If the New Albany High School softball team is to climb the OCC-Capital Division standings and put together a winning season, coach Stephanie Andrick believes versatility will be a big reason why.

Six starters return this season for the Eagles, who were 1-0 before playing Upper Arlington on April 3.

New Albany brings back both pitchers in senior Omega Garrett and junior Taylor Rhea as well as senior Jordan Jeffers (C), juniors Alex Howell (RF) and Kirsten Tibbitts (3B) and sophomore Halle Galbraith (utility) from a team that went 7-14 overall last year but opened this season with a 10-5 home win over Licking Heights on March 26.

Galbraith was one of three players designated as "utility" by Andrick, who is in her third season. The others are freshmen Olivia Angles and Sophia Halliday.

"The strengths of our underclassmen are that they can play many different positions and they can play them very well," Andrick said. "Olivia can pitch and play basically any other position besides catcher. Halliday is a catcher, but can also play the outfield and first base. ...

"The upperclassmen have taken these young kids under their wing from the very beginning. It's a tough transition for many of our freshmen, going from middle school softball to upper-level varsity softball without a (junior varsity) stop in between, and the upperclassmen have done a great job of showing them the ropes and talking to them about the expectations and demands of high school softball. I have been proud to see the way our upperclassmen have taken on this task without any prompting from me."

Rhea had a .400 batting average with 26 hits, 11 RBI and two home runs last year. Tibbitts batted .338 with 24 hits, two homers and 20 RBI as a utility player but now is settled in at third.

Rhea and Tibbitts, among others, will be counted on to help replace the production lost to graduation with Sierra Parkinson, who batted .641 with six home runs and 19 RBI and now plays for North Carolina.

"Sierra was probably one of the best players that New Albany has ever seen, but the great thing about this team is that there are many players who can step in and replace that production due to (their) multiple abilities and talents," Andrick said, adding that Rhea will bat cleanup for the second consecutive season. "(Rhea) has a great eye for recognizing pitches, so it is difficult to fool her with off-speed pitches and other junk, which makes her a great threat."

Garrett will play center field when she is not pitching.

Rounding out the roster are senior Abby Wilcox (OF), junior Emma Valley (SS), sophomore Jade Roberts (OF) and freshmen Jenn Brewer (1B), Amelia Roberts (OF) and Alex Van Zant (OF).

The Eagles begin OCC-Capital play Wednesday, April 11, at Newark.

New Albany tied Canal Winchester for fourth in the league last year behind champion Groveport (10-0).

The Eagles lost to the Cruisers 6-1 and 7-1 in league games but hung tough in the second round of the Division I district tournament before falling 3-2.

Four starters back for baseball team

The baseball team went 2-3 in its season-opening trip to Cocoa Beach, Florida, last week, and the highlights included solid performances from returning pitchers Alex Arenschield and Kevin Fee and clutch hitting from juniors Ethan Swincicki (C/P) and Parker Thompson (3B/P).

Swincicki and Thompson each had five RBI in the five games, and Arenschield -- a senior who threw a no-hitter last year against Newark -- played four positions in addition to pitching.

"One of the first things we noticed, especially with our pitchers, is that the kids have grown up and have a lot more maturity on the mound," assistant coach Hunter Haswell said. "We had guys get some key outs and stand up to some tough teams. Our entire infield played well behind them. (Sophomore second baseman) Jimmy Stevens got on base the first time he was up every game and ended up scoring each time. He helped set the tempo. We'll need that."

Haswell and the rest of the coaching staff led the Eagles in Florida. Third-year coach Dave Starling did not make the trip because of the death of his father, Lyle, on March 23.

New Albany opened March 25 with a 13-3 loss to St. Charles (Illinois) North. The Eagles split two games the next day, defeating Stewartville (Minnesota) 10-0 and losing to Morgantown (West Virginia) University 9-5, and split two more games March 28, beating Perrysburg 9-4 and losing to Rockledge (Florida) 11-1.

Arenschield also played first base, third base, left field and right field last week.

"He will be that utility guy (this season)," Haswell said.

Arenschield, Fee, junior Nick Shroyer (SS) and Thompson are the Eagles' returning starters. Fee is a sophomore.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Jake Arenschield (C/P), Nathan Blair (INF), Zach Thomas (OF), Jacob Tynan (INF) and Nick Wolfe (OF), juniors Austin Erdley (P/OF), Cole Fisher (OF/P), Vaughn Hoff (P) and Jake Scharfe (OF) and sophomores Spencer Hill (OF/P), Jack Sokol (P/C/OF) and Mike Sokol (P/1B).

New Albany, which opened its home schedule March 31 by splitting two five-inning games against Olmsted Falls and Worthington Kilbourne, began OCC-Capital play April 2 against Newark. The Eagles lost to Olmsted Falls 11-0 and then run-ruled the Wolves 15-0.

New Albany finished 19-9 overall and went 11-4 in the league last year, tying Big Walnut for second behind Canal Winchester (13-2).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

BASEBALL

March 25 -- St. Charles (Ill.) North in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

March 26 -- Morgantown (W.Va.) University and Stewartville (Minn.) in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

March 28 -- Perrysburg and Rockledge (Fla.) in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

March 31 -- vs. Olmsted Falls and Worthington Kilbourne

*April 2 -- vs. Newark

*April 4 -- at Newark

*April 6 -- at Big Walnut

April 7 -- vs. Mount Vernon (DH)

*April 9 -- vs. Big Walnut

*April 11 -- vs. Groveport

*April 13 -- at Groveport

*April 16 -- at Canal Winchester

*April 18 -- vs. Canal Winchester

*April 20 -- vs. Franklin Heights

April 21 -- at Gahanna with Olentangy

*April 23 -- at Franklin Heights

*April 25 -- vs. Newark

*April 27 -- at Big Walnut

*April 30 -- vs. Groveport

*May 1 -- vs. Franklin Heights

*May 2 -- at Canal Winchester

May 4 -- at Dublin Scioto

SOFTBALL

March 26 -- vs. Licking Heights

April 3 -- at Upper Arlington

April 4 -- vs. Hartley

April 6 -- at Hilliard Darby

April 7 -- at Olentangy Orange with Hilliard Davidson

April 9 -- vs. Pickerington North

April 10 -- vs. Granville

*April 11 -- vs. Newark

*April 12 -- at Big Walnut

April 14 -- at Westerville North

*April 16 -- at Groveport

*April 18 -- at Canal Winchester

*April 19 -- vs. Franklin Heights

April 20 -- vs. Bexley

April 21 -- Teays Valley at Lancaster in Battle for the Cure

*April 23 -- at Newark

*April 25 -- vs. Big Walnut

April 26 -- vs. Whitehall

*April 27 -- Groveport at Bevelhymer Park

*April 30 -- vs. Canal Winchester

May 1 -- at Westerville Central

*May 2 -- at Franklin Heights

May 3 -- at Dublin Coffman

May 4 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

May 5 -- at Lakewood

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:

BOYS LACROSSE

April 6 -- Home vs. Hartland (Mich.)

*April 10 -- At Olentangy Orange

GIRLS LACROSSE

*April 5 -- At Olentangy Liberty

April 7 -- At Mason

*April 10 -- Home vs. Orange

BOYS TENNIS

*April 5 -- Home vs. Newark

April 7 -- Home vs. Cincinnati Sycamore and Mason

April 9 -- At St. Charles

*April 10 -- At Big Walnut

April 11 -- At Dublin Coffman

TRACK & FIELD

April 7 -- Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North

April 10 -- At Newark with Watkins Memorial

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

April 6 -- At Hilliard Bradley

*League contest