With the loss of 12 graduates from last year's team, the bulk of the New Albany High School girls soccer team has had to learn on the job early.

With the loss of 12 graduates from last year's team, the bulk of the New Albany High School girls soccer team has had to learn on the job early.

Only five players returned, and the rest simply have tried to grow up in a hurry. The youth of the team has been reflected in the win column, particularly early, as the Eagles lost seven of their first eight games.

Things seem to be looking up, though, as the Eagles had lost just once since then and were 2-8-1 heading into last Tuesday's meeting with Big Walnut. Coach Tony Macerollo said he sees this team "starting to make some headway," and the players just might be getting the spark they need. Senior forward Maria Brown is beginning to work herself back into the lineup after missing more than seven games with a hamstring injury.

"It will be a huge emotional lift," Macerollo said. "It will be a game-changer because she's a phenomenal player. She's a presence out on the field, in the locker room, she's just a good inspirational force."

The Eagles probably won't have Brown at 100 percent, but she still will provide a scoring presence and a leader at the forward spot. Though sophomores Sidney Curley and Jordan Mazzi have played well at forward, Brown's skills can change the way New Albany runs its offense.

"She is able to hold the ball up top all really well," senior Maria Lackey said. "The system we're playing, we kind of have one forward and five in the midfield, so her being able to hold the ball well and not get the ball taken off her feet allows the rest of the midfield to get up and play offense."

Though the non-league schedule hasn't been kind to the Eagles, they still were very much alive in the OCC-Capital Division race at 2-1 before last Tuesday. The loss was to Olentangy Orange (2-1 on Sept. 9), but Orange dropped its game against Big Walnut (2-0 on Sept. 2), putting New Albany in position to earn at least a share of the title by winning out in the league.

Macerollo said that the league race is a significant motivational factor for the Eagles at this point.

"We are still in it," Macerollo said. "We've been stressing it all season, and one of our goals all season was to win the OCC. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. We want to win the OCC, and it's something we've put a big stake in."

The Eagles, who also have been without sophomore Jordyn Albritton all season with an ACL tear, were dealt another blow last week when they lost junior Lauren Thomas, a returning starter on defense. Thomas, who has a stress fracture in a leg, is expected back around the start of the postseason.

Macerollo said that in the absence of Brown and Thomas, several younger players have stepped in admirably to fill those voids. Mazzi and Curley lead the team in scoring with seven goals, and sophomore Taylor Cameron has added three while filling the center midfield spot.

Defensively, juniors Emily Haupt and Kayleigh Helten have played well in the center back, and Macerollo said he's gotten solid all-around contributions from junior Brooke Tolnar.

Brown said it's been tough for her to stay on the sideline for much of the season, but she said she's seen some good signs from the Eagles over the past couple of weeks.

"We're starting to be more aggressive and we're actually starting to play more together," Brown said. "Our passes are getting better as that goes on."

Macerollo agreed that the Eagles seem to be finding their way as they head down the final stretch of the regular season.

"For some of our young players, the speed of play and the tempo (on varsity) is hard to adjust to," Macerollo said. "But we're starting to make the adjustment, and things are definitely starting to click a little bit better."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the New Albany boys and girls soccer teams:

BOYS

*Sept. 9 -- Tied Olentangy Orange at 3. Chris Wieland, Brock Hicks and Andrew Doran scored.

Sept. 11 -- Lost to Olentangy 3-1. Wisniewski scored.

*Sept. 16 -- Defeated Franklin Heights 5-0. Jack Buck scored three goals.

Sept. 18 -- Def. Westerville Central 1-0. Wieland scored and Pat Rowland had four saves.

Last Saturday -- Lost to Westerville North 2-0

*Last Tuesday -- Played Big Walnut

Today -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington

*Tuesday -- At Delaware

Of note: The Eagles were 4-5-2 overall and 2-0-1 in the OCC-Capital before last Tuesday.

GIRLS

*Sept. 9 -- Lost to Orange 2-1. Jordan Mazzi scored.

Sept. 11-- Tied Olentangy at 2. Mazzi and Sidney Curley scored.

*Sept. 16 -- Def. Franklin Heights 9-0. Mazzi had three goals and Curley added two.

Sept. 18 -- Lost to Watterson 3-0

*Last Tuesday -- Played Big Walnut

Today -- At Pickerington Central. The Warhawks were 4-5-1 before last Tuesday.

*Tuesday -- Home vs. Delaware. The Pacers were 3-5-1 and 1-2-1 in the OCC-Capital before last Tuesday

Oct. 2 -- At Worthington Kilbourne. The Wolves were 6-0-1 before last Tuesday.

Of note: The Eagles were 2-8-1 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Capital before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Capital game