Last year's New Albany High School girls volleyball team fell several wins short of its first league championship since 2004, when it competed in the MSL-Ohio Division.
This year's Eagles entered the week in prime position to win that elusive title, partly because of the same offense they ran a year ago.
Having started the season working out of a 6-2 offense that employs six attackers and two setters, an injury prompted coach Karen Morlan to revert to the 5-1 approach of last year, in which five attackers are used and a secondary setter is replaced by an opposite-side hitter.
The results were almost immediate. Before playing Franklin Heights on Sept. 24, the Eagles hadn't lost since Sept. 5 and were 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the OCC-Capital, tied with Olentangy for first in the league.
New Albany was 7-7 in league play last year.
"(The 5-1) really isn't that big of an adjustment for these girls because (senior setter) Erica Wisniewski ran the 5-1 for us last year," coach Morlan said. "She and (senior middle blocker) Kayla (Morlan) just connected. Offensively, we've been stronger, and it gives our middle blocker more options. We really found a comfort zone."
The injured player, senior setter Katie Billman, since has recovered from a concussion and moved to defensive specialist.
Kayla Morlan had two big matches recently, recording 14 kills and seven blocks in a 25-11, 25-18, 25-18 win over Big Walnut on Sept. 10 and 13 kills and seven blocks two nights later in a 25-15, 25-22, 25-18 win over Worthington Kilbourne.
Outside hitters Lindsey Huber, a junior, and Maddie Largent, a sophomore, also have helped the team's resurgence. Huber had 104 kills, second on the team to Morlan's 127, and had a 93.8-percent success rate in serving entering the week.
Largent was serving 96.2 percent.
"The bottom line is we're just more experienced than we were last year," coach Morlan said. "We have six seniors, which is the most we've had in a long time, and our experience shows in our composure. We can shake off mistakes. That comes from maturity. All the girls have confidence in themselves and their teammates."
New Albany has another shot at Olentangy, at home Tuesday, Oct. 1. But the Eagles first had to get wins against Franklin Heights as well at Delaware on Thursday, Sept. 26.
The Eagles are 0-2 against the Braves this year, having lost 25-21, 16-25, 25-17 in the Marysville Spike-Off Invitational on Aug. 17 and 26-24, 25-21, 25-16 on Sept. 5. Only the September meeting counted in the OCC-Capital standings.
Boys golf team wraps up league title
Senior Avery Schneider of the boys golf team shot a 73 and clinched Player of the Year honors, and the Eagles finished off their fourth consecutive OCC-Capital championship by shooting a 315 in the last of four league tournaments Sept. 18 at Granville Golf Course.
Senior Jackson Kallner also shot a 73 for the Eagles, followed by juniors Austin McNutt (84) and Matt Wininger (85) and senior Jackson Moss (86). Mount Vernon was second (323), followed by Olentangy (328), Big Walnut (337), Delaware (341), Kilbourne (342), Olentangy Orange (346) and Franklin Heights (556).
The tournament was postponed from Sept. 11 because of bad weather.
The Eagles were 27-1 in league play, finishing ahead of Olentangy (24-4), Mount Vernon (19-9), Big Walnut (14-14), Orange (13-15), Kilbourne (8-20), Delaware (7-21) and Franklin Heights (0-28).
New Albany earned the fourth seed in the district in Division I and will participate in the Darby Creek sectional Tuesday, Oct. 1. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advance to the district tournament Oct. 8 at Apple Valley, where last year the Eagles won their first Division I district title before finishing fourth at state.
Girls soccer team eyeing long-term goals
A spate of illness and injuries in the first half of the season forced the girls soccer team to readjust its focus for the season.
With five freshmen on varsity and several players missing time for various reasons, the Eagles struggled to a 3-6 record in their first nine games. But coach Chad Schuler hopes the return of three defenders -- senior Kelci Winters, junior Kyra Zuiderwig and sophomore Kiana Khorrami -- paves the way for a productive second half.
Zuiderwig sustained a concussion in August.
"It's like this perfect storm. We feel like we're just duct-taping things together," Schuler said. "Our focus is really just getting ready for the tournament. We're not going to play probably too many different formations now, like we normally would. We'll focus on two and have the girls comfortable with what we're going to do. We feel pretty set on where we'll play girls now, as opposed to the beginning of the season."
The Eagles were 4-6 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing host to Big Walnut on Sept. 24.
Winters scored twice Sept. 19 against Canal Winchester, including just 48 seconds into the game, to kick-start a 4-1 victory.
Senior forward Vanessa Eastwood had a team-high seven goals entering the week, followed by junior midfielder Megan Glass with six.
Football team to visit Franklin Heights
Seeking its first 5-0 start since 2010, the football team will visit Franklin Heights on Friday, Sept. 27, for an OCC-Capital game.
New Albany -- which was ranked second in Division II in last week's Associated Press state poll -- amassed 407 rushing yards Sept. 20 to rout visiting Olentangy Orange 49-13 in the league opener for both teams. Senior running back Trey Quillin rushed for 140 yards and touchdowns of 1, 91 and 44 yards on seven carries, and senior Wyatt Johnston added 141 yards and touchdowns of 62 and 79 yards on just four carries.
Senior quarterback Tanner Cline attempted only two passes, completing one for seven yards.
Franklin Heights fell to 1-4 overall with a 37-15 loss at Mount Vernon on Sept. 21 in the league opener for both teams.
Top players for Franklin Heights include senior running back/safety Matt German and junior running back/linebacker Mitch Kittinger.
The Eagles have outscored the Falcons 315-94 in their past six meetings, with only a 35-32 New Albany win in 2007 being decided by fewer than 39 points.