Luke Baily invested too much time in the New Albany boys soccer team the past two years to let a foot injury suffered in the first game of his senior season derail his hopes.
Baily, a three-year starter at center back who helped the Eagles to an undefeated regular season last year, was injured during a 1-0 win at Big Walnut on Aug. 16. A doctor's visit revealed one or two "possible stress fractures," said Baily, who sat out a 1-0 loss to Dublin Jerome four nights later.
"The doctors told me they wanted to put me on crutches (for) six to eight weeks and I was like 'yeah, that's not going to work.' I need to play," Baily said. "You have to muscle through it. It's my senior season."
Thanks to a special carbon fiber plate planted in his right shoe, Baily missed just one of the Eagles' first 11 games this season and barely limps.
New Albany was 7-3-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Groveport on Oct. 1. A defense led in part by Baily and classmate Josh Metcalf had posted seven shutouts and allowed 18 goals entering the week.
"He's just willing to do anything," Metcalf said. "He'll put his body on the line at any time. It's helped us many times. It's that hard-working ability and willingness not to be beat.
"We were a little nervous when he got hurt. My concern was if he couldn't jump, he couldn't walk. We knew it was probably a stress fracture right after, so that was some relief."
New Albany had eight shutouts through 11 games last year, when it outscored opponents 68-6 during a 17-0 start that came to an end with a 2-1 loss (4-3 penalty kicks) to Jerome in a Division I district semifinal.
"For us to do that is about buying in and doing what we're good at it, which is working hard and playing really good defense," Baily said. "There are still parts of my game I want to improve; I want to get better on the ball and continue to lead these guys and shape them for this year and next year."
Coach Johnny Ulry said Baily was "a sponge" as a sophomore and a junior, learning from and taking a back seat to previous senior classes before ramping up his leadership.
"Anchor is the perfect term for him," Ulry said. "Without him, we're floating. We've hit some storms this year and without him, we might be wrecked. He learned from a lot of great guys that came before him. He is our one constant. He never gets too excited or too down. He is always level-headed. They look to him for advice and to be that anchor. ...
"Everything he's learned, watched and soaked up just came out this year. He's been building himself up for this."
New Albany had a chance this week to pull away from the pack in the OCC-Capital as it pursues its fourth consecutive league championship.
After playing host to Groveport, a game the Cruisers entered at 2-0 in the league, the Eagles will visit Canal Winchester on Thursday, Oct. 3.
Off the field, Baily represents the team on a leadership committee formed by athletics director Richie Wildenhaus and also mentors at-risk students at New Albany Middle School.
He plans to pursue a medical career, doing his undergraduate studies at either the University of Miami or Pittsburgh.
"Luke isn't flashy, but he plays his position correctly," Ulry said. "He influences so much of the game by just doing his job."
Young volleyball team growing
Girls volleyball coach Karen Morlan sees the peaks and valleys accompanied by having four starters who are either freshmen or sophomores, and hopes the team's progression continues as the regular season winds down.
After taking defending OCC-Capital champion Big Walnut to five games Sept. 24, losing 23-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 15-11, the Eagles struggled early two nights later at Groveport before pulling away to a 23-25, 25-17, 25-15, 25-21 win.
"We need to do a better job of taking care of our side of the court. We might have played our best match of the year (against Big Walnut) ... but we started slow against Groveport," Morlan said. "They're a coachable group. They've improved through the whole season. Our hitting and blocking have gotten better and we've been delivering tougher serves."
New Albany is 9-11 overall and 4-4 in the OCC-Capital entering a Thursday, Oct. 3, home match against Canal Winchester.
Sophomores Sydney Arlin (setter/opposite hitter), Emily Heintzelman (outside hitter/middle blocker) and Daniel Rank (opposite hitter/middle blocker) regularly start. Freshman Sophia Stall (right-side hitter/middle blocker) has been seeing more time recently.
Heintzelman has a team-leading 221 kills and is second on the team in aces (27), blocks (46) and digs (161). Kacy Morlan has a team-high 35 aces and 277 digs.
Girls tennis team clinches OCC title
The girls tennis team had to wait a few weeks longer than expected, but it clinched the program's 13th OCC-Capital championship in 14 seasons Sept. 24 with a 5-0 home win over Newark.
The match was suspended Aug. 22 because of bad weather.
New Albany finished 5-0 in the OCC-Capital and is 83-1 in league matches since joining the OCC-Capital before the 2006-07 school year.
The Eagles were 14-4 overall before playing Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 30, coming off home 3-2 wins over Olentangy on Sept. 25 and Dublin Coffman the next day.
Their final regular-season match was scheduled for Oct. 1 at Pickerington North.
Both Eagles doubles teams are seeded in a Division I sectional tournament Thursday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 5, at Reynoldsburg. Thalia Fuentes and Maya Klein are seeded first, and Roshni Chandawarkar and Helen Wang are seeded fourth.
Demi Shostak, Madison Spiess and Justina Sung will play singles.
"I challenged them this year to go out and get better and we've done that," coach Marc Thomas said. "We've beaten some pretty good teams. We're playing pretty good tennis. All we can do is put ourselves in a place to have great opportunities and we have."
The top four finishers in singles and doubles at sectional will advance to district Oct. 10 and 12 at Reynoldsburg.
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany cross country, field hockey, boys golf, girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams:
Oct. 3 -- Boys: Backwoods 2-Mile at Thornville Sheridan
Oct. 5 -- Girls: Marion Harding Invitational
Oct. 7 -- At Olentangy Orange
Oct. 9 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
Oct. 2 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Turnberry. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at Apple Valley.
Oct. 2 -- Competed in Division I sectional at Blacklick Woods. The top four teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district Oct. 8 at New Albany Links.
*Oct. 3 -- At Canal Winchester
Oct. 8 -- At Pickerington North
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
Oct. 5 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington
*Oct. 3 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester. The Eagles lost to the Indians 25-22, 25-22, 22-25, 25-18 on Sept. 12.