While New Albany High School boys soccer coach Johnny Ulry considers Bryce Noonan to be a key cog to the Eagles' strong start, Ulry hopes fans also realize how critical Noonan is even if he does not lead the team in scoring or isn't particularly flashy.
At least one fan does, cheering loudly for Noonan as he came off the field Sept. 4 after an 8-1 win over Pickerington Central.
"I'm not leaving until Bryce Noonan shakes my hand," the fan said, laughing as he yelled to the senior midfielder. "We had English class together last year."
Noonan obliged, saying he remembered his former classmate. After a handshake and a smile, Noonan quietly ran off the field and toward the locker room.
In his third year as a starter, Noonan has continued to display the qualities Ulry saw as a freshman, when Noonan played junior varsity and only saw varsity time during the postseason. This season, he has five goals and three assists, and the Eagles take a 7-0 record into a Thursday, Sept. 13, game at Newark.
"Bryce is the hardest-working guy out there. He does the simplest things better than anybody else," Ulry said. "He knows where to pass the ball. He knows where his first touch needs to go. He's a work engine for us. He has a few goals and a lot of assists but more than that, it's just his work rate. We feed off his work rate and his energy. To me, there's nobody that matches it.
"His skill, in my opinion, is among the best in the area."
Although not counted on for his scoring, Noonan scored two goals in a season-opening 6-0 win over OCC-Capital Division rival Big Walnut on Aug. 17. He had missed most of the preseason because of a concussion.
"I'm always willing to work for the other guys and when I put that effort in, they will give it back," Noonan said. "Every time I give the team a positive attitude, we all get better. It spreads across the field. We all connect really well. It's really important."
Ulry said he feels just as comfortable playing Noonan at forward or defender as midfielder, mentioning a key goal Noonan scored in the second half of a 3-0 win at Gahanna on Aug. 28 to give New Albany breathing room.
"Wherever he is, he's a hard worker who will get anything done for the team," senior forward Drew Fischer said. "He'll always work hard and be the scrappy one whose work leads to our goals. He doesn't need to take the credit. He'll set up another guy and go celebrate with them. He doesn't need to be the guy who gets the goal. Now when he does score, he'll get excited, but he doesn't have to be that guy."
Because of that versatility, Noonan described his role in general terms.
"It depends on where I'm slotted in, but as a captain my most important role is keeping everyone calm," Noonan said. "We have younger guys and older guys. Playing simple and playing our style is the biggest thing I can do to help the team."
Noonan does not plan to play soccer in college, instead majoring in criminal justice and criminology at Ohio State or Cincinnati.
For now, he hopes to help New Albany clinch its third consecutive OCC-Capital championship and second Division I district title in three years. The Eagles return to league play against Newark and then have nine days off from games until playing host to Dayton Dunbar on Sept. 22.
"We have some big tests coming up," Ulry said. "We've played some pretty good teams. We've had great tests. We have some big opportunities ahead of us and a long way to go."
Girls tennis team closes in on title
The girls tennis team lost its first match of the season last week, but rebounded the next day to clinch at least a share of its third consecutive OCC-Capital championship and 11th in 12 years.
New Albany was 6-1 overall before playing Watterson on Sept. 11 and improved to 4-0 in the OCC-Capital with a 5-0 win at Franklin Heights on Sept. 6. The Eagles previously defeated Newark (4-1 on Aug. 23), Big Walnut (5-0 on Aug. 28) and Canal Winchester (5-0 on Sept. 4) in league play.
Their Aug. 30 league match against Groveport was postponed because both schools' football teams were playing the same night. A makeup date had not been determined entering the week.
New Albany was eliminated from the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district tournament with a 4-1 loss at Pickerington North in a second-round match Sept. 5.
Girls soccer team returns to league play
The girls soccer team continues pursuit of its second OCC-Capital championship in three years Thursday, Sept. 13, when it plays host to Newark.
New Albany is 4-1-3 overall and 1-0 in the league, having defeated Big Walnut 3-0 on Aug. 17 in the season opener for both teams. The Eagles' other early wins came over Olentangy Berlin (3-0 on Aug. 23), Westerville Central (4-0 on Aug. 30) and Pickerington Central (5-1 on Sept. 4).
New Albany also tied Westerville North at 4 on Aug. 21 and Gahanna at 2 on Aug. 28, and suffered its loss Sept. 6, falling 3-1 at Dublin Jerome.
The Eagles tied Thomas Worthington at 2 on Sept. 8.
Brooklyn Harris had a team-high nine goals through seven games, ahead of Lydia Cornelius with four and Kelis Brown, Dulcie Heyes and Morgan Wiest with two each.
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 15 -- Galion Festival at Amann's Reservoir Park
*Sept. 13 -- At Bexley
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Gates Mills Hawken
Sept. 15 -- Trojan Invitational at Findlay Country Club
Sept. 17 -- Lexington at Westbrook Country Club
Sept. 15 -- Sacred Heart Invitational at Hurstbourne Country Club in Louisville, Ky.
*Sept. 13 -- At Newark
*Sept. 13 -- Home vs. Newark
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 18 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
*Sept. 13 -- At Groveport