Despite exiting the Division I district tournament a round or two earlier than expected, the New Albany High School girls volleyball team closed the season feeling positive about the future of the program.

Despite exiting the Division I district tournament a round or two earlier than expected, the New Albany High School girls volleyball team closed the season feeling positive about the future of the program.

In their second season under coach Josh Lee, the Eagles nearly doubled their win total from the previous season and earned the 11th seed for the district tournament in their first year in Division I. The Eagles advanced to the second round before losing to Gahanna 25-22, 25-17, 25-20 last Saturday.

"We're really happy with this season," Lee said. "They surpassed my expectations for our record this year. Ideally, as a coach and as players, you never want to be done in the second round of the tournament. But I'm very happy with the way the girls competed and the chemistry on the team this year, the way the girls really got along and worked through things. This was a model team to coach."

The Eagles opened the district tournament by beating Independence 25-7, 25-19, 25-14 on Oct. 21 in the first round. Against Gahanna, Lee said he couldn't complain about the level of play from his team. However, the Lions came into the tournament playing as well as they had all season, particularly with their attack.

"With the way the offense is playing, we have a lot of confidence right now," Gahanna libero Lauren Arnett said. "We were able to hit the ball in some places that we thought would work, and our block really stepped up."

Lee said he was impressed with Gahanna, which was not seeded in the top 12 entering the tournament.

"They were a good team," Lee said. "I felt like we were a good team. I think even though the scores don't reflect it as much, I think both teams came to play today. They just came out on top."

New Albany finished the season 16-8 overall, a major improvement on last season's 9-14 mark. In the OCC-Capital Division, the Eagles tied Delaware for third at 7-5, behind Big Walnut (12-0) and Hilliard Bradley (10-2) and ahead of Olentangy Orange (3-9), Mount Vernon (3-9) and Watkins Memorial (0-12).

Unlike last season, when the team lacked seniors, the Eagles will have some holes to fill. They lose senior outside hitter Anna Irvine, a two-year starter and the team's most consistent hitter, according to Lee. Jen Graves was the team's only four-year letterwinner and started the past three seasons at setter. Jen Rowley was a three-year letterwinner and took over the starting libero spot.

However, New Albany has seven letterwinners expected back, all juniors. Madi Miller is a three-year starter at outside hitter, and Elyse Naddaff is a three-year starter at middle hitter. The Eagles also will return one of two starting setters in Kelsey Rowley, along with two-year letterwinners Abby Mackey (opposite) and Stephanie Siegenthaler (opposite).

Lexie Helton (middle hitter) and Karli Shill (outside hitter) transferred to New Albany this season and made major contributions in their first season with the team.

Juniors Geri Newman (opposite), Alexa Spence (middle hitter) and Andrea Donaldson (defensive specialist), and freshman Sammi Fritz (outside hitter) moved up from the junior varsity late in the season.

In order for New Albany to continue its development, Lee said it will be imperative to get even more consistent play from all six spots on the court.

"We play the type of competition now that if we have any chinks in our armor, we're going to be hurting in that position," Lee said. "We just can't hide anyone. We need to have six girls on the court next year who are bringing everything they've got."

At a glance

•Record: 16-8 overall, 7-5 (third) in OCC-Capital

•Seniors lost: Jen Graves, Anna Irvine and Jen Rowley

•Key returnees: Madi Miller, Elyse Naddaff and Kelsey Rowley