Praise for Pearson Spychalski seems never-ending from his New Albany High School swimming coach and teammates.

Praise for Pearson Spychalski seems never-ending from his New Albany High School swimming coach and teammates.

That is largely because coach Dave Wharton can plug Spychalski into the lineup anywhere he is needed, something the sophomore attributes to year-round training and a willingness to grow beyond his comfort zone as a freestyler.

"We've put Pearson wherever we've needed him to go. He is that versatile," Wharton said. "He, Carson (Barnes) and Gage (Ford) and some of our older guys can do more things. They have more places to go. (Spychalski) has been on that track just through his growth and development and year-round commitment.

"This year and going forward, the sky's the limit."

Spychalski is trying to build on a stellar freshman season in which he was OCC-Capital Division champion in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, Division I district runner-up in the 200 free and a state meet qualifier in two individual events and two relays.

He generally is swimming freestyle events and relays this year, but occasionally has competed in backstroke and butterfly races.

"He has taken our relays to a whole new level," senior Steven Kish said. "He wasn't even really a surprise last year. We knew he was fast. It's so nice to have Pearson here because it lets us be versatile with our relay order. (Assistant coach) John (Coffman) and Dave, almost every time we swim, switch the order even if the same people are on it. Their motto is, 'Just get up and go race.' "

Spychalski said he concentrated on stroke technique during the offseason, in which he competes for the Ohio State Swim Club. At state, Spychalski was 15th in the 200 free and 19th in the 100 free, and was on the 13th-place 200 free relay and 18th-place 400 free relay. Barnes and Ford also returned from those relays.

His personal-best times entering the week were 47.5 seconds in the 100 free, 1:41 in the 200 free and 4:43 in the 500 free.

"My freestyle stroke, I tend to sway outward when I swim so I am trying to focus more on my breathing pattern during races and how to do a full 200 without being exhausted at the end and swimming not as well as I could," Spychalski said. "Off the walls, I think I'm better at being able to kick consistently. I can maintain my stroke tempo, and I owe that all to pace work during practice."

Swimming proved to be a welcome outlet for Spychalski when his father, David, died Sept. 2 after battling cancer. Pearson is the fourth of six children, including his older brother, Griffin, a 2014 New Albany graduate and former Eagles swimmer who now majors in biomedical engineering at Ohio State.

"Seeing all those friendships and having everybody to support you, it made things a lot easier. It's really a genuine, nice thing," Spychalski said. "They all came to support me. I couldn't ask for any more. The people on this swim team, they all care for each other. It shows not only at meets, but away from the pool, too.

"Swimming helps a lot. If you're having a rough day, you just get your mind off it in the pool."

Poulton, Rodriguez
leading wrestlers

The wrestling team went 8-8 in non-league duals before beginning its OCC-Capital season, a record coach Larry Reichard credited to more than simple talent.

"This year, we're in most matches," Reichard said. "We've all fought and stayed in matches and kept them close. We're finding ways to win matches we might not have won in the past, and we've been able to avoid pins in matches we might not have before. That gets us extra points."

Reichard said such a scenario came into play during New Albany's 34-30 win over Gahanna on Jan. 4. Although the Eagles forfeited two weight classes, they stayed close because they avoided pins and were able to pull out the win.

New Albany opened OCC-Capital action Jan. 11 with a 41-26 win over visiting Franklin Heights.

Cameron Poulton led the team with a 21-3 record at 132 pounds through Jan. 7. David Rodriguez was 11-1 at heavyweight, Justin Mormol was 19-5 at 145 and Varnell Gagnon was 14-6 at 195.

"Our goal right now is to be competitive," Reichard said. "Most of these guys have endured the times when we didn't have a full team and, as a result, didn't always do well against better teams. We want to go into the league season and win a few of these duals. We want to see what we can do. If we can do that, who knows how well we can do?"

Hockey team
continues solid play

Hockey coach Joe Kola cited attention to detail and buying in as the top two reasons that the team is living up to his expectations.

New Albany is 18-8-1 overall and takes a 9-2 record with 18 points in the Capital Hockey Conference-White into a Sunday, Jan. 22, game against Olentangy Orange at Chiller North. The Eagles have a comfortable lead in the CHC-White, six points ahead of the second-place Pioneers (6-3, 12).

"One of our goals was to be in first place in the division, and so far we've done that," Kola said. "The boys have worked hard to be there. We've had some big wins, some important wins. They've bought into the team concept to win games."

Tyler Riddle has a team-high 21 goals, ahead of Brocke Ellis (18), Ryan Sellars (15) and Alex Arenschield (14).

New Albany had a six-game winning streak snapped Jan. 13 with a 4-0 loss to Olentangy Liberty in the Pioneer Classic at Chiller North. That run began with consecutive victories over Shaker Heights in the Lakewood St. Edward Eagle Classic, 3-1 on Dec. 28 and 4-1 on Dec. 29.

Kola cited defenseman Cameron Leymaster as a recent difference-maker. Leymaster scored the winning goal in overtime Jan. 7 as the Eagles edged DeSales 3-2.

"Cameron has been a nice surprise," Kola said. "We've gotten a lot of contributions that haven't shown up on the stat sheet. (Defenseman) Parker Thompson has come up from (junior varsity) and played well. We have a great supporting cast. It's largely the same group of guys leading the offense, but they couldn't do it without other guys playing their roles or the defense stopping goals and helping create chances for them."

Girls golf
coach retires

Darryl Sycher had contemplated retiring as girls golf coach even before suffering a heart attack Jan. 2, but that scare pushed him to hit the reset button in several areas of his life.

Sycher submitted his retirement notice to athletics director Richie Wildenhaus on Jan. 11, ending a 12-year run with the Eagles.

Sycher, 61, who plans to continue teaching history at the high school, suffered what he called "a slight to moderate" heart attack early on the first day of classes after holiday break.

"I had 90 percent blockage in one artery, and three cardiologists said I could have had a massive heart attack within a few weeks," Sycher said. "My health is important, and I need to spend more time at home. People might get tired of hearing me say this, but every day is a blessing. It is good to be alive."

Four of New Albany's top five golfers are eligible to return in junior Abby Wilcox, sophomore Morgan Pankow and freshmen Shannan Ireland and Gwynnie Lee. The Eagles finished fifth in the OCC-Cardinal last season and ninth out of nine teams in their first Division I district tournament appearance since 2011.

"The program is on the rise," Sycher said. "I just didn't feel I could give my full commitment anymore."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave