New Albany High School boys basketball coach Sam Davis has found himself smiling during film sessions the entire season, and not just because senior Jalen Rhea is averaging 19.2 points per game.
"Statistics don't show everything," Davis said. "We watch our tape and see how Devon Pitts is playing solid defense, and how Jack Serbin is getting back cuts and rebounding. Our floor spacing is good. Trey Miller, and this doesn't show up at all (on the stat sheet), locks his man down a lot of nights. Those things don't show up on the stat sheet, but our team appreciates those things. It permeates the rest of the team, and the younger kids buy into it. It's contagious."
The proof is in the results. With records of 11-1 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Capital Division, the Eagles are seeking their best season since 2006, when they advanced to a Division II regional final and lost to Dayton Dunbar 77-54.
Rhea, a 6-foot-2 point and shooting guard, thrives when Pitts, a 6-2 senior forward, teams with Serbin, a 6-8 senior, to seal off the inside. Junior shooting guard Avery Schneider has become a capable scoring option, contributing 10 points in back-to-back wins over Westerville Central (62-55 on Dec. 29) and Big Walnut (73-31 on Jan. 4).
"As the season goes on, I think everyone will get to see them not just as role players, but guys hitting big shots for us, too," said Rhea, who scored a career-high 32 points in a 68-42 win over Whitehall on Dec. 27. "They're fitting into roles as well as we want them to. There's still a lot of room to improve, but as the season goes on, I think everyone will get to see them not just as role players, but guys hitting big shots for us, too."
The mix suits Serbin well. A guard by nature, his shooting touch was too much to overlook even when a dramatic growth spurt the past two years made him look more like a center. He made four 3-pointers and scored 17 points in a 68-54 win over Olentangy Orange on Dec. 7.
"When I was younger, I always had a good shot, but I wasn't this tall and I had to work," Serbin said. "I kept growing and I always maintained that part of my game. Now, I'm trying to develop the other parts of my game inside."
The team hopes to be aided by the return of senior guard Jonathan Tolber, who made his season debut Jan. 8 after missing the first month with a torn right meniscus. But even Serbin said sometimes the Eagles' key to success is simple.
"Give Jalen the ball and let him do his job," he said.
New Albany starts the second half of league play Friday, Jan. 18, at home against Orange. The Eagles won their first seven league games by an average of 24.3 points, and only two of them were decided by fewer than 13 points. New Albany defeated Olentangy 43-38 on Dec. 22 and Mount Vernon 37-29 on Jan. 11.
Wrestlers seeking consistent success
The wrestling team is competing in only three weekend tournaments this year, but that's where some of the Eagles' best performances have taken place.
Senior Nic Fluty won the 126-pound championship in Upper Arlington's Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational on Dec. 1 and the New Albany Invitational on Dec. 22, and he placed third in the Sparta Highland Kilted Klassic on Dec. 8. Senior Corey Mulvey won the 160 title at Highland.
The Eagles hope those performances carry over into the first state team tournament that begins Wednesday, Jan. 23. New Albany will compete in Region 5-B with Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Thomas Worthington, Westerville North, Westerville South, Whetstone and Worthington Kilbourne.
Brackets were scheduled to be released Jan. 14. First-round winners advance to regional semifinals Jan. 30.
"Our region is fairly tough," assistant coach John Galbreath said. "There are probably only two or three teams we've had a chance to compete with and we might not get a chance to see them, being a lower seed. Our numbers are down. We're missing some weight classes, which makes it even rougher to achieve success at these dual meets."
Pizza party helps girls team bond
A 20-0 deficit midway through the second quarter against Gahanna in the championship game of the Gahanna Cage Classic on Dec. 28 didn't derail the girls basketball team's plans. The plays already had scheduled a pizza party that night at the home of junior guard Ally Vendetti, and it became a chance to shake off the 56-27 loss to the Lions.
"We had a very good time watching 'Pitch Perfect,' " senior guard Cheyenne Hartley-Carr said. "We bonded very well."
The Eagles won their next three games and entered the week with records of 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the OCC-Capital. They visit league leader Orange on Friday, Jan. 18, a rematch of the Pioneers' 49-24 win Dec. 7.
"Those losses have helped us a lot because our practice intensity has turned up quite a bit," coach Jeff Blunt said. "You know that to play for a district championship, you're going to be playing teams like that."