The New Albany High School girls swimming team enters the Division I state meet this weekend thinking more about its four individual qualifiers and three relays than how close it came to ending Upper Arlington's long grip on the district championship.

Yet the Eagles, who have been district runners-up to the Golden Bears each of the last four years, clearly have closed the gap on UA.

In a race whose winner would capture the district title Feb. 17 at Ohio University, New Albany's 400-yard freestyle relay of Lexi Elkovitch, Mia Lachey, McKayla Moffat and Stacy Saribalas finished second in 3 minutes, 27.84 seconds, .39 of a second behind UA. The Eagles finished with 267 points, seven behind UA as 30 teams scored.

Nonetheless, the 400 free relay secured an automatic bid to the state meet at Branin Natatorium in Canton and is seeded sixth. Swimming preliminaries are Friday, Feb. 23, and the finals are the next day.

"We knew we had a chance to give (UA) a good battle and that's what makes it exciting," coach Dave Wharton said. "Our kids will continue to work to make that happen, but this is what championship racing is about. I was very excited. A lot of our swims are trending upward. They got out and swam really well."

New Albany was second to UA by 150.5 points last year, 232.5 in 2016 and 457 in 2015.

The top two placers in each event automatically advanced to state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each event based on district times statewide.

The 200 free relay of Elkovitch, Lachey, Moffat and Kelly Shur won in 1:36.45 and is seeded fourth at state.

Despite being in an outside lane in both of her individual events, Lachey placed second in the 200 free (1:52.04) and third in the 100 free (51.62). She is seeded 10th and sixth, respectively, at state.

"I was focusing on my own race and not looking around," Lachey said. "Our coaches just told us stories about some college swimmers that overcame different kinds of adversity or being last and coming up and dropping 20 seconds in a big meet. I was really inspired by that. It got me pumped up to live up to my goals."

Other state qualifiers were Elkovitch in the 50 free (24.18, seventh) and 100 free (52.52, ninth), Isabel Jenny in the 100 backstroke (57.58, sixth), Moffat in the 100 free (52.26, fifth) and the 200 medley relay (1:47.42, fifth) of Jenny, Lauren Sadler, Shur and Emili Toppari.

Led by its divers, New Albany's boys finished seventh (137.5) behind champion Dublin Jerome (303) as 29 teams scored.

In the district diving meet Feb. 13 at Dublin Community Recreation Center, Noah Duperre won with a score of 587.7 and Jordan Rzepka was third (542.45). The top five divers advanced to state Saturday, Feb. 24, at Branin Natatorium.

"Our district this year is way more competitive," said Duperre, who was state runner-up last year as a freshman. "I'm excited to have Jordan on the team. I've known him for a while. He can do great things."

Rzepka, a freshman, said he is adjusting to 1-meter diving after years of competing on platform.

"The height difference is the biggest thing," he said. "You have to adjust your spatial awareness and all that stuff. I can cope with it, but I don't jump too high so that can be a challenge. (With) platform, it's all in the spinning."

Pearson Spychalski is the boys team's only individual swimming state qualifier. He tied for third in the 200 free (1:42.21) and finished sixth in the 100 free (47.31) -- a race in which his goggles filled with water -- to tie for the 24th and final qualifying spot at state.

"I am building up to state so I didn't expect to go my best time," Spychalski said. "But for not shaving and not being in my best suit, I think I have the mental toughness to know I can go faster than I did (at district)."

Girls basketball team awaits tourney foe

By the time the girls basketball team takes the court for its Division I district tournament second-round contest Friday, Feb. 23, they will not have played a game in two weeks.

It wasn't necessarily the path coach Jeff Blunt wanted, but he'll be fine with it if the 15th-seeded Eagles defeat 11th-seeded Westerville Central or 23rd-seeded Olentangy Liberty.

New Albany's last game was a 56-55 overtime loss to Canal Winchester on Feb. 9. The Eagles are 13-9.

"There's obviously the benefit that you have one less game (with a first-round bye), but you're off two weeks and that's a long time," Blunt said. "Keeping kids engaged for that long can be a challenge. We were playing well (to end the regular season). We didn't really want that much of a break."

Central and Liberty played their first-round game Feb. 20. The second-round game will be played on the better-seeded team's home court.

The winner will play 10th-seeded Eastmoor Academy or 12th-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley in a district semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 28, at a neutral site to be determined. That winner will advance to a district final March 3 at Ohio Dominican.

Of those teams, New Albany lost to Central 58-41 on Jan. 3.

"We tried to figure out the best path for us to get to a district final. We'll play a 10 (seed) if everything holds, and we thought that was as good as we could get to get that far," Blunt said.

