. Bouarouy wasn’t keeping track of her career assists and didn't expect to hit a milestone in just her second season as a starter for the Tigers.

But Bouarouy, a junior, recently became Central’s third consecutive setter to record 1,000 assists, following Macy Selan (2012-15) and Maddie Pletcher (2016-18).

Seeded 10th in the Division I district tournament, the Tigers were 18-4 before playing host to 13th-seeded Thomas Worthington in a second-round match Oct. 22. Central began the postseason with a 25-19, 25-22, 25-23 home win over 27th-seeded Upper Arlington in the first round Oct. 20.

“It means a lot to me because it means I’m getting my hitters the ball where they need it to be,” Bouarouy said. “That’s a really big accomplishment for me, especially because this is only my second year on varsity, so I feel like that makes it a bigger milestone for me. …

“We have really good chemistry. We get along pretty well on and off the court. It really helps with everything we do.”

The Central-Thomas winner played ninth-seeded Worthington Kilbourne or 29th-seeded Marysville in a district semifinal Oct. 28. That winner will play third-seeded Watterson, 17th-seeded Teays Valley, 20th-seeded Olentangy Berlin or 37th-seeded Central Crossing in a district final Saturday, Oct. 31.

All district tournament matches are at the home of the better seed.

Tennis players

fall short of state

Girls tennis coach Kelli Rings acknowledged that few coaches and players who end the season are truly happy “unless they are holding a trophy.”

That is partly why she and the Tigers felt they left something on the court in the Division I district tournament Oct. 15 at Reynoldsburg. Senior Semmie Moore and junior Khandice Thomas went 1-1 in doubles but fell a win short of state, losing to Olentangy Orange’s Tyler Reed and Caroline Sproule 6-3, 6-0 in a state-qualifying match.

Central’s other doubles team, senior Ella Culver and sophomore Alexis Heren, lost to Olentangy’s Sydney Nickel and Archita Sriram 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the first round.

“It was a disappointing day overall, but you almost always walk away from the season with at least a few things you’d change,” Rings said. “They worked extremely hard and I hope they will appreciate that once the disappointment (of the end of the season) wears off.”

Central went 19-3 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Buckeye to win its first league title since 2017.

Among the other players eligible to return are junior Robyn Beaty and sophomore Issysis Hill.

“The four we have coming back should make a solid core,” Rings said. “I hope the girls who played junior varsity this year really buckle down and get ready for that jump from j.v. to varsity.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

GIRLS TENNIS

Record: 19-3 overall

OCC-Buckeye standings: Pickerington Central (5-0), Lancaster (4-1), Reynoldsburg (3-2), Newark (2-3), Central Crossing (1-4), Groveport (0-5)

Seniors lost: Ella Culver, Semmie Moore and Sydney Vernadakis

Key returnees: Robyn Beaty, Alexis Heren, Issysis Hill and Khandice Thomas