Billy Lee is no stranger to being an alternate in postseason competition, but the New Albany High School wrestling team's senior heavyweight experienced a few differences this week while waiting to learn if he'd compete in the Division I state tournament.
Two years ago, when Lee received a district berth as an alternate, the season wasn't over for his teammates.
"This is our first time in this kind of a spot," coach Larry Reichard said. "When he was an alternate for district, we had multiple guys that had already qualified so he just came to practice and worked out like usual with the same guys. Now, it's just him. We'll see what he needs to do. If he gets in, we'll go down there and hope for the best."
Lee went 3-2 in the district tournament that concluded March 2 at Hilliard Darby, pinning Dresden Tri-Valley's Seth Schneider in 1 minute, 33 seconds in the fifth-place match. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state Thursday, March 7, to Saturday, March 9, at Ohio State, and fifth-place finishers are designated as state alternates who compete when a qualifier is unable to do so.
All three of Lee's wins were by pin as he improved to 32-14. He pinned Newark's Scott Cannon in 1:37 in the first round and Westerville Central's Nick DeRose in 4:36 in the second round.
Lee was 0-2 at district each of the past two seasons.
"It was good learning (as a sophomore) that anything can happen," he said. "Not everything happens as planned. ... The biggest thing for me was going against some guys I'd already beaten in my first two matches. That was good for my mindset."
New Albany finished 26th (23 points) behind champion Dublin Coffman (170) as 36 teams scored.
"The three (matches) that (Lee) won ... he went after those guys. He was looking for his offense and his moves, how he could break a guy down," Reichard said. "In his two losses, he sat back and waited for the other guy to attack."
Also competing but failing to advance were Peter Ackley (170, 2-2), Colin Swincicki (113, 1-2), Jack Wilson (195, 1-2) and Michael Zusman (145, 1-2).
If Lee does compete at state, he will be the first Eagle to do so since Matt Odierno in 2011.
Odierno was district runner-up that season, and until last season was the most recent New Albany placer at the tournament. Wilson was sixth at 195 last year as a junior, and last weekend Lee improved on that by one spot.
"New Albany has not had a state qualifier in a long time," Lee said. "No matter what happens, this is very special."
Bowling season ends at district
Adriane Hammond of the girls bowling team fell just short of reaching her first Division I state tournament, finishing seventh with a 572 series at district March 2 at HP Lanes.
Hammond, a senior and Wright State recruit, was one spot and eight pins behind the third and final individual qualifier to state, Delaware's Kelsey Rohrer.
Hammond led New Albany to 13th (2,915) of 16 teams behind champion Westerville Central (3,785). The top three teams advanced to state.
Also competing for the Eagles were Jada Biller (tied for 39th, 471), Codey Mockler (63rd, 425), Riley Langdale (tied for 82nd, 330) and Abby Phelps (84th, 324).
Freshman Noble Conn was the boys team's only representative at district. He bowled a 495 series to tie for 74th out of 106 individuals.
Hockey team hopes to build on season
The hockey team's top five scorers and top goaltender are eligible to return from a team that went 18-11-2-5 overall, losing to top-seeded Dublin Jerome 6-2 in a district semifinal Feb. 24 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Junior forward Matthew Moellering had 24 goals and 19 assists to lead a balanced offense that also got 22 goals apiece from junior forwards Brandon Barash and Jackson Buss, 17 from junior forward Carson Johnston and 14 from sophomore forward Victor Appell. Barash had 29 assists and a team-best 51 points.
Sophomore goaltender Max Dupler made 524 saves on 572 shots (91.6 percent). He split time with senior Tucker King, who stopped 376 of 420 shots (89.5 percent).
New Albany was ranked as high as ninth in the state poll during the regular season and seeded fourth for the district tournament.
"We can learn from coming up short and the guys who are coming back will do that. They became a much more experienced hockey team since Nov. 1," first-year coach Luke Pavlas said. "It's not what you do during the good times, it's the way you handle yourself during the hard times. We had some very good moments and some tough moments, but we learned. The mindset is we want to go all the way every year now. We'll keep working. Getting to (the district semifinal) round is not enough."
Key swimmers, divers expected back
Eleven of the swimming and diving team's 13 Division I state qualifiers are eligible to return, including the entire state championship girls 400-yard freestyle relay and boys diver Jordan Rzepka, a sophomore who placed third.
Juniors Lexi Elkovitch and Mia Lachey and freshmen Olivia Hovorka and Ava Lachey comprised the championship relay (3:25.62) on Feb. 23 at Branin Natatorium in Canton that gave the swimming side of the program its first Division I state title. Ava Lachey also was third in the 100 free (50.54) and ninth in the 200 free (1:51.09).
Elkovitch placed sixth in the 100 free (51.24) and 10th in the 50 free (23.81).
Other girls state qualifiers expected back are sophomores Kiara Crumbley and Stacy Saribalas, both of whom were on the 15th-place 200 medley relay (1:48.26). Saribalas joined Elkovitch and the Lachey sisters on the fourth-place 200 free relay (1:34.87).
Other boys state qualifiers eligible to return are junior Jimmy Lapsley (100 backstroke, 200 free relay), sophomores Patrick Daly (200 individual medley, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay) and Tommy Morris (50 free, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay) and freshman Darden Spychalski (400 free relay).
New Albany also will try to extend its dominance in the OCC-Capital Division next season. The girls have won five consecutive league titles and the boys have captured four in a row.
Girls basketball coach steps down
Jeff Blunt knows he is going to miss coaching the girls basketball team next season, but after a few years of what he called "burning the candle at both ends," he also knows he needs a break.
Citing conflicts between coaching at New Albany and his position as chief financial officer at Loeb Electric, Blunt resigned Feb. 25 after seven seasons.
"I've been very busy at work and our company is doing very well. It was tough to balance everything," Blunt said. "I was tired this season. I don't want to do anything where I'm not 100 percent in. It's been hard the past few years. I love New Albany and I've been around this program a lot the past 15 years or so in travel ball, as eighth-grade coach, freshman boys coach and now head coach. ... I just need to take a year off."
Blunt's teams went 89-76 overall and 52-34 in the OCC-Capital. His first Eagles team in 2012-13 posted the best record of his tenure at 15-9 overall and 10-4 in the league, but the 2015-16 team advanced to a Division I district final.
This year's team went 11-12 overall and 4-6 in the league.
"When I called an end-of-the-year meeting (Feb. 25), I think the girls knew," Blunt said. "I like where the program is. We have good talent and I like our numbers."