One phrase might stick out above all others for Kelis Brown in her young career with the New Albany High School girls basketball team.
"Coach (Jeff Blunt) always says 'keep bright eyes,' " said Brown, a 5-foot-7 freshman forward who has started since about the halfway point of the season after beginning the year on junior varsity.
Brown admitted her eyes were wide early on, as were those of classmates Haley Dennis, Brooklyn Gammon and Olivia Gittins as they adjusted to playing substantial roles for an Eagles team that is 13-9 overall and finished 6-4 in the OCC-Capital Division. Although none of them are averaging more than 2.6 points or 2.0 rebounds, Blunt considers their play crucial and their growth impressive.
Dennis, Gammon and Gittins are guards and have played in all 22 games. Brown has seen action in all but two games.
"In the case of these kids, it's almost like it's a weird phenomenon. They've had success, but to come into high school and play as much as they are as young as they are, it was not easy early," Blunt said. "Then they really started struggling and their confidence waned. Through it all, I pushed them hard. I've had to do things this year I haven't done in the past. I've been harder on the kids. The whole feeling from my standpoint and ours as a staff is we've had to toughen them up a little bit.
"It's been interesting watching them go through this growing period, for lack of a better term. To see them rebuild as a result of that and get some confidence back is exciting."
Seeded 15th for the 50-team Division I district tournament, New Albany took a first-round bye and will visit 11th-seeded Westerville Central or play host to 23rd-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a second-round game Feb. 23.
The Patriots and Warhawks play their first-round game Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Brown is averaging 2.6 points and 2.0 rebounds. Dennis is adding 2.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists, and Gittins adds 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds.
Most of the Eagles' 47.6 points per game come from junior forward Josie Smith (13.1), senior forward Micaylah Nash (10.3) and senior guard Raegan Elwer (8.4).
"I'm more confident in handling the ball," Dennis said. "Early on, I don't think we were ready or working hard enough. Our work ethic has gotten so much better. We are more determined and focused. We're running less (in practice) but we've started pressing each other, which has helped because teams pressing us has hurt us in a lot of games. But we're getting better against that, too."
New Albany ended the regular season with two consecutive losses, 73-33 to fifth-ranked Pickerington Central on Feb. 6 and 56-55 in overtime to Canal Winchester on Feb. 9.
Smith scored a game-high 15 points against Central as New Albany played without Nash, who according to Blunt sat out because of back issues. Smith led the Eagles with 18 points against Canal Winchester.
Brown admitted she still is adjusting to such high-stakes situations as the most important time of the season approaches.
"Varsity is a lot different than j.v. It's more intense here. You have to know more plays and be able to react to situations extremely quickly, but both teams are so much fun to play on," Brown said. "We don't put our heads down and get upset anymore. We used to do that when things got tough. Now we're able to pick our heads up and have bright eyes."
Swimmers smash sectional records
Sixteen girls swimmers and 10 boys will represent New Albany in the Division I district meet Saturday, Feb. 17, at Ohio University.
The teams combined for 12 event wins, half of which included meet-record performances, in a sweep of a Division I sectional Feb. 10 at Thomas Worthington.
McKayla Moffat won the 100-yard freestyle and 200 free in record times of 53.12 seconds and 1:55.22, respectively, to lead the girls to 401 points, well ahead of the host and runner-up Cardinals (173) as 15 teams scored. The girls also set records in the 200 free relay (1:38.85), 200 medley relay (1:48.83) and 400 free relay (3:34.44).
Pearson Spychalski's wins in the 100 free (48.08) and 200 free (1:46.84) led the boys to 300 points and first place ahead of runner-up Delaware (243) as 12 teams scored. Spychalski also was on the winning 400 free relay (3:20.42), and Jimmy Lapsley set the meet record in the 100 backstroke (53.88).
The winner of each sectional event automatically qualified for district. In addition, 27 at-large district berths were awarded in each swimming event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
The girls 200 free and 400 free relays both are seeded first at district, from which the top two placers in each event automatically advance to the state meet Feb. 23 and 24 at Branin Natatorium in Canton. In addition, 16 at-large state berths will be awarded for each event based on times statewide.
Divers did not compete at sectional.
The girls diving district meet was Feb. 12 at Dublin Community Recreation Center, with the boys district meet taking place the next day at the same facility. The top four girls and top five boys advanced to their respective state meets Feb. 22 and 24.
