Although the New Albany High School girls basketball team recorded double-digit wins in each of coach Jeff Blunt's first five seasons, the Eagles advanced beyond the second round of the Division I district tournament only once, when they finished as a district runner-up two years ago.
A few things told Blunt this year could be different before New Albany began its season Nov. 28 with an OCC-Capital Division game at defending league champion Newark.
Not only do the Eagles have cornerstones in seniors Raegan Elwer and Micaylah Nash as well as junior Josie Smith, but they have 25 players in the program -- seven more than last year and enough to field a freshman team -- and one of the best shooting teams of Blunt's tenure.
"For the first time since I've been here, I can say, 'It's going.' Everything is moving in the right direction," Blunt said. "I love our culture right now. It's one where it's very family-ish. We're retaining kids. We have strong girls coming back and we'll probably have five freshmen playing varsity this year. (That class) is that good."
Elwer, a 5-foot-8 guard, averaged 11.0 points last year and Smith, a 6-1 forward, added 9.4 points and a team-high 9.9 rebounds as New Albany went 10-13 overall.
Nash, a 6-0 center/forward, sat out last year to concentrate on club volleyball. She averaged 7.1 points and 10.7 rebounds as a sophomore.
Nash and 6-2 sophomore forward Maddy Hoffman will anchor the paint, pushing Smith into a hybrid shooting guard-small forward role she expects to play in college. Smith has offers from Ohio Dominican and the University of Denver.
"Last year I was more of a post player with Micaylah not here, but her being back gives me the opportunity to be out on the wing more and show some skills I developed over the summer. I want to contribute more to the team," Smith said. "It's a good feeling when you pass the ball to a teammate and get some ball movement going and make things happen. I think me being outside can create some mismatches."
Other returnees who saw playing time last year are juniors Katie Cacch-illo (5-7, guard), Sophia Orsinelli (5-6, guard) and Arlly Villanueva-Almonte (5-9, forward/guard).
Blunt expects freshmen Kelis Brown (5-8, forward/guard), Haley Dennis (5-6, guard), Brooklyn Gammon (5-7, guard), Olivia Gittons (5-6, guard) and Alex Mormon (5-9, forward/guard) to make an immediate impact. According to Blunt, Gittons hit six 3-pointers in a scrimmage Nov. 13 against Northridge.
"They are not afraid," Elwer said. "They are good shooters. When I was a freshman, I couldn't really shoot a 3 but they do all the time. They're good ball-handlers. They will really help me from that standpoint. It's nice to know I won't have to handle all the ball pressure."
Rounding out the roster are juniors Alexandra Henry (5-7, forward/guard) and Logan Meldrum (5-8, guard) and sophomore Naomi Patel (5-5, guard).
New Albany went 5-5 in the OCC-Capital last year to tie Big Walnut for third place.
The Eagles' home opener is Tuesday, Dec. 5, against Franklin Heights.
*Nov. 28 -- at Newark
Dec. 1 -- at Dublin Scioto
*Dec. 5 -- vs. Franklin Heights
Dec. 6 -- at DeSales
Dec. 9 -- vs. Teays Valley
*Dec. 15 -- vs. Big Walnut
Dec. 19 -- vs. Westerville North
*Dec. 22 -- at Groveport
Dec. 27 -- Hilliard Bradley in Watterson Christmas Classic
Dec. 28 -- Watterson in Watterson Christmas Classic
Jan. 3 -- vs. Westerville Central
*Jan. 5 -- vs. Canal Winchester
Jan. 9 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Jan. 12 -- at Franklin Heights
Jan. 16 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Jan. 20 -- vs. Newark
Jan. 23 -- at Gahanna
*Jan. 26 -- at Big Walnut
Jan. 30 -- at Dublin Jerome
*Feb. 2 -- vs. Groveport
Feb. 6 -- vs. Pickerington Central
*Feb. 9 -- at Canal Winchester