Though the season for the New Albany High School boys soccer team ended in virtually the same painful way that it did last year, the steps forward for the program were apparent.

Though the season for the New Albany High School boys soccer team ended in virtually the same painful way that it did last year, the steps forward for the program were apparent.

For a second consecutive season, the New Albany played Big Walnut to a scoreless tie throughout regulation and overtime in the Division II district tournament before losing 1-0 in a shootout in a district final last Saturday. Big Walnut hit its first four penalty kicks, and New Albany made just two.

"The game can't go on forever, and you've got to end it somehow," coach Chad Schuler said. "Nobody has come up with a better way to end it than a shootout, so that's what we're going to do. Big Walnut played well, and I feel like the strongest player for their team is their keeper (A.J. Fleak), and if you go into a shootout, you've got to face their strongest player."

This season, however, New Albany took that loss in a district final, two round further than it advanced last season. The Eagles finished 7-8-4 overall, an improvement on last year's mark of 6-10-2.

Next season, New Albany will compete in Division I.

The Eagles opened the tournament with a 2-1 win over Watterson in the second round Oct. 16, and they reached their first Division II district final by beating Granville 1-0 in a semifinal Oct. 21.

Against Granville, New Albany got the winning goal from freshman Tyler Washington with just less than 16 minutes left in regulation. Jack Buck sent a low corner kick across the goal, and Washington was able to knock the ball inside the left post with a knee. Goalie Patrick Rowland had four saves.

In the district final, New Albany had several offensive chances during regulation and overtime, but Fleak came up with big plays to turn the Eagles away each time. New Albany finished with five shots on goal, compared to three for Big Walnut.

The Eagles finished fourth in the OCC-Capital Division at 2-2-2 behind Delaware (4-0-2), Mount Vernon (4-1-1) and Orange (2-1-3) and ahead of Big Walnut (1-2-3), Watkins Memorial (1-4-1) and Franklin Heights (0-6).

New Albany once again played a tough non-league slate, including games against Beavercreek (3-2 loss Sept. 6), Reynoldsburg (1-all tie Aug. 23), DeSales (scoreless tie Oct. 9) and Worthington Christian (2-1 loss Aug. 28). The Eagles played 11 games against Division I teams.

The tough schedule should bode well for the move to Division I next season, but the Eagles will have to overcome significant senior losses. The defense will take the biggest hit, as three of four defenders and the starting goalie are seniors.

Senior Clay Eichenseer, a four-year varsity player, moved to defense this season, joining seniors Nick Buck and Nate Guy and junior Jay Griffith, all two-year starters. Pat Rowland took over the starting goalie job after backing up Ian Zinesmeister the past two seasons, and he was a big reason Eagles allowed 1.16 goals on average.

The Eagles also will lose a few of their top offensive players, including two-year starting forward Chris Wieland and two-year starting midfielder Andrew Doran. Wieland finished with five goals and Doran had three. Senior midfielder Brock Hicks also saw significant playing time and scored three goals.

"Our defense played so strong for us, so we're going to have to do a lot in the offseason to figure out kind of what guys we're going to look at next year to anchor that defense," Schuler said.

Still, New Albany should have a substantial core of experienced players next season, including two-year letterwinners Griffith, Jack Buck and Trent Guy. Jack Buck and Guy saw plenty of action in the center midfield.

Washington earned a starting spot at forward and should be one of the top offensive threats next season. The Eagles also expect to return junior David Soldaini, junior Bryson Erb, junior Brian Farber, junior Matt Washington, sophomore Braden Passias, sophomore Kyle Wisniewski and freshman Chad Coomes.

Schuler said he thinks the fact that three freshman (including forward Oliver Sybert, who moved up late in the year from the junior varsity) and four sophomores were there to experience the run to a district final should bode well for future postseasons. The Eagles will might will certainly have their hands full in the Division I tournament next season, but Schuler said he believes the team is as prepared as possible, especially considering they were Division III as recently as 2004.

"Next year, it's going to be a jump for us in the tournament, but not in the regular season," he said. "The teams that we're going to see next year are the same teams we saw this year, so I think we've planned ahead pretty well preparing for this four year stretch where we've gone from Division III to Division I."

At a glance

•Record: 7-8-4 overall, 2-2-2 (fourth) in OCC-Capital

•Seniors lost: Nick Buck, Andrew Doran, Clay Eichenseer, Nate Guy, Brock Hicks, Pat Rowland and Chris Wieland

•Key returnees: Jack Buck, Jay Griffith, Trent Guy, Tyler Washington and Kyle Wisniewski