The New Albany High School boys cross country team's first race of the season featured a little bit of everything the Eagles hope to see this year.

After starting the New Albany Classic on Aug. 20 in the middle of the pack, sophomore Ethan McNichols surged toward the front and finished third in 18 minutes, 4.7 seconds. He passed a large pack of teammates to do so, and the Eagles' next four runners finished in a span of 26.8 seconds to help the team to 44 points and first place out of 10 teams, ahead of Watkins Memorial (56).

Considering that the Eagles return all but one runner from last year's team that fell four points shy of the OCC-Capital Division championship, third-year coach John Galbreath thought the team was right on pace through its first three races.

"My gut feeling is some of those guys have been learning a lot, especially the freshmen," Galbreath said. "We have good freshmen coming up but until you race with the older guys and find out where you fit in the pecking order, you're never exactly sure where you stand. That can be an eye-opening experience."

Junior Eric Von Zastrow, sophomores Cade Helms, Victor Orsinelli and Colin Swincicki and freshmen Will Benseler and Luke Weibel have joined McNichols in the top seven so far this season.

New Albany's only loss to graduation was Kane Breuer, last year's OCC-Capital champion who went on to finish 17th in the Division I, district 2 meet and 44th at regional. Galbreath said there was not necessarily an early favorite to replace Breuer.

"That was a big loss. We need somebody to step up and take Kane's spot. Ethan, on occasion last year, showed he could be that guy," Galbreath said. "We have some young guys who are trying to figure things out. They're getting more confident and won't depend on the group as much. We've had some chances to see where we are."

In the Panther Classic on Aug. 25 at Pickerington North, New Albany was 11th (307) of 17 teams behind champion Gahanna (85) as McNichols finished 46th (17:50.87).

He again led the team in the 16-team Canal Winchester Invitational on Aug. 29, placing fourth (17:03.1) as the Eagles won (69) ahead of the host Indians (74).

According to Galbreath, other varsity contributors will include seniors Mitchell Briggs and Max Rycus and sophomores Pedro Faerman and Dylan McDevitt.

An OCC-Capital title would be the Eagles' second in three years and seventh in 10 seasons. New Albany scored 35 points in last year's league meet to finish second behind Newark (31).

"A lot of us are hoping to win (the league)," McNichols said. "We certainly have a good core group, so I think we have a chance. It's going to be a tight race, but there's always a hope that we can get it done."

Sika, juniors guiding girls runners

The girls cross country team's official opener ended up being the Panther Classic, as its race in the New Albany Classic was called about 13 minutes in because of lightning.

Freshman Sammie Sika finished 10th (20:52.58) to lead the Eagles to 187 points and fifth of 27 teams in the Bengal Division race behind champion Olentangy Berlin (102).

Also scoring for New Albany were juniors Lindsey Neff (40th, 22:13.87) and Peyton Spychalski (41st, 22:14.61) and seniors Monica Vale (45th, 22:22.24) and Alyssa Kneedler (51st, 22:33.23).

Vale is the only returning runner with much varsity experience, having raced at that level the past two seasons to help New Albany win back-to-back OCC-Capital championships. The Eagles scored 40 points at last year's league meet to edge runner-up Big Walnut (46) but did not advance any runners past district.

"We have some pretty good talent, but we're very inexperienced," sixth-year coach Herb Gregory said. "We've got 10 to 12 girls with potential to run varsity, but there's probably a combined two-plus years of varsity experience. That includes some seniors in that group.

"The main thing during the season will be how fast they can learn how to actually race. If we can do a good job of learning how to race, we'll be pretty good."

Other varsity runners will include senior Maya Patel, juniors Emily Flaherty and Meredith Given and freshmen Mary Carson, Clara Doyle and Ellie Haffer.

Sika's seventh-place finish (20:39.8) in the Canal Winchester invitational led the Eagles to fourth (86) of 16 teams as Bexley won (40).

"There's definitely some talent there. It's a group that's very coachable, very willing to work," Gregory said. "It seems like all the ingredients are there to be successful, but we need this race experience to make sure they can do it on race day. That's the bottom line."

Field hockey team showing progress

It took until Sept. 18 for the field hockey team to get its second win last year, coach Marissa Weldon's first with the Eagles, but she and her players are confident they are hitting their stride much earlier this season.

New Albany was 2-1-1 before playing Upper Arlington on Sept. 5 and had allowed only one goal through those four games.

"Their communication has been excellent," Weldon said. "One of our goals last year was improving team culture, making sure everyone is invested in the program and making sure everyone, whether they are a freshman or a senior, knows they matter to the team. The girls have really bonded off the field, too, and that's helped improve our communication on the field."

The Eagles opened with a 1-0 loss at Worthington Kilbourne in Central Ohio Field Hockey League-East play Aug. 22, but bounced back with a 3-0 win over Dublin Scioto in their home opener Aug. 25. New Albany played Olentangy Orange to a scoreless tie Aug. 27 and beat Dublin Jerome 2-0 on Aug. 29.

Sophomore Bella Thompson is in her second season as the primary goalkeeper. She is backed up by senior Marie Tawfik.

Junior forward Brooke Mason had two of the Eagles' five goals through four games. Senior forwards Kennadi Looker and Katie Vatke and sophomore forward Olivia Angles had one each.

