For most of the Division I district swimming and diving meet Feb. 15 at Ohio State, it looked as if the New Albany High School girls team might be the one to finally break Upper Arlington's two-decade stranglehold on the championship.
Although the Eagles defeated the Golden Bears 282-273 in the swimming portion of the meet, UA used second- and third-place finishes from divers Julia Fidanza and Holly Darling to edge New Albany 306-295 overall to win its 20th consecutive district title as 27 teams scored.
Still, both the boys and girls teams will have a robust contingent at state at Branin Natatorium in Canton as a combined eight individuals and five relays will represent New Albany in 12 events.
"We swam very well," coach Dave Wharton said. "It was a matter of being a little short on divers. Emma (Skinner, who finished sixth in diving with 453.8 points) did a great job; we just don't have the numbers. There are all sorts of ways to make up places, but our kids swam very well. We're taking a big group to Canton. I'm pretty pleased with that."
Ava Lachey won the 100-yard freestyle (50.18 seconds) and 200 free (1:49.29) to earn the second and third seeds, respectively, for state, and was on the winning 400 free relay (meet-record 3:26.35) with Lexi Elkovitch, Olivia Hovorka and Mia Lachey.
Elkovitch was runner-up in the 50 free (23.61) and also qualified in the 100 free (50.7, third) along with Mia Lachey (52.27, fifth).
"We dropped time in all of our relays and got team records in the (400 free and 200 medley) relays by quite a bit," said Mia Lachey, who also made state by finishing fourth in the 200 individual medley (2:07.19). "The gap (with UA) isn't what it used to be. We have a deep team and we are proud of that."
The top two placers in each swimming event automatically advanced to state. In addition, 16 at-large state berths were awarded for each swimming event based on district times statewide.
Also qualifying for the girls team were the 200 free relay (1:36.33, third) of Elkovitch, Evie Morris, Stacy Saribalas and Kelly Shur and the 200 medley relay (1:44.87, third) with Hovorka, the Lachey sisters and Saribalas.
The boys finished sixth (176) behind champion Dublin Jerome (301) as 27 teams scored.
Jimmy Lapsley led the way with a narrow win in the 100 backstroke. He finished first in 51.13, .01 of a second ahead of Pickerington Central's Nathen Eberhardt, and was on the runner-up 200 medley relay (1:34.56) with Patrick Daly, Tommy Morris and Pearson Spychalski.
"My underwaters felt good during the 200 medley relay and I just tried to race my best," Lapsley said. "I had no idea how close it was, not at all. (Eberhardt) was ahead of me for a while and I just tried to keep up with him. It was a good race in the end. It felt amazing to be first."
Jordan Rzepka was second in diving (571.9) on Feb. 14 at Ohio State and is seeded third at state Saturday, Feb. 23. He missed the state meet last year because of a fractured right thumb.
Other boys qualifiers are Daly in the 200 IM (1:55.1, 21st), Morris in the 50 free (21.31, sixth), Spychalski in the 100 back (51.32, third) and 100 free (46.73, sixth) and the 400 free relay (3:11.61, fifth) of Daly, Morris, Darden Spychalski and Pearson Spychalski.
At state, the top eight swimmers in each event after preliminaries Friday, Feb. 22, make the championship finals the next day.
"We knew we'd make a good run (at district) because of the depth throughout the team. That's exactly what we wanted to do," Wharton said. "We have a lot of opportunities at Canton and that is the whole point of this meet, to just have that chance (at state)."
Girls team hits road to start tourney
With his team seeded 21st in the 45-team Division I district tournament, girls basketball coach Jeff Blunt found what he hopes is the ideal spot on the bracket to help the Eagles win at least a few postseason game.
The Eagles, who finished an 11-11 regular season with a 45-26 win at Thomas Worthington on Feb. 11, will visit ninth-seeded Hilliard Davidson for a second-round game Friday, Feb. 22. The Wildcats improved to 18-5 with a 48-30 home win over 28th-seeded Lancaster in a first-round game Feb. 16.
