The conversation between New Albany High School girls basketball coach Jeff Blunt and his Olentangy Liberty counterpart, Sam Krafty, before their teams met in the second round of the Division I district tournament last season consisted of more than simply pregame pleasantries.
"I said: 'You shoot the ball so dog-gone well. What's your secret?' And (Krafty) said: 'Just shoot it,' " said Blunt, whose team lost 51-41 to the Patriots. "I passed that on to the girls, and they took it to heart. It was a pointed conversation we had after the season. (Liberty) was a team that had it going, and we looked at why they did. It's not like it was a secret thing for us, but kids have taken it to heart that we have to shoot the ball better."
The result is by far the best long-range shooting team in Blunt's seven seasons at New Albany, a number that rivals the Eagles' percentage from inside the 3-point arc.
In a four-out, one-in offense, New Albany was shooting 32.3 percent (101-for-313) from 3-point range and 36.3 percent (177-of-487) on 2-point shots through 15 games. The Eagles were 8-7 overall before playing Gahanna on Jan. 22 and are 3-4 in the OCC-Capital Division entering a Friday, Jan. 25, home game against Big Walnut.
New Albany's average of 51.9 points through 15 games was its best since scoring 51 points per outing in the 2015-16 season. Those have been the only two seasons in Blunt's tenure that the Eagles averaged better than 50 points.
"This is the best shooting team I've coached here, and we knew going into the season that that would be the case," Blunt said. "They worked so hard at it in the offseason, and they just kept coming and coming. So many girls have contributed across the board. ...
"Our biggest problem is finding minutes for everybody."
Four players, all guards, were shooting 33.8 percent or better from 3-point range through 15 games -- freshman Katie Kaucheck (44.7), seniors Katie Cacchillo (42.4) and Sophia Orsinelli (41.7) and sophomore Olivia Gittins (33.8).
The Eagles made a season-high 13 3-pointers in a 76-21 win over Franklin Heights on Jan. 11, three nights after hitting 11 in a 79-55 loss at Reynoldsburg.
No other New Albany team since 2012 has shot better than 28 percent from 3-point range for an entire season.
"(Blunt) just tells us as long as you feel it, let it fly," Orsinelli said. "I don't think we knew we'd be as strong shooting 3s as we are, but we expected it to be a huge part of our game. I got into a groove of shooting last year, but I think I've really stepped it up this year. I used to be more of a point guard so I didn't shoot as much but transitioning to varsity, I've gotten a lot more opportunities to shoot."
Senior forward Josie Smith averaged a team-best 11.2 points through 15 games, although she missed two games in early January because of a sprained ankle. The Eagles had nine or more players score in six games in that span.
"Any night, someone can be hot. It's a team effort," Cacchillo said. "That really helps. We can always kick it to the next girl. We're not afraid to make an extra pass if we need to."
Bowlers look for late-season surge
The boys and girls bowling teams sought to snap a three-match losing streak when they took on Westerville South on Jan. 22, and coach Damian Hammond and his staff were confident that energy and renewed focus were the key to reversing their fortunes.
"Coming off the holiday break is always difficult and we always see a little dip in our performance because people have been traveling, they get out of their routine, things like that," said assistant coach Keith Kresina, who works with the boys team. "We had more practices this year over break than we have (in the past) but they didn't get a lot of extra work in. That's key. We think we'll get the ship righted and heading back in the right direction."
The boys team was 2-4 overall and in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-A and 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye before Jan. 22, coming off home losses at Gahanna Lanes to Westerville Central (2,092-1,790 on Jan. 9), Delaware (1,906-1,561 on Jan. 16) and Westerville North (1,871-1,718 on Jan. 18).
The girls team was 1-5 overall and in the COHSBC-A and 1-4 in the OCC-Buckeye. Its only win had come against Olentangy Berlin, 1,928-1,403 on Dec. 12 in its final match before the holiday break.
Grant Kresina bowled a 244, the best game of the season for either team, against Central. His average of 180.9 through five matches led the Eagles, ahead of Elliot Greer (151.6), Noble Conn (141.5), Ryan Ho (132.3) and Damon Jolly (129.5).
Adriane Hammond averaged 181.3 and Jada Biller was at 164.1 through six matches to pace the girls.
"Jada has really bowled well the last couple of weeks," coach Hammond said. "We only had Adriane and Riley back from last year so like the boys, they're going to continue to improve in the next month. They have the 11th-highest average in the (COHSBC, a 699.5). I really think they have the chance to win some more matches and get to district."
Swimmers prepare for league meet
The boys and girls swimming teams will try to wrap up the regular season with a flourish Saturday, Jan. 26, when they play host to the OCC-Capital meet.
New Albany is seeking its fourth consecutive sweep of the meet. The girls have won five league championships in a row.
Six individuals will try to defend titles from a year ago -- girls swimmers Lexi Elkovitch (200-yard freestyle), Mia Lachey (200 individual medley), McKayla Moffat (50 free) and Stacy Saribalas (500 free) and boys competitors Tommy Morris (200 free) and Pearson Spychalski (100 butterfly).
The boys team swept the relays last year and scored 458.5 points in all to finish ahead of Big Walnut (278.5), Canal Winchester (206), Groveport (74) and Newark (55).
The girls team, which won the 200 medley and 400 free relays, scored 459 points to finish well ahead of Canal Winchester (295), Big Walnut (139), Newark (126) and Groveport (116).
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 25 -- Home vs. Big Walnut. The Eagles lost to the Golden Eagles 46-41 on Dec. 14.
Jan. 26 -- Home vs. Grove City
Jan. 29 -- At Thomas Worthington
*Jan. 25 -- Home vs. Big Walnut. The Eagles lost to the Golden Eagles 51-39 on Dec. 14.
Jan. 29 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
Jan. 30 -- At Thomas
*Jan. 25 -- Grandview at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 30 -- Marysville at Gahanna Lanes
*Jan. 25 -- Olentangy Liberty at Chiller North. The Eagles defeated the Patriots 3-1 on Nov. 30 and lost 4-3 in overtime Jan. 5.
*Jan. 27 -- Dublin Jerome at Chiller Easton. The Eagles defeated the Celtics 4-3 in a shootout Nov. 24 and 9-3 on Dec. 16 and lost 3-2 in a shootout Dec. 2.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 26 -- OCC-Capital meet at home
*Jan. 24 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
Jan. 26 -- New Albany Invitational