There are ways the New Albany girls golf team could raise the lofty bar it set last year, when the Eagles went undefeated and won the Division I state championship, setting a tournament record for team score in a round in the process.
Right now, the Eagles -- who return virtually their entire lineup and added a talented freshman -- are looking forward to the fun of finding out.
New Albany began the season by shooting a 297 in Gahanna's Lady Lion Invitational on Aug. 5 at Jefferson, defeating runner-up Dublin Jerome by 23 shots with a mark that was five strokes shy of its record-setting, final-round performance at state a year ago.
In an illustration of their depth, the Eagles' No. 5 and No. 6 golfers, senior Shannan Ireland and sophomore Ellie McNutt, both shot 77. They were sixth and seventh coming out of tryouts but moved up a spot apiece because of the absence of sophomore Kary Hollenbaugh, who missed all four of the team's tournaments last week because she was participating in the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship in West Point, Mississippi.
"We're not bad. We're OK," McNutt said, smiling. "It's a competitive team because we are so similar. There's a lot of competition going on anyways. If you have an off day, you know you have support, but there's also that part of you that wants to beat your friend. It's very competitive in that manner."
Senior Gwynnie Lee returns from the state lineup, as do junior Madison Spiess, sophomore Anna Ritter and Hollenbaugh. The Eagles went 187-0 last year and won the sectional, district and state tournaments by a combined 68 shots.
Ritter was medalist at Jefferson with a 70.
"It's so much fun being back with the team," Spiess said. "I don't think any of us are focused on state yet. We're just trying to play our best with the team and see what that gets us.
"(Repeating) is something we talk about. We aren't nervous, but we're excited for the competition. It's a healthy environment. We all support each other. It's a lot of fun."
Rounding out the roster is freshman Anna Coccia.
"At our top three spots, every one of them can put a score in red numbers on the board, which is pretty nice to have," third-year coach Rich Ritter said. "The other thing is our depth. It's a toss-up between four through seven. I have to figure out how that will sort itself out throughout the year, but the strength through several positions stand out."
New Albany shot a 303 in the first round of the four-round OCC-Central Division tournament Aug. 7 at Royal American to finish first ahead of Upper Arlington (315), Dublin Coffman (316), Marysville (412), Canal Winchester (430) and Hilliard Davidson (432).
Spiess was medalist with a 71, followed by Ritter (73), Coccia (77) and Lee (82).
The Eagles went 20-0 in the league last year.
The second round was Aug. 14 at New Albany Links.
"Last year is a part of who we are, but this team hasn't done anything," coach Ritter said. "We can win, but we have to go out and do it on the golf course. Nobody will give us anything and they shouldn't. It's not that different than last year, when pretty early on people were talking about what might be possible for this team. There's not a ton of talk about that from the girls or me. We're just focused on playing golf."
Girls tennis lineup in flux
The girls tennis team's lineup was not as set as ninth-year coach Marc Thomas hoped for entering the Eagles' opener Aug. 10 at home against Cincinnati Sycamore, but that wasn't the fault of his players.
"I feel like we're way behind," said Thomas, whose team lost to Sycamore 5-0. "Five of our courts were getting resurfaced so we had to move practices around and we didn't always have everyone at every practice. We had four practices or so rained out. Figuring everything out is not easy, but I do know this is the deepest team we've had. We'll need girls to step up."
Seniors Thalia Fuentes, Maya Klein and Roshni Chandawarkar, Spiess, Hollenbaugh and sophomore Helen Wang return from last year's team, which won the program's 12th OCC-Capital championship in 13 years. New Albany finished 11-3 overall and 5-0 in the league and graduated both of its Division I district qualifiers in Valentina DiLorenzo and Alexandra Vitellas.
Hollenbaugh and Spiess will split the season between golf and tennis for the second consecutive year.
Also competing for varsity time are seniors Isabelle Campbell, Claire Driscoll, Lily Mohseni, Neha Pramad, Katie Quillin and Laine Stelluti and freshman Demi Shostak.
"This team will be deep with a lot of potential," Thomas said. "We have some new faces, but the girls have played really well. I expect everybody will come together, but it might take some time to find the perfect mix."
New Albany, which is seeking representation in the state tournament for the first time since 2016, begins OCC-Capital play Aug. 22 against Newark.
Boys golfers pursue another title
Seniors Jacob Brooks, Jack Curtis and Caleb Delaney return to lead the boys golf team's lineup as the Eagles seek their ninth consecutive OCC-Capital championship under first-year coach Ryan Hosack.
New Albany got out to a good start in league play, winning the first round of the four-round OCC-Capital tournament Aug. 6 at Denison Golf Club. Curtis shot a 75 to pace the Eagles to a team score of 311 and first place ahead of Big Walnut (327), Canal Winchester (382) and Newark (414). Groveport did not record a team score.
Also competing were Delaney (77), Brooks (78), sophomore Zach Blaney (81) and junior Victor Appell (84).
The Eagles went 20-0 last year in the OCC-Capital and have not lost a league match since 2013.
Hosack replaced Andy Moore, who coached the Eagles for four seasons. Hosack is director of business operations at One Church and Gahanna Christian and previously served as a golf professional at Columbus Country Club and New Albany Country Club.
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Aug. 19 -- New Albany Invitational
*Aug. 21 -- Home vs. Bexley
Aug. 15 -- Dublin Coffman at New Albany Country Club
Aug. 17 -- Midwest Classic at Skyland Pines
Aug. 19 -- Lady Elk Invitational at Yankee Trace
*Aug. 16 -- At Big Walnut
Aug. 20 -- Home vs. Dublin Jerome
*Aug. 16 -- At Big Walnut
Aug. 15 -- Home vs. Gahanna
Aug. 20 -- At Pickerington Central
Aug. 17 -- Spikefest at Marysville
Aug. 20 -- At Westerville North