Hockey team prepares for Braves
Seeded in the upper half of the district tournament, the hockey team will take on Olentangy in a second-round game Sunday, Feb. 18, at OhioHealth Ice Haus in a rematch of a one-goal game from Dec. 22.
New Albany, which is seeded ninth of 24 teams, lost to the sixth-seeded Braves 4-3 on Dec. 22.
The winner will play fourth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller, 13th-seeded Oxford Talawanda or 15th-seeded Dublin Coffman in a third-round game Feb. 24.
The Eagles are coming off winning the consolation championship of the Blue Jackets Cup last weekend.
Seeded ninth of 15 teams, New Albany defeated 10th-seeded Olentangy Orange 4-2 in the consolation bracket final Feb. 11 at OhioHealth Ice Haus behind two goals from Jordan Campbell and one each for Jackson Buss and Tyler Riddle.
The Eagles advanced to the final with a 10-0 rout of 15th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a consolation semifinal Feb. 10.
New Albany is 13-19.
Eagles athletes select colleges
Five New Albany student-athletes announced their college decisions Feb. 7.
Logan Cook will play football at Ashland, Maria Miller will play women's soccer at Wittenberg, Mia Thatcher will play women's soccer at St. Bonaventure, Lindsey Townsend will play women's soccer at Ohio University and Jametrius Yarbrough will play football at Malone.
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball and wrestling teams:
*Feb. 16 -- At Franklin Heights. The Eagles lost to the Falcons 64-59 on Jan. 31.
March 2 -- At fourth-seeded Westerville North or 35th-seeded Groveport in second round of Division I district tournament. The Eagles are seeded 39th.
*Feb. 15 -- At Big Walnut
*League contestAt a glance
Below are the district qualifiers with sectional time and district seeds for the New Albany boys and girls swimming teams:
BOYS -- Alex Arlin: 100 breast (1:03.3, 24th); Patrick Daly: 200 IM (2:03.02, 10th), 500 free (5:02.67, 21st); Gage Ford: 200 free (1:49.01, 15th); Diarmuid Hutchinson: 500 free (5:07.48, 26th); Jimmy Lapsley: 100 back (53.88, fifth); Andrew Levine: 200 free (1:50.11, 18th), 500 free (4:57.81, 13th); Tommy Morris: 50 free (22.66, 23rd); Caleb Schimming: 500 free (5:07.41, 25th); Pearson Spychalski: 100 free (48.08, fifth), 200 free (1:46.84, sixth); Brennan Walsh: 100 back (55.92, 15th); 200 free relay (1:30.67, sixth); 200 medley relay (1:43.76, 15th); 400 free relay (3:20.42, fifth)
GIRLS -- Maddy Brandon: 500 free (5:41.96, 29th); Kiara Crumbley: 100 fly (58.63, 10th), 500 free (5:18.56, ninth); Lexi Elkovitch: 50 free (24.39, fourth), 100 free (53.45, eighth); Isabel Jenny: 100 back (58.25, third), 200 IM (2:12.66, eighth); Jada Johnson: 200 free (1:59.14, 12th), 500 free (5:35.39, 20th); Midori Kisanuki: 100 fly (1:00.81, 23rd); Mia Lachey: 100 free (54.5, 19th), 200 free (1:58.57, 10th); Lauren Lapsley: 100 fly (1:00.91, 24th), 200 IM (2:20.2, 24th); Liv Meeting: 100 back (1:01.9, 27th), 200 IM (2:19.47, 22nd); McKayla Moffat: 100 free (53.12, fifth), 200 free (1:55.22, second); Sydney Nowak: 100 back (1:01.63, 23rd), 200 IM (2:16.7, 13th); Lauren Sadler: 50 free (24.88, 15th), 100 breast (1:11.76, 25th); Evie Samanich: 500 free (5:37.39, 22nd); Stacy Saribalas: 100 free (54.15, 16th), 200 free (1:58.54, ninth); Kelly Shur: 50 free (24.78, 12th), 100 breast (1:07.54, eighth); Emili Toppari: 50 free (24.67, 11th), 100 fly (58.58, ninth); 200 free relay (1:38.85, first); 200 medley relay (1:48.83, second); 400 free relay (3:34.44, first)