Pickerington North Roundup: Panthers' Amara Okpalaoka, Zamen Siyoum ascending to next level

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
North track and field standouts Zamen Siyoum (left) and Amara Okpalaoka have become two of the state's top athletes. Siyoum, a Purdue recruit, was top-ranked statewide in the 110 hurdles last week by Athletic.net. Okpalaoka, who has signed with Toledo, was ranked sixth in the long jump. Both also are sprinters and run relays.

Having watched Amara Okpalaoka and Zamen Siyoum trend upward throughout 2019, Pickerington North track and field coach Dave Spring said he thought the cancellation of last season might have hit them harder than anyone else in the program.

“Not having that junior year when we were expecting such great things from them motivated them to do so much more than a lot of kids did in the offseason,” Spring said. “They’ve been hungry because of that loss. They had some success as sophomores and they worked to build on that. They used that for motivation. 

“That’s the mentality I try to give the rest of the team, because they overcame adversity and are having the success they are this year because of that.”

Siyoum, a Purdue recruit, was top-ranked statewide in the 110-meter hurdles (14.07 seconds) and seventh in the 300 hurdles (39.38) as of May 4 by Athletic.net, and was part of the Panthers’ second-ranked 1,600 relay (3:22.07).

Okpalaoka, who has signed with Toledo, was ranked sixth in the long jump (program-record 18 feet, 2 1/4 inches) as she seeks a second consecutive Division I state meet appearance. 

She was part of North’s seventh-place 800 relay at state in 2019 with classmate and standout hurdler Mayson Bates, and finished second in the triple jump in the state indoor meet March 6 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva.

“It made me excited to jump more outdoors. I don’t get to do the triple jump here, but I was excited to focus more on the long jump,” Okpalaoka said. “My (college) aspirations probably started my junior year after I started personal training and getting better at track. Coaches reached out to me and I was reaching out to them, too. It became a huge goal for me.”

Okpalaoka also expects to run the 400 and participate in the 800 and 1,600 relays in the postseason, which begins May 19 for the girls team with the district 3 meet at Hilliard Darby. Her best time in the 400 entering the OCC-Ohio Division meet May 13 and 15 at Thomas Worthington is 59.61.

Spring said Siyoum’s “crisp technique” is his biggest strength, something he has honed through competition and intense study of collegiate and professional hurdlers.

“I’ve coached a lot of good hurdlers, but as far as the technical aspect, he ranks up there with the best,” Spring said.

Siyoum finished eighth at regional in the 110 hurdles as a sophomore.

“As a hurdler, it’s hard to see your own flaws until you see (others who are) better,” said Siyoum, who like Okpalaoka trains with Panthers assistant coach Jamie Hence in the offseason. “We spent a lot of time building my strength back up, conditioning, building up to new top speeds and learning to be faster in between hurdles and over top on technique days. Pretty much no days off.”

The district 3 meet begins with field events May 19. The 3,200 relay final and running preliminaries are May 20 and the remaining running finals are May 22.

North’s boys are top-seeded in the district and will compete in district 2. Field events are May 18, the 3,200 relay final and running preliminaries are May 19 and running finals are May 22.

Jackson Nutter and North continue to be a work in progress this spring. “The nuances of the game are still new and those can be frustrating. We’re still learning what works and what doesn’t,” coach Marci Truex said.

Volleyball coach

sees progression

Having lost more than a week in mid-April because of a COVID-19 quarantine, the boys volleyball team has been playing catch-up ever since as it continues to learn the nuances of the game.

Coach Marci Truex said the Panthers, who were 6-11 overall and 4-7 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Reynoldsburg on May 6, had one practice in a two-week stretch sandwiched between 14 scheduled matches from April 20 to May 8.

“For the most part I’ve been really pleased with how their skills are growing. That’s happened by leaps and bounds, but we’re still learning certain situations,” Truex said. “The nuances of the game are still new and those can be frustrating. We’re still learning what works and what doesn’t.”

While Truex has tried a handful of lineups, consistent contributors have included middle hitters Kyle Buckwalter and Ben Slayman, libero Demetrius Debellis, setter Isaac Hopkins, outside hitter Jackson Nutter, setter/defensive specialist Aidan Rose and opposite hitter David Sandhofer.

Players have changed positions on occasion as well, depending on the offensive set.

Outside hitter Cameron Bown missed matches in late April and early May because of an injury.

“They’re learning positions and we’re still learning about each other as well,” Truex said. “I have seen them improve and we will continue to improve. That’s all you can ask. The technical stuff, I can fix, but I can’t fix your heart or your competitive spirit.”

Boys tennis team

prepares for sectional

Pavan Uppu of the boys tennis team earned the fourth seed for a Division I sectional tournament May 13 and 15 at Hilliard Bradley as North begins the postseason.

Cole Alcala and Lashond Thambyrajah will be the Panthers’ other singles players. Doubles teams will be Theo Miller and Kevin Wang and Cooper Stotridge and Riley Wilson.

The top four finishers in singles and doubles advance to district May 20 and 22 at Reynoldsburg.

North was 6-5 overall before playing Bradley on May 5 and finished 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio, third behind New Albany (5-0) and Gahanna (4-1).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave