New Albany boys team hits stride in OCC play
The New Albany High School boys soccer team knows a losing record isn't going to turn many heads with the Division I district tournament draw approaching.
But the Eagles are more concerned with the OCC-Capital Division schedule, and in that respect they're surging at the right time.
A 2-0 loss to Olentangy Orange on Aug. 28 likely cost New Albany a shot at the outright league championship, but the Eagles entered this week with three consecutive OCC-Capital victories to surge back into the title race with records of 4-6 overall and 3-1 in the league, one game behind Orange.
"We started out struggling some, but we're hitting our stride," said junior goalkeeper Anthony Flowers, whose team played host to Big Walnut in a league game Sept. 25. "We're winning our league games, and that's what is important to us right now."
Coach Ben Arthurs said his team's understanding of a revamped scheme has been a key to the turnaround. Not only does Arthurs want his midfielders to be offensive as well as defensive presences, but he is starting two freshmen -- Cameron Campbell and Jared Gerlacher -- next to junior Tristan Lyles.
"We introduced a new system this year and there's no learning curve. We're finally at the peak of that learning curve," Arthurs said. "We've always understood it, we just couldn't execute. Now we're executing and going up against great teams and getting wins, getting it done. I'm really happy, very excited for my players.
"We expect our midfielders to be defensive and offensive, and that's going to be the key, for those three guys to go forward and backward -- fill in on the defense when they need to and get in the final finishing third where we can make things happen."
Since a 4-0 loss to Olentangy Liberty on Aug. 30, the Eagles had allowed six goals in their next five games entering the week.
"I'm just trying to teach them up and get them used to the style of play we're trying to pursue," said Lyles, the Eagles' only returning starting defender. "Hopefully that will carry on through the rest of the team."
New Albany also is getting strong offensive efforts from several players, including junior forward/midfielder Alex Zbinovec. He had a team-leading four goals entering this week. Senior forward/midfielder Kareem Amr scored the Eagles' only goal in a 1-0 win over Olentangy on Sept. 20, sneaking a shot to the right of Braves goalkeeper Alex Miller with 26 minutes, 48 seconds to play.
The win broke a tie for second in the OCC-Capital.
"We love the way we're distributing the ball out wide and up the middle," Arthurs said.
The Eagles have two league games remaining -- against Watkins Memorial on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Crew Stadium and at home Oct. 9 against Mount Vernon. The district tournament draw is Oct. 7.
"We're just trying to peak at the right time heading into the tournament," Flowers said.