When it came to expanding her game, New Albany girls soccer player Kelis Brown learned a lesson the hard way -- and took full advantage.
Brown, a junior, had played her natural position of forward since moving over from defensive midfielder as a freshman until coach Jared Dombrowski moved her back to the midfield before an Aug. 31 game at state-ranked West Chester Lakota West.
The Eagles' formation worked, and Morgan Wiest scored in the final 90 seconds as New Albany earned a 2-all tie with the Firebirds, who were ranked fifth nationally by USA Today before the season and fourth in last week's Division I state poll.
Brown remained in the midfield for a Sept. 3 home game against Pickerington Central, and nonetheless recorded her first career hat trick in a 6-1 win.
Brown's six goals have helped New Albany to a 5-1-2 record entering a Thursday, Sept. 19, game at Pickerington North. The Eagles improved to 1-1 in the OCC-Capital Division with a 5-1 win at Newark on Sept. 10.
"You can even ask my coaches, I was so mad when I found out I was playing in the midfield that game because I'd been so used to playing forward," Brown recalled, laughing. "But after that happened, it kind of motivated me more and made me realize I had just as much capability to score from the center defensive mid as from center forward. If I can do that, then I'll be really happy."
Coming off an 11-goal season as a sophomore, when she helped New Albany to the OCC-Capital championship and a Division I district runner-up finish, Brown is following up in different ways for a team still making up for the production lost to injury when USC commit Brooklyn Harris was sidelined for the season because of a knee injury.
"We can put (Brown) anywhere and she will be successful," Dombrowski said. "It took a little bit of time to figure out who was going to be in what positions but everyone has grown. (As a midfielder,) Kelis is doing what's best for the team at the end of the day.
"Morgan has shifted between wing, center forward and center mid and she gave Lakota West's back line fits. If you look at our spine, we have a strong class of juniors (with Brown, Madison Cofer, goalkeeper Jordan Conley and Wiest)."
Wiest has a team-leading eight goals, half of which came against Newark.
"After losing (Harris) and some good seniors, we knew the team wasn't going to be at full strength or at least what we expected to be," Wiest said. "We had to pick it up and motivate each other to be the best we can be."
Brown said the biggest adjustment to playing in the midfield involves defensive responsibility.
"It's a lot more having to deal with marks, whereas at forward it's a lot of free will and a lot of free movement moving off the ball," she said. "But in the midfield, I dictate where the forwards are moving. I like it and I'm helping other people get more opportunities."
A three-game stretch that began Sept. 12 with a 1-0 win at Hilliard Davidson, continued two days later with a 4-all home tie against Dublin Jerome and ends at North pitted the Eagles against three of the four teams to which they lost last year.
New Albany continues OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Sept. 24, at Groveport.
The Eagles lost 2-1 at league-foe Big Walnut to start the season Aug. 16.
"Each game has been better and better," Dombrowski said. "That loss to Big Walnut still bothers us to this day, but we've definitely grown. To go toe-to-toe with Lakota West was extremely promising. The girls are buying into our tactics. It's been paying off."
Boys soccer team seeing growth
The boys soccer team takes a five-game winning streak into its two-game road trip to Lexington, Kentucky, where it will play Paul Laurence Dunbar on Saturday, Sept. 21, and Henry Clay on Sunday, Sept. 22.
Henry Clay defeated Dunbar in a regional final last year.
New Albany is 6-1-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Capital and had nine days between games after a 2-1 win at Hilliard Darby on Sept. 12.
The manner in which the Eagles have gotten out to another good start is what encourages coach Johnny Ulry. Nine players have at least one goal, including Matavey Bespersov, Ashton Bilow, Josh Metcalf, Kiril Sakunov-Stephanoff and Thomas Shneker with two each.
"We've played some good teams along the way. Really what it comes down to that we're looking for growth and looking to get better each day and trying to gain more experience," Ulry said. "When you graduate guys like Noah Boffo and Drew Fischer, who produced (34) goals last year just between the two of them (Boffo had 19 and Fischer 15), you know you probably won't have the kind of scorer they were. At the same time, you don't expect to have nine different goal scorers.
"It creates a lot of experience. You never know where that goal is going to come from, and neither does the other team. They're sharing the ball and making us difficult to defend."
Among the Eagles' wins was a 2-0 victory over Louisville (Kentucky) St. Xavier on Sept. 6 at Capital. St. Xavier is the two-time defending state champion in Kentucky.
New Albany's OCC-Capital wins both have been shutouts. The Eagles defeated host Big Walnut 1-0 on Aug. 16 to begin the season and topped visiting Newark 4-0 on Sept. 10.
Boys golf squad extends title streak
Despite not placing first in the fourth and final round of the OCC-Capital tournament Sept. 11 at Apple Valley, the boys golf team finished as league champion for the ninth consecutive year.
Zach Blaney and Caleb Delaney each shot a 78 to lead the Eagles to a team score of 319, second to Big Walnut (308) and ahead of Canal Winchester (374) and Newark (380). Groveport did not record a team score.
Also scoring were Jacob Brooks (79) and Jack Curtis (84).
The Eagles finished 15-1 in the OCC-Capital, ahead of Big Walnut (13-3), Canal Winchester (8-8), Newark (4-12) and Groveport (0-16). Their loss to the Golden Eagles on Sept. 11 was their first in league play since 2013.
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:
Sept. 21 -- Bob Reall Invitational at Lancaster
*Sept. 23 -- At Watterson
Sept. 21 -- Watterson Invitational at Clover Valley
Sept. 23 -- Gahanna Invitational at Little Turtle
Sept. 19 -- Lady Bear Invitational at Brookside
Sept. 21 -- Saint Angela Merici Invitational at Maketewah
Sept. 24 -- Upper Arlington at Scioto Country Club
Sept. 21 -- At Lexington (Ky.) Paul Laurence Dunbar
Sept. 22 -- At Lexington (Ky.) Henry Clay
*Sept. 24 -- Home vs. Groveport
Sept. 19 -- At Pickerington North
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Chillicothe Unioto
*Sept. 24 -- At Groveport
Sept. 19 -- At Dublin Jerome
Sept. 23 -- Home vs. Olentangy Orange
Sept. 25 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*Sept. 19 -- At Newark. The Eagles lost to the Wildcats 25-17, 25-23, 25-17 on Sept. 3.
Sept. 21 -- Home vs. Jonathan Alder and Mount Vernon
*Sept. 24 -- Home vs. Big Walnut. The Eagles lost to the Golden Eagles 25-15, 25-16, 23-25, 25-17 on Sept. 5.