Although he calls basketball his "love," New Albany High School senior Jalin Jackson forced himself to take a week off before returning to the court after leading the Eagles' football team to its second consecutive Division II, Region 7 final.

Jackson felt like he was climbing the walls at times, but a visit to practice and the fact that his week off coincided with Thanksgiving helped.

Now, past the halfway point of the regular season, Jackson is glad he gave himself some down time, unlike last year.

"Coaches pushed me to take time off even though I was dying to come back, and I'm glad I did. I feel a lot fresher," Jackson said. "I am shooting the ball a lot better. I just feel like I'm a step ahead of where I was last year.

"Basketball is my love, and I didn't want to take the time off. Basketball shape and football shape are completely different. Football, you go for four or five seconds and stop. Basketball, I'm in the game for an entire quarter, and really most of the game, going back and forth. I was trying to adapt to that again."

Thanks in part to improved long-range shooting, Jackson was averaging a team-high 12.8 points through 11 games. New Albany was 4-7 overall before playing Olentangy Liberty on Jan. 16 and is 2-2 in the OCC-Capital Division heading into a Friday, Jan. 19, game at Newark.

Jackson had 24 3-pointers through 11 games, including a career-high seven in a 61-50 win over Canal Winchester on Jan. 5. Jackson scored a career-high 27 points that night, and has made at least one 3-pointer in all but two games this season.

It was the Eagles' best long-range shooting performance since 2015 graduate Alex Sparks made 10 3-pointers against Franklin Heights on Jan. 30, 2015.

Jackson was a freshman that year and saw minutes off the bench. He has been a starter since his sophomore season.

"Jalin is someone we look up to more so than anybody else," forward Brennan Wood said, adding Jackson was unanimously voted a captain. "He can shoot it and he can handle it, too. He can drive well and he's a good distributor."

Jackson's leadership abilities came into play during football season, although not how he planned. Originally projected to play wide receiver and defensive back, Jackson became the Eagles' starting quarterback in mid-September and guided them to seven wins in eight games after a 1-3 start before a 24-6 loss to Massillon Jackson in the regional final.

Jackson completed 44 of 76 passes for 725 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions, rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 61 carries, caught three passes for 33 yards and amassed another 110 yards on kickoff and punt returns.

Despite his week off between sports, Jackson did not miss a basketball game. He set the tone for his season by scoring a team-high 15 points in a season-opening 55-42 loss to Olentangy Orange on Dec. 1.

"Last year, it took him until the end of January to really play the way he is capable of playing. He's on a faster track and he has his basketball legs back. He is playing well and shooting a lot better," coach Sam Davis said. "In space, he's a really good shooter and he's a high-energy guy on defense. You put those things together and he's a pretty good basketball player. He's only going to get better. I'm excited for him."

Ashland, Bethany, Heidelberg and Mount Vernon Nazarene are recruiting Jackson for basketball. He was scheduled to take an official football visit to Malone on Jan. 17, and also has been talking to Valparaiso.

Until his future is decided, Jackson will concentrate more on helping the Eagles have a strong second half of the season.

"I want to be a leader, yes, but I want to have other guys leading the team. I want us all to be the best we can possibly be," Jackson said. "I'm shooting a lot better from outside. I kept at that. It's just about scoring and helping communicate on defense with my team."

Swimmers hope to sustain fast start

Swimming coach Dave Wharton dismissed any suggestion that his girls team's victory in the prestigious Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 16 at Ohio State, in which it edged perennial power Upper Arlington, means the Eagles might now be the team to beat in the district.

After losing to the three-time defending Division I state champion Golden Bears 100-83 in a dual Dec. 9, New Albany scored 357.5 points in the Ned Reeb to outdistance runner-up UA (289).

"(UA) has the great swimming reputation, and we were excited because we didn't rest that much for the Ned Reeb," Wharton said. "To go there and perform that way ... we have a lot of depth, we feel, and we're trying to be strategic about how we use it. We are very excited. Nothing is a shoo-in. It will be a race all the way through. (UA) will bring their big game the next time we see them (in the district meet Feb. 17 at Ohio University). It's up to us to continue to race hard."

Wharton was hoping to get an even better gauge on the team during the Northeast Classic on Jan. 13 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, but the Eagles did not travel to the meet because of bad weather. Thirty-six Eagles had qualified, which according to Wharton was the largest group to do so in the history of the program.

Swimmers had to meet time standards to compete in the Northeast Classic. Branin Natatorium is the site of the state meet.

New Albany will not compete outside its home pool for the remainder of the regular season. Home meets are coming up Thursday, Jan. 18, against Hilliard Davidson and Tuesday, Jan. 23, against Olentangy, before the OCC-Capital meet, which also is at New Albany. The diving meet is Jan. 25 and the swimming finals are Jan. 27.

"We're getting to the end of the (regular) season, so we're still branching out and trying different events but also trying to narrow the scope as to what it will look like at the end of the year," Wharton said.

Wrestling team performing well

The wrestling team had eight top-four placers in its first tournament of the season and four in the top five of its second tournament, but coach Larry Reichard is more excited about how that happened.

"I like all our pieces. We've had only one or two dual (meets) with the full team, and we haven't taken our full team to an invitational yet," Reichard said last week, adding he had planned on having a full lineup Jan. 13 for the Big Dawg Invitational at Dresden Tri-Valley before that event was canceled because of bad weather. "At the start of the season some of our football guys weren't back yet and some guys hadn't made weight. One weekend, six of our guys were taking the ACT."

In the Licking Valley Invitational on Jan. 6, four of New Albany's six wrestlers placed. Peter Ackley (138 pounds) and Colin Swincicki (113) were third in their respective classes, Daniel Rodriguez was fifth at 195 and Michael Zussman was fifth at 138.

Swincicki, a freshman, opened the season by winning the title at 113 in the Tony Pizzurro Memorial Tournament on Dec. 2 at DeSales.

He improved to a team-best 16-5 during the Eagles' 54-30 win at Franklin Heights to begin OCC-Capital competition Jan. 11. Ackley is 14-3 and Rodriguez is 14-6.

New Albany went 4-1 in the league last year, second behind Groveport (5-0).

"We honestly haven't talked about the league too much," Reichard said. "Last year, I used that as a motivator and we were right there at the end with a chance to win the championship. Right now, I am preaching about the process. Each match is an opportunity to improve."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

*Jan. 19 -- At Newark. The Eagles lost to the Wildcats 59-35 on Dec. 8.

Jan. 23 -- Home vs. Gahanna

GIRLS BASKETBALL

*Jan. 20 -- Home vs. Newark. The Eagles lost to the Wildcats 63-24 on Nov. 28.

Jan. 23 -- At Gahanna

BOWLING

*Jan. 23 -- Delaware at Colony Lanes

HOCKEY

*Jan. 20 -- Upper Arlington at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The Eagles lost to the Golden Bears 1-0 on Dec. 28.

*Jan. 21 -- Dublin Jerome at Chiller Easton

SWIMMING & DIVING

Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson

Jan. 23 -- Home vs. Olentangy

WRESTLING

*Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Newark

Jan. 20 -- Panther Invitational at Pickerington North

*League contest