Emily Simon's 13 points led three scorers in double figures for Davidson.
"Eight teams will get to the (four) district finals and when you see the ninth seed is the best seed in a particular area, that's the spot you take," Blunt said. "We go into the draw every year with the objective of going as far as we can. You're always going to have to take a risk and play somebody dangerous at some point. You take your chances.
"There are four or five teams that are better than everybody else, then another four or five you probably don't want to play, and then there's everybody else."
The New Albany-Davidson winner will play 10th-seeded Olentangy Liberty or 29th-seeded Delaware in a district semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 27, at a neutral site. The winner will advance to a district final March 2.
Katie Kaucheck scored a game-high 16 points against Thomas.
"It's been a weird year, and that's a word I've used several times. We've been too up and down for the talent we have," Blunt said. "We've been hot and cold this year. We wish we could figure out why, but that (Thomas) game was one of our better games of the year."
Bowlers prepare for sectional
After a regular season in which one of New Albany's bowlers was one of the top individuals in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference, the boys and girls teams will participate in Division I sectional tournaments this weekend at HP Lanes.
The girls sectional is Friday, Feb. 22, followed the next day by the boys.
From both tournaments, the top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advance to the district tournament March 2 at HP Lanes.
Both teams finished the regular season Feb. 13 with losses to Gahanna.
Led by Grant Kresina's 399 series and a 352 series from Elliot Greer, the boys lost 2,211-1,862. Adriane Hammond's 349 series led the girls in a 1,966-1,539 setback.
The boys finished 3-9 overall, 3-8 in the COHSBC-A and 2-6 in the OCC-Buckeye. The girls finished 5-7 overall, 5-6 in the COHSBC-A and 3-5 in the OCC-Buckeye.
Hammond averaged 193.4 per game during the regular season, second in the COHSBC behind Groveport's Leah Deaner (197.5).
Boys basketball team preps for Wildcats
Playing arguably its best basketball of the season, the boys team will visit sixth-seeded Davidson for a first-round Division I district tournament game Saturday, Feb. 23.
New Albany finished the regular season at 8-14 overall, with half of those wins coming in its final seven games. The Eagles went 4-3 and alternated wins and losses in that stretch, including splitting two games last week, losing 75-67 at Westland on Feb. 12 and defeating visiting Franklin Heights 50-22 on Feb. 15 to finish 4-6 in the OCC-Capital.
Dillon Masters had a career-high 27 points against the Cougars and 19 against the Falcons.
New Albany is seeded 34th in the 47-team district tournament. The Eagles-Wildcats winner will play 29th-seeded Teays Valley in the second round March 1 on the better seed's home court.
Wrestlers heading to sectional tourney
After finishing OCC-Capital competition at 3-2 with a 37-27 home loss to Big Walnut on Feb. 14, the wrestling team will participate in a Division I sectional Saturday, Feb. 23, at Watkins Memorial.
The top four finishers in each weight class will advance to district March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Darby.
Hockey team advances in tourney
The hockey team will take on fifth-seeded St. Charles in a district quarterfinal Saturday, Feb. 23, at OhioHealth Ice Haus, needing three wins to capture its first district championship.
Fourth-seeded New Albany scored four unanswered goals in the third period Feb. 17, two of which came from Zack Blaney, to defeat 13th-seeded Springboro 7-2 in a second-round game at Chiller North.
New Albany is 17-10-2-5.
The Eagles-Cardinals winner will play top-seeded Jerome or 10th-seeded Dublin Coffman in a district semifinal Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Ice Haus. That winner will advance to the district final March 2.
New Albany defeated St. Charles 2-1 in overtime Dec. 8, tied the Cardinals at 2 on Jan. 4 and won 4-3 on Feb. 7 in first round of the Blue Jackets Cup. It is 2-1-0-2 against Jerome this season, including a 6-1 loss in a Blue Jackets Cup semifinal Feb. 9, and defeated Coffman 8-0 on Nov. 25 and 4-2 on Dec. 1.