Girls Tennis: Pickerington North features mostly new cast

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Senior Corinna Moesle is the only returnee for the North girls tennis team and 18th-year coach Brian Hoff. The Panthers opened their season Aug. 12 with a 5-0 home win over Worthington Kilbourne.

More questions surround the Pickerington North girls tennis team this season than in any recent year, and not just because the Panthers lost one of the best players in program history to graduation.

Senior Corinna Moesle is the only returnee from last year's team that won a second consecutive OCC-Ohio Division championship and third in four years, and spots for the girls joining the lineup this year remained up in the air as the season began Aug. 12 with a 5-0 home win over Worthington Kilbourne.

"This is a very unique year. We've never had seven new varsity members in one season," 18th-year coach Brian Hoff said. "We've pretty much had the same varsity team the last three or four years. This year, we have lots of openings and opportunities for new players to step into these varsity spots.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how these new girls step up into these varsity roles. The girls are hard workers. We will be a much better team at the end of the season than we are now. That's our top goal this year and every year."

Moesle and classmate Jeslyn Eskander could rotate at first and second singles.

Moesle alternated between singles and doubles as a junior and came within one win of advancing to the Division I state tournament in doubles with 2020 graduate Sophia Anderson.

Eskander saw time in eight varsity matches last season, mostly in doubles.

"Jeslyn worked very hard in the offseason. She was right there competing for a varsity spot the past couple years," Hoff said. "Everyone else (behind Eskander and Moesle) will be competing and playing doubles and some singles. It will take some time to determine doubles teams (with) so many new people."

Rounding out the roster are senior Caroline Rowell, juniors Laken Dreher and Sarah McCully, sophomores Tasha Miller and Kanisha Thambyrajah and freshman Gabrielle Dobberstein.

North resumed its season Aug. 18 at home against Olentangy.

The Panthers begin OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Aug. 25, at home against Westerville Central. Among their new league foes as part of conference realignment is New Albany, which won 13 OCC-Capital championships in its 14 seasons in that division and is coached by former North assistant Marc Thomas.

The Panthers went 20-2 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio last year.

"This will be a very challenging league," Hoff said. "Gahanna is always tough. New Albany will be the team to beat. They are very talented and well-coached."

Cassie Alcala, a Toledo recruit, went 99-10 in her career and was a four-time Division I state qualifier and three-time district champion. She finished second at state as a sophomore and third last year.

North also was runner-up in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association district tournament last year. The Panthers' visit to Pickerington Central on Wednesday, Aug. 26, will double as an OTCA first-round match.

Strong singles lineup to lead Tigers

Senior Semmie Moore and junior Khandice Thomas, who as a doubles team fell a win short of the Division I state tournament last year, return to anchor the singles lineup for Central, which hopes to establish itself atop the new-look OCC-Buckeye.

Moore began the season at first singles, ahead of Thomas and sophomore Alexis Heren at second and third singles, respectively.

Central was 2-0 before playing New Albany on Aug. 18. The Tigers opened the season last week with 5-0 home wins against Bloom-Carroll on Aug. 10 and Westerville Central on Aug. 11.

"They all seem to be in a groove right now. They're excited for a season and to keep things moving," 22nd-year coach Kelli Rings said. "We have a nice core group back. Semmie has improved tremendously. All three of our singles players are hitting good strides right now and the doubles teams are coming together. I'm not totally sure what the (doubles) teams will end up being, but I know the four girls who will be there. It's just a matter of figuring out the right combinations."

The doubles teams will feature seniors Ella Culver and Sydney Vernadakis, junior Robyn Beaty and sophomore Issysis Hill.

Junior Emily Gronowski also has been practicing with the varsity and might see time this season, according to Rings.

There are 28 players in the program, up from 24 last season.

"It's pretty cut and dry that (Heren, Moore and Thomas) are our top three," Rings said. "The other four are evenly matched and all bring something different to the table. It's a matter of finding those combinations that will complement each other on the doubles court(s)."

Central begins OCC-Buckeye competition Aug. 25 at Newark.

The Tigers went 17-4 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Ohio last year, second behind North.

Central will seek its first league championship since 2017, the last of a stretch that saw the Tigers win nine OCC-Ohio titles in 10 years.

"Change can be good," Rings said. "There are five teams out there (in the OCC-Buckeye) and we look forward to playing all of them. You never know what each year will bring."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

At a glance

CENTRAL

*Coach: Kelli Rings, 22nd season

*Top players: Ella Culver, Alexis Heren,

Semmie Moore and Khandice Thomas

*Key losses: Talia DiLello and Katie Weidner

*Last season: 17-4 overall

*2019 OCC-Ohio standings: North (5-0), Central (4-1), Gahanna (3-2), Grove City (1-4, Lancaster (1-4) and Reynoldsburg (1-4)

NORTH

*Coach: Brian Hoff, 18th season

*Top players: Jeslyn Eskander, Sarah McCully, Corinna Moesle and Caroline Rowell

*Key losses: Cassie Alcala, Sophia Anderson, Rhyan Cook, Maggie Haas and Kim Nguyen

*Last season: 20-2 overall