New Albany High School girls volleyball players made no attempt to fool themselves when it came to the importance of a 25-9, 21-25, 21-25, 25-19, 15-9 win over visiting Canal Winchester on Sept. 20.
The Eagles improved to 7-7 overall, but more importantly, they were 3-1 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Franklin Heights on Sept. 25 and right in the thick of the league championship race, one match behind first-place Big Walnut at 4-0.
New Albany lost to the defending league champion Golden Eagles 25-20, 25-16, 25-15 on Sept. 6 but will get a rematch Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Big Walnut.
"This (win) is pretty high up there because we could tell, at least I could, how well we've been playing and how important this one was (for the league)," outside hitter/right-side hitter Kirsten Tibbitts said. "We've at least given ourselves a chance. We still have to beat Big Walnut, but we also haven't done very well at home. We're showing some good things, but this was a nice win to get."
The Eagles' win over Canal Winchester was their first victory in seven home matches this year. It also was the first time New Albany had won consecutive matches this season, following a 25-15, 25-27, 25-20, 25-18 win over Groveport on Sept. 13.
While seeking consistency, coach Karen Morlan is encouraged that production has been spread out. Tibbitts had a team-high 89 kills before Sept. 25, followed closely by Autumn Ford (87), Emily Heintzelman (74) and Sydney Tagaloa (70).
Gabi Tagaloa had 28 aces, four more than Sydney Tagaloa.
Kayla Morlan was third with 20 aces and had a team-high 239 digs.
Tibbitts is a senior, Morlan is a junior, Gabi Tagaloa is a sophomore and Heintzelman and Sydney Tagaloa are freshmen. Ford is a senior but a first-year starter at middle hitter.
"Every girl on that court has an important role and needs to do their job. We've been doing that," coach Morlan said. "We spread our offense. We aren't heavy on sets in one position. We are using our outside hitters and right-sides and middles pretty equally and we'll continue to do so. Our defense has done some great things, too. We are hoping that continues.
"We see moments of greatness as far as keeping the ball off the floor and playing with energy. That's what they work hard to do every day."
Ford, who dressed varsity last year, led the team in blocks with 52 through 14 matches, just ahead of Heintzelman (47) and Gabi Tagaloa (46).
"I'm playing a bigger role on the team and being active in more sets," Ford said. "It's exciting to see both perspectives, from on the bench and on the court, just to see how you can contribute in different ways."
New Albany has lost four consecutive matches against Big Walnut, but coach Morlan knows nothing is assured.
"On any given day in this league, any team could beat another one. We know we have to perform," she said. "It's a good mix with our underclassmen and our seniors, but when they play with excitement and energy and stay loud, that is when we perform the best. Sometimes in tough games, they start worrying about mistakes or getting quiet on the court. We don't play well when that happens. That's our battle, I guess, just to stay focused with each other and on the next point and really worry just about our side of the court."
Girls tennis team preps for big tests
Girls tennis coach Marc Thomas admitted being extra giddy after a 3-2 win over sixth-ranked Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 18, largely because the Eagles secured the victory with a gritty comeback.
Senior Valentina DiLorenzo and freshman Helen Wang pulled out a 4-6, 7-6, 8-6 win at first doubles over Lexie Brengartner and Ellie MacDowell. DiLorenzo and Wang had trailed 6-3 at triple match point in the third set before winning five consecutive games.
"It was one of the best wins we've had since I've been here," Thomas said. "To win the way we did ... our girls just kept picking each other up. It was a great atmosphere. Everybody was into it. You're going to have to win close matches throughout the year, and that was a great way to win one. Our leadership is doing the job as well as any leaders I've had."
New Albany was 10-1 overall before playing Dublin Jerome on Sept. 25.
While Thomas has moved most of his players throughout the lineup, there has been some stability.
Kary Hollenbaugh usually has played first singles. Thalia Fuentes and Madison Spiess have alternated between singles and doubles.
Maya Klein and Alexandra Vitellas generally play doubles.
Thomas also hopes the win over the Patriots leads to a strong finish to the regular season.
New Albany tried to clinch its 12th OCC-Capital championship in 13 years Sept. 26 when it played host to Groveport, and it also will play host to Pickerington North on Tuesday, Oct. 2. A win would avenge the Eagles' only loss entering the week, a 4-1 setback Sept. 5 in the second round of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I district tournament.
New Albany was 4-0 in the league before playing Groveport.
"We lost that match to Pickerington North and made sure that would help our season go in the right direction," Thomas said. "We've had some close matches, and I've seen us continue to compete at the level we've talked about all season, the level we know we're capable of reaching."
Golf teams prepare for sectionals
The boys and girls golf teams will participate in Division I sectional tournaments Tuesday, Oct. 2, hoping to begin lengthy postseason runs.
The girls team, which is seeded first in the 33-team district, is in a sectional at Westchester. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams will advance to district Oct. 9 at Cooks Creek.
The boys team is seeded ninth of 40 teams and will play in a sectional at Denison Golf Club. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams will advance to district Oct. 9 at Apple Valley.
The girls team is trying for its first state tournament as a team. The boys have not made state as a team since 2013.
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. 29 -- Buck Creek Invitational at Buck Creek State Park
Oct. 3 -- Boys: Backwoods Invitational at Thornville Sheridan
*Oct. 1 -- Home vs. Hartley
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Watterson
Sept. 29 -- Dublin Jerome Honorary Invitational at Hickory Hills
Oct. 2 -- Division I sectional tournament at Denison Golf Club
Oct. 2 -- Division I sectional tournament at Westchester
Sept. 27 -- At Jerome
*Oct. 2 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
Sept. 27 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
*Oct. 2 -- At Canal Winchester
Sept. 27 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Oct. 2 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Columbus Academy
*Sept. 27 -- Home vs. Newark. The Eagles defeated the Wildcats 25-23, 25-27, 21-25, 25-20, 15-9 on Sept. 4.
*Oct. 2 -- At Big Walnut. The Eagles lost to the Golden Eagles 25-20, 25-16, 25-15 on Sept. 6.