At least one poll had the New Albany High School girls lacrosse team ranked first in the state entering this season, and the Eagles hope that at the end of the year, they will have earned a state championship on the field.
But in case the team was getting ahead of itself, the way it pulled out a season-opening win at DeSales on March 16 told the Eagles that nothing will come easy. New Albany, last year's Division I state runner-up, led the Stallions -- a Division II regional champion each of the past two seasons and state champion in 2016 -- 5-0 but had to hold on for a physical 10-9 win that included three yellow cards issued to the Eagles.
"We came out strong. We wanted to prove we're one of the strongest teams in the state and in the Midwest," said senior midfielder Emily Rezabek, an Ohio State recruit. "We made a few mental mistakes and they came back on us and we were frustrated, but at the end of the day, we pulled out a win. That kind of a game will help us in the long run. Playing these tough teams, getting some hard competition, will be good for us."
Rezabek not only is one of 12 seniors on the team, but also one of seven players who have signed to play in college for New Albany, which is 3-1 entering its OCC-Buckeye Division opener Wednesday, April 3, at home against Olentangy Liberty.
Rezabek had a team-high 65 goals last season and senior midfielders Alyssa Kneedler and Chloe Platte, who will play for Lindenwood and Furman, respectively, each added 51 goals as the Eagles went 21-2 overall, losing to Upper Arlington 11-5 in the state final to fall just short of their first title since winning in Division II in 2013.
New Albany was ranked first in the Ohio Machine's preseason poll.
"The seniors' motto this year is 'It's our time,' and it's our time to deliver," ninth-year coach Dave Ferguson said. "If we can stay healthy, I think the amount of speed we have and our athleticism will be key. We have some freshmen who are interesting to watch. The seniors are special. I think our midfield is the best in the state. They can cover so much ground (and) they're so athletic. Our attack will be very solid. There will be some surprises."
The Eagles went 2-1 in Georgia last weekend, defeating host Marietta Walton 16-3 on March 22 before splitting two games the next day in the Legacy Lacrosse Cup at Alpharetta, losing to McLean (Virginia) Langley 16-13 and defeating the host team 16-6.
Other top returnees include seniors Liz Beckner (attacker), Erin Carson (defender), Zoe Kellerman (defender) and Addyson Koterba (defender). Beckner is a Lindenwood recruit, Carson will play at Navy, Kellerman has signed with Rollins and Koterba is a Mercer recruit.
According to Carson, the team spent more time working on offense than defense as the season began.
"We've been trying to get our offense working. Defense is something we'll pick up as the year goes on," Carson said. "We always have a goal for ourselves that no team will score more than nine goals on us. We don't want to put too much pressure on the offense, and we're really working on not fouling. We can't give other teams free shots. We want to play cleaner defense, (to) stay aggressive but keep things tight."
Junior Julia Brisk and freshman Aubrey Bagenstose will split time at goalkeeper. Brisk saw limited playing time last season behind three-year starter Catherine Ryan, who graduated.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Valentina DiLorenzo (defender), Blythe Ferguson (midfielder), Margaux LaJeunesse (attacker), Lauren Sokol (attacker) and Sarah Zinsmeister (defender), juniors Brooke Mason (defender), Kathryn Welte (midfielder) and Julia Weltie (defender), sophomores Jillian Bingman (attacker), Alison Dressel (midfielder), Bridget Driscole (midfielder), Jayden Sellers (attacker) and Anna Whetzel (attacker) and freshmen Mary Carson (midfielder), Catherine Gurd (defender) and Katie Kaucheck (midfielder).
New Albany went 7-0 in the OCC-Buckeye last year to finish first ahead of Liberty (6-1).
Boys lacrosse coach emphasizing teamwork
Second-year boys lacrosse coach Danny Gibson hoped a 12-7 win over Hilliard Davidson to start the season March 17 in the Ohio Machine High School Showcase at Fortress Obetz set the tone in more ways than one.
"Ten of our 12 goals had a direct assist attached to it rather than the normal run-and-gun, make your move, get your guy and take it to the net off the first-look approach," Gibson said. "We want to build maturity on the offensive side of the ball. Late in a game, if we're up a couple goals we need to be able to work the clock and wear down the other team. Managing the clock, managing our strategy, managing ourselves and just being mature is really a big focus."
New Albany was 2-0 before playing St. Charles on March 26. Senior midfielder Brode White had nine goals, five of which came in a 12-5 win over Olentangy Berlin in the Eagles' home opener March 19. Sophomore attacker Max Dupler added four goals.
Senior Perry Doran, a Monmouth recruit, is the starting goalie. Seniors Lonnie Kelley and Grayson Yanok, who have committed to Otterbein, are among the leaders of a veteran defense that also includes seniors Ben Chaddock, a midfielder and Nazareth recruit, and Luke Muter, an Ohio Wesleyan commit who was the football team's starting quarterback last fall.
New Albany went 15-6 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Buckeye last year, finishing second behind Olentangy (7-0).
Other college recruits on the team are seniors Peter Ackley (midfielder, Bates), Aiden Day (midfielder, Baldwin Wallace) and Cody Roberts (attacker, Ohio Wesleyan). According to Gibson, White has been offered by Furman.
White said balancing Gibson's increased philosophy on assisting and passing and taking the ball to the net sometimes is a fine line.
"If you have an open shot, it's always hard to let that go, but we have to think about the outcome and saving time or letting time run out," White said. "You have to play the game smart."
The rest of the roster consists of seniors Owen Dunn (attacker), B.K. Kakay (midfielder) and James Turpen (defender), juniors Alex Brendle (attacker), Sam Ellis (attacker), Patrick Gurd (defender), Lucas Kasper (defender), Jake Klausner (defender), Riley McCullough (midfielder), Sal Poggialli (attacker), Max Townsend (midfielder) and Dom Zappitelli (defender) and sophomores Connor Krings (midfielder), Grayson Passias (midfielder) and Brayden Wong (midfielder).
New Albany begins OCC-Buckeye play April 9 against Olentangy Orange.
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis and boys volleyball teams:
March 28 -- At Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) in Florida Baseball Beach Bash
April 3 -- At Olentangy
March 29 -- At Crestwood (Ky.) South Oldham
March 30 -- At Louisville (Ky.) St. Xavier
April 2 -- Home vs. Granville
*April 3 -- Home vs. Olentangy Liberty
March 30 -- At Greenville with North Lewisburg Triad
April 1 -- At Pickerington North
April 2 -- Home vs. Gahanna
April 3 -- At Lancaster
April 1 -- At Olentangy
April 2 -- At Gahanna
*March 28 -- At Hilliard Davidson
*April 2 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington