Micaylah Nash had waited more than a year to take the court with the New Albany High School girls basketball team, but whether it was because she hadn't been involved with the game on a daily basis, or because she was so excited to be back, something wasn't quite right for the 6-foot senior forward early this season.
"My first two or three games, I wasn't thinking about the actual techniques I'd been practicing for so long when it came to boxing out and anticipating (rebounds), so I was just running around," Nash said. "Things clicked when I realized I had to do more work than I thought I did."
When Nash turned a corner in a big way during the season's fourth game, she again looked like the presence coach Jeff Blunt and her teammates had missed.
Nash pulled down a program-record 26 rebounds in a 41-38 win at DeSales on Dec. 6, kick-starting a stretch so dominant that Nash even surprised herself.
Nash, who also had a critical putback in the final seconds at DeSales to give the Eagles a three-point lead, followed that up with 20 rebounds against Teays Valley in a 55-52 win Dec. 9. Then on Dec. 19 against Westerville North, she made the winning basket from about eight feet out with 5.8 seconds to play in a 44-42 victory.
That shot came after Josie Smith made a free throw but missed her second attempt from the line. Nash cut across the lane, corralled the rebound and drained a fadeaway shot.
"Other than getting in shape a little bit, it's like basketball has never gone away," Blunt said. "It's like riding a bike for her. Volleyball has been incredibly supportive of her basketball development because she jumps so well. It translates into basketball. She can get up and she's really strong."
Nash was averaging 9.4 points and 11.8 rebounds through 11 games for New Albany, which was 9-3 overall before playing Reynoldsburg on Jan. 9 and is 4-1 in the OCC-Capital Division as the second half of league play begins Friday, Jan. 12, at Franklin Heights.
Nash had 15 points and 13 rebounds Jan. 5 as the Eagles defeated Canal Winchester 55-47.
Nash began playing basketball at age 4 and added volleyball in middle school. She was a stalwart at middle blocker and outside hitter her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, leading the Eagles in kills each season and amassing 676 for her career.
The downside was that Nash developed a herniated disc that worsened to the point that doctors told her she had to make a choice between her junior season of basketball and club volleyball. Because she had committed to play club volleyball in July, the decision already had been made.
Nash averaged 7.1 points and 10.7 rebounds as a sophomore.
"When she decided not to play, it broke everybody's heart," Blunt said. "Girls were crying. Micaylah was crying. It was a tough decision for her not to be part of it, but she still came to more than half of our games."
Nash steadily realized that she missed basketball more than she enjoyed volleyball.
"The moment I decided I was done playing volleyball, I knew I was going to play (basketball) this season," Nash said. "It was a tough call. It was hard for me, but I know it was the right decision. I'd lost my love for the sport, and that's when I knew I shouldn't be doing it anymore."
Sophomore Maddy Hofmann looks to Nash as a role model, largely because they play the same positions in both basketball and volleyball. They also live across the street from each other and ride together to practices almost every day.
"She's a good influence when it comes to staying strong and rebounding," Hofmann said. "She can shoot as a post (player) and even hit some 3s on the wing. She's gotten a lot better even since she's been back. She's better at remembering the plays and just playing the game."
Nash plans to attend Colorado, Miami University or Ohio State and major in criminal justice, law or sports management. Any involvement in sports would be limited to intramurals.
"I am loving this season," Nash said. "My improvement so fast this season is what surprises me more. I'm just happy to be back."
Boys basketball team earning wins
Although the boys basketball team has a losing record and will be short at least one expected contributor for the rest of the season, the three-game winning streak New Albany took into its Jan. 9 game against Reynoldsburg gave coach Sam Davis reason for optimism.
"We'd have been in a lot of games if we were shooting better, but for whatever reason we haven't always done that," Davis said. "Most of the teams we've been beaten by have only lost one or two games, so we've had a tough schedule, but the kids have fought through it. I am excited about where we're at and where we can go if we keep working."
New Albany was 4-6 overall before playing Reynoldsburg and improved to 2-2 in the OCC-Capital with a 61-50 win over Canal Winchester on Jan. 5. That followed wins over Westland (78-48 on Dec. 28 in the Bruin Holiday Invitational at Briggs) and Mifflin (63-35 on Jan. 3).
Jalin Jackson was averaging 12.7 points through 10 games, ahead of Jake Warinner (10.8) and Devon Lyles (7.1).
According to Davis, senior guard Remi Martin, a returning starter, will miss the rest of the season because of complications from a broken right wrist. Martin broke the wrist before the season, underwent rehabilitation and saw limited playing time early this season before persistent soreness led to a re-examination.
Davis said that Martin is in the midst of three months with no basketball activity, although he remains close to the team.
Several junior varsity players are seeing increased time on varsity, including forward Dillon Masters and guard Keegan Schaub.
"We're trying to get some people to fit in there," Davis said. "A few j.v. kids are going to have to play with Remi being out. It makes you sad because he's a great kid and he's a senior so he doesn't have another chance. But he spends a lot of time with us and loves being a part of things as much as he can."
Hockey team looks for big month
The hockey team ended December by unexpectedly hoisting a championship trophy, and hoped that helps it climb closer to .500 in January.
New Albany is 8-11 overall and 3-5 in the Capital Hockey Conference after two league wins last weekend at Chiller Easton, 5-2 over Thomas Worthington on Jan. 6 and 11-0 over Gahanna on Jan. 7.
The Eagles lost each of their first two games in the annual Lakewood St. Edward Eagle Classic, against the host Eagles (2-1 on Dec. 27) and Upper Arlington (1-0 on Dec. 28), but still got a chance to play for the tournament title both because the Golden Bears were wracked by injuries and had to withdraw from the final and also because St. Edward found it would exceed its allotted amount of regular-season games by playing for the championship.
As a result, New Albany played Shaker Heights on Dec. 29 and won 2-1. Brandon Barash scored in regulation and Joey Mattevi netted the winning goal in overtime.
Alex Arenschield's three goals led New Albany past Thomas, and goaltender Alex Mattevi made 29 saves.
Tyler Riddle's four goals led the way against Gahanna.
After participating in Olentangy Orange's Pioneer Classic from Friday, Jan. 12, to Sunday, Jan. 14, the Eagles will get head-to-head chances to climb up the CHC-Red standings as they take on UA on Jan. 20 before back-to-back games against Dublin Jerome on Jan. 26 and 27.
New Albany has six points in the league, putting it last in the five-team CHC-Red behind Jerome (18, 9-1), Olentangy Liberty (16, 8-1), St. Charles (15, 7-1-0-1) and UA (13, 6-2-0-1).
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 12 -- Home vs. Franklin Heights
Jan. 16 -- At Olentangy Liberty
*Jan. 12 -- At Franklin Heights. The Eagles defeated the Falcons 71-8 on Dec. 5.
Jan. 16 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
Jan. 13 -- Central District Preview at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Jan. 16 -- Beechcroft at Sequoia Pro Bowl
Jan. 12 -- Olentangy in Pioneer Classic at Chiller Ice Works
Jan. 13 -- Newark at Chiller Ice Works and Springboro at Chiller North in Pioneer Classic
Jan. 14 -- TBD in Pioneer Classic
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 13 -- Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
*Jan. 11 -- At Franklin Heights
Jan. 13 -- Big Dawg Invitational at Dresden Tri-Valley