"Our passing has been excellent and our teamwork has been really sharp," Weldon said.

New Albany went 5-11-1 overall and 2-5-1 in the COFHL-East last year, finishing sixth behind champion Granville (8-0).

Rounding out the roster are seniors Chloe Clapham (defender), Sunnie Fireman (forward/midfielder), Caroline Ryan (midfielder/defender) and Lauren Sokol (forward), juniors Bridget Driscoll (midfielder), Halle Galbraith (forward), A.J. Siani (midfielder), Cely Walsh (defender) and Elan Watson (defender), sophomore Olivia Pollack (forward/midfielder) and freshmen Azra D'Souza (forward/midfielder), Lily Driggs (forward) and Catherine Gurd (midfielder/defender).

Golf teams close in on league titles

The boys and girls golf teams both will try to finish off undefeated league seasons when they play in the fourth and final rounds of their respective league tournaments Wednesday, Sept. 12.

The boys team, which is seeking its eighth consecutive OCC-Capital championship, shot a 320 in the third round Aug. 29 at Turnberry to finish ahead of Big Walnut (339), Canal Winchester (366) and Newark (376). Franklin Heights and Groveport did not record team scores.

Logan Spiess shot a 77 to lead New Albany, followed by Jacob Brooks (80), Griffin Green (81) and Caleb Delaney (82). The Eagles are 15-0 in the league, ahead of Big Walnut (12-3), Canal Winchester (9-6), Newark (6-9), Franklin Heights (2-13) and Groveport (1-14).

The girls team is 15-0 in the OCC-Central, ahead of UA (11-4), Dublin Coffman (10-5), Hilliard Davidson (6-9), Marysville (2-13) and Canal Winchester (1-14).

Led by Morgan Pankow's round of 69, New Albany shot a 292 in the third round Aug. 29 at Mentel Memorial to finish ahead of Coffman (322), UA (329), Davidson (358), Marysville (386) and Canal Winchester (397). Also scoring were Madison Spiess (73), Kary Hollenbaugh (74) and Anna Ritter (76).

The Eagles had won eight of their nine tournaments this season entering the New Albany Invitational on Sept. 4 at New Albany Country Club.

Hall named softball coach

After two seasons as New Albany Middle School coach, Aaron Hall was named the softball program's varsity head coach Aug. 27.

Hall replaced Stephanie Andrick, who resigned in early June because she was pregnant with triplets.

Hall is the founder and owner of iCoachHitting.com and also serves as director of operations for National Softball Academy.

"(Hall) brings a high energy approach to the game and a passion for working with student-athletes," athletics director Richie Wildenhaus said. "His knowledge of the game, ability to instruct at a high level and his desire to impact the lives of our student-athletes in a positive way make coach Hall a great fit."

Andrick was 35-34 overall and 20-14 in the OCC-Capital in three seasons. Last season, the Eagles went 9-11 overall and 7-3 in the league to finish second behind Groveport (9-1) and lost to Logan 11-9 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

CROSS COUNTRY

Aug. 20 -- New Albany Classic

Aug. 25 -- Panther Classic at Pickerington North

Aug. 29 -- Canal Winchester Invitational

Sept. 1 -- Granville Invitational at Bryn Du Mansion

Sept. 8 -- McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial

Sept. 15 -- Galion Festival at Amann's Reservoir Park

Sept. 22 -- Bob Reall Invitational at Lancaster

Sept. 29 -- Buck Creek Invitational at Buck Creek State Park

Oct. 3 -- Boys: Backwoods Festival at Thornville Sheridan

Oct. 6 -- Girls: Marion Harding Invitational

Oct. 13 -- OCC-Capital meet at Lancaster

FIELD HOCKEY

*Aug. 22 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

Aug. 25 -- vs. Dublin Scioto

Aug. 27 -- at Olentangy Orange

Aug. 29 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

Sept. 5 -- at Upper Arlington

Sept. 8 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty

*Sept. 13 -- at Bexley

Sept. 15 -- vs. Gates Mills Hawken

Sept. 20 -- vs. Olentangy

*Sept. 24 -- at Lancaster

*Sept. 26 -- vs. Columbus School for Girls

*Oct. 1 -- vs. Hartley

*Oct. 3 -- vs. Watterson

*Oct. 9 -- at Granville

*Oct. 11 -- at Columbus Academy

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:

BOYS GOLF

Sept. 8 -- St. Charles Invitational at Brookside

Sept. 10 -- Wooster Invitational at Wooster Country Club

Sept. 12 -- OCC-Capital at Apple Valley

GIRLS GOLF

Sept. 6 -- Olentangy Orange at Blackhawk

Sept. 8 -- Eagle-Panther Invitational at Cooks Creek

Sept. 12 -- OCC-Central at Westchester

BOYS SOCCER

Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson

Sept. 8 -- Home vs. Dresden Tri-Valley

GIRLS SOCCER

Sept. 6 -- At Dublin Jerome

Sept. 8 -- At Thomas Worthington

GIRLS TENNIS

*Sept. 6 -- At Franklin Heights

Sept. 11 -- Watterson at Park of Roses

Sept. 12 -- At Olentangy

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

*Sept. 6 -- Home vs. Big Walnut

Sept. 11 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty

*League contest