Matt Buss watched the New Albany hockey team last year as both an assistant coach and a father, as his son, Jackson, plays for the Eagles.
Considering that the team got out to a 6-0-0-3 start and defeated eventual state runner-up Dublin Jerome twice in three weeks, Buss hopes a season that could be described as overachieving will translate into continued success with 11 returning players in his first year as head coach.
"We have a really good foundation. What we did last year, I think we might have overachieved, and this year we have high expectations," Buss said. "We felt like we could play with anybody. It was a driving force for the rest of the season and that's the mentality that we have returning. We feel like we can be one of the teams to beat this year."
New Albany, which opens Friday, Nov. 29, against Northern Kentucky in the Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin, returns four of its top five scorers in senior forwards Matthew Moellering (24 goals, 19 assists), Brandon Barash (22 goals, 29 assists) and Jackson Buss (22 goals) and junior forward Victor Appell (14).
Junior goaltender Max Dupler also is back after stopping 524 of 572 shots (91.6 percent).
Despite having seven more assists than goals last winter, Barash wants to be even more unselfish this season.
"I know I had a good amount of assists last year, but I was a little selfish at times. I want to work with my linemates more, Matthew and Jackson. We have a special line that can put up some top numbers," Barash said. "I am more open to (sharing) the workload but working just as hard and letting my teammates get some more numbers. To me, this year, the stats will be cool, but I am excited about where the team will go."
Coach Buss, a native of Plover, Wisconsin, who played hockey for the University of Wisconsin from 1990-94, is the Eagles' third coach in as many seasons. Luke Pavlas led the Eagles to records of 18-11-2-5 overall and 7-4-1-3 (18 points) in the Capital Hockey Conference last year.
Pavlas succeeded Joe Kola, who coached the team for its first five seasons.
"It's been exciting. I hope we can continue what we did last year," Buss said. "Coach Pavlas got the ball rolling for us. He did a commendable job and brought so much to the table."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Jacob Brooks (forward), Aidan Doyle (defenseman), Jacob Haywood (defense-man/forward), Noah LaCommare (defenseman/forward), Max Phillips (defenseman) and Rhys Tangeman (forward), juniors Brandon Beesley (goalie), Zack Blaney (forward), Ian Hoff (defenseman) and Max Murch (defenseman), sophomores Colin Appell (forward), Josh Hall (forward) and Eric Kent (forward) and freshmen Colin Carr (forward) and Enzo Giuliani (forward).
"We have a big defense. I'm probably the smallest guy (at 5-foot-6, 155 pounds)," Phillips said. "We're very physical and all of us can skate the puck up the ice. We all have high hockey IQs."
New Albany begins CHC play Dec. 13 against St. Charles at Chiller Easton. That also is the Eagles' home opener.
"We're pretty deep. First line to fourth line, we are all capable of scoring and making plays and making other teams very uncomfortable," Barash said. "We're going to throw teams off their game plans. I'm super excited to see what we can do. We will be a force to be reckoned with."
Girls team finding identity under Sikorski
Girls basketball coach Phil Sikorski made up his mind upon being hired in April that he would get to know his new players in person, not on video.
Still, Sikorski knows that his system won't be a complete departure from that of his predecessor, Jeff Blunt, although the Eagles will have to find an inside presence.
"I did not watch tape just because I didn't want any preconceived notions about who they are and what they can do. Some of the things, we're trying to keep the same," Sikorski said. "We're not big. We might struggle on the boards, so we'll have to be scrappy and knock the ball out of bounds and just play defense. Our half-court defense has come a long way already. I can see that continuing."
New Albany opened Nov. 26 against Licking Heights with a guard-heavy lineup that included juniors Brooklyn Gammon (5-foot-5) and Olivia Gittins (5-7) and sophomore Katie Kaucheck (5-7). Kaucheck averaged 7.5 points and Gittins added 6.0 last year as the Eagles went 11-12 overall and 4-6 in the OCC-Capital.
"We have a lot of outside shooters, which is like last year," said Kaucheck, who also helped the girls lacrosse team to a Division I state runner-up finish last spring. "Pushing the ball down the court, getting good looks and getting back on defense will be a big key."
Blunt stepped down after nine seasons in which he went 89-76 overall and 52-34 in the league.
Sikorski coached Lakewood from 2009-17, leading the Lancers to Division II district runner-up finishes in each of his final two seasons and earning district Coach of the Year honors in 2016.
New Albany's biggest loss to graduation was forward Josie