Wrestlers ready for sectional tourney

Wrestling coach Larry Reichard anticipates a competitive Division I sectional tournament Saturday, Feb. 24, at Watkins Memorial and thinks the Eagles can match or exceed their five district qualifiers of a year ago.

Top teams at the sectional include Olentangy and Hilliard Darby, which are seeded seventh and eighth, respectively, among the district's 44 teams. New Albany is 24th.

"We had to beat a few guys from Darby to make it out to district (last year), Olentangy too," Reichard said. "I know we've seen five of the teams already, which gives us a little bit of an idea where we stand with those guys. Hopefully we get at least those three returners out and sneak a few more out as well."

Rounding out the field are Gahanna, Hilliard Bradley, Logan, Marion Harding, Mifflin and Pickerington North.

The top four finishers in each weight class will advance to the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Darby.

New Albany finished the regular season with a 51-25 win over Big Walnut in OCC-Capital Division action Feb. 15. Four of the Eagles' five contested wins were by pin, and New Albany won four more weight classes by forfeit to finish 3-2 in the league.

Bowlers prepare for sectionals

The boys and girls bowling teams will participate in Division I sectional tournaments this weekend at HP Lanes.

The boys sectional is Friday, Feb. 23, one day before the girls tournament.

The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams in both sectionals will advance to their respective district tournaments March 3 at HP Lanes.

New Albany finished its regular season Feb. 13 by splitting a Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-A Division match against Beechcroft at Sequoia Lanes. The girls won 1,557-1,358 to improve to 4-8 overall and in the COHSBC-A, and the boys dropped to 1-11 overall and in the COHSBC-A with a 2,038-2,029 loss.

Boys basketball team starts two-week break

The boys basketball team finished the regular season with a 67-38 win at Franklin Heights on Feb. 16 then began a two-week wait until opening the Division I district tournament.

Jalin Jackson's 24 points carried New Albany past the Falcons. Rahul Chandra and Will King each added 13 points as the Eagles improved to 7-15 overall and finished 5-5 in the OCC-Capital.

Earlier last week, Jackson had 21 points and Jake Warinner added 11 in a 71-55 loss to Columbus East on Feb. 13.

Seeded 39th for the 48-team district tournament, New Albany does not play again until it visits fourth-seeded Westerville North or 35th-seeded Groveport in a second-round game March 2. The Cruisers and Warriors play their first-round game Saturday, Feb. 24.

Hockey team falls to Braves in tourney

Brandon Barash scored the hockey team's only goal in a 4-1 loss to sixth-seeded Olentangy in the second round of the district tournament Feb. 18 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.

Barash scored on a power play early in the third period for the ninth-seeded Eagles, who finished 13-20.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

At a glance

Below are the members of the New Albany boys and girls swimming & diving teams who competed at district but did not qualify for state:

Boys -- Alex Arlin: 100 breast (1:03.71, 23rd); Patrick Daly: 200 IM (1:59.86, 12th), 500 free (4:56.11, 19th); Gage Ford: 200 free (1:48.97, tied for 15th); Diarmuid Hutchinson: 500 free (5:05.06, 26th); Jimmy Lapsley: 100 back (53.41, seventh); Andrew Levine: 200 free (1:50.47, 22nd), 500 free (4:54.98, 15th); Tommy Morris: 50 free (22.45, 22nd); Caleb Schimming: 500 free (5:09.46, 30th); Brennan Walsh: 100 back (55.83, 19th); 200 free relay (1:29.56, ninth); 200 medley relay (1:39.91, 11th); 400 free relay (3:16.6, seventh)

Girls -- Maddy Brandon: 500 free (5:40.26, 29th); Kiara Crumbley: 100 fly (58.49, 12th), 500 free (5:10.6, seventh); Isabel Jenny: 200 IM (2:16.37, 16th); Jada Johnson: 200 free (1:58.65, 13th), 500 free (5:35.57, 22nd); Midori Kisanuki: 100 fly (1:00.74, 25th); Lauren Lapsley: 100 fly (1:00.17, 22nd), 200 IM (2:13.62, 11th); Liv Meeting: 100 back (1:01.88, 23rd), 200 IM (2:23.7, 29th); McKayla Moffat: 200 free (1:54.9, fifth); Sydney Nowak: 100 back (1:05.7, 30th), 200 IM (2:22.38, 28th); Lauren Sadler: 50 free (25.01, 21st), 100 breast (1:11.77, 26th); Evie Samanich: 500 free (5:38.86, 28th); Stacy Saribalas: 100 free (53.73, 19th), 200 free (1:57.53, 10th); Kelly Shur: 50 free (24.44, 11th), 100 breast (1:06.61, sixth); Emili Toppari: 50 free (24.42, 10th), 100 fly (58.22, ninth)