The kind of cooperation that exists between the New Albany High School girls cross country and girls lacrosse teams may indicate why the Eagles once again won the Ralph Young All-Sports Award as the OCC-Capital Division's best overall athletics program.
Girls cross country coach Herb Gregory, whose team has won three league championships in five years, was recruited by his lacrosse counterpart, Dave Ferguson, to help his team with its conditioning.
"We had some lacrosse girls on the cross country team and (Ferguson) was wondering if that would help all of his players be even more fit," Gregory said. "They were a little apprehensive at first. But as the season went on, I think they bought into the value of it.
"We ran but worked in lacrosse activities, like a series of dodges and multiple 10-yard dashes where you do a lacrosse fake every 10 yards. We had a thing we called 'the whistle drill,' where they'd go for up to four minutes. If I blew my whistle once, they'd sprint. Twice, we'd go at a moderate pace. Three times, they could walk a little bit. There was some similarity to game situations, and it developed some mental toughness."
Four first-place finishes, one tie for first and two runner-up finishes in the OCC-Capital helped New Albany score 66.5 points to edge Big Walnut (66) and Canal Winchester (57.5) for its eighth All-Sports Award in nine years. Newark (49) finished third, followed by Groveport (35.5) and Franklin Heights (19.5).
The All-Sports Award, in its ninth year, goes to the school in each of the OCC's five divisions that performs the best in the conference's common sports over the course of the school year. There were 14 common sports in the OCC-Capital. Six points were awarded for finishing first, five for placing second, four for finishing third, and so on.
New Albany won league championships in boys golf, boys soccer, boys tennis and girls tennis and tied Big Walnut for first in football, while the baseball and girls soccer teams both finished second.
The boys tennis team has won 12 consecutive league titles, the boys golf team has finished first in the league eight years in a row, the girls tennis team has won 11 league championships in 12 years and the boys soccer team has won back-to-back league titles.
The girls cross country also won the league championship and the boys cross country team was league runner-up, but those finishes did not count toward the award because Franklin Heights did not field boys or girls teams last fall.
The girls lacrosse team, which went 21-2 and finished as Division I state runner-up, won the OCC-Buckeye championship, but that finish also did not count toward the award.
"We do take a lot of pride in this and we're fortunate to have won this award a few times," athletics director Richie Wildenhaus said. "It was close with Big Walnut, and that just tells us that every single result matters, whether it's in September or in May at the end of the year. We have some great, competitive rivalries in this league and I think that makes everybody better. Every single result is meaningful."
The other All-Sports Award winners were Dublin Coffman in the OCC-Central, Dublin Jerome in the OCC-Cardinal, Gahanna in the OCC-Ohio and Olentangy Liberty in the OCC-Buckeye.
The award is named in honor of Young, who was a longtime OCC secretary and a longtime track official and managed basketball tournaments at the sectional, district and regional levels for the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Young also served as athletics director at Delaware and treasurer of the OHSAA's Central District.
"I want to say it was just about the first thing mentioned to me when I was going for this job. It's a great indicator of the success New Albany has continued to have across the board," said New Albany baseball coach Dave Starling, whose team won its first Division I district championship since 2010 and fell one win short of the state tournament. "One of our guys, (junior outfielder) Jack Scharfe, was saying he's never been on a team that hasn't won a league championship (Scharfe also plays linebacker and offensive line on the football team). We were one game short this season, but that's the type of attitude we want within our program. They expect to take the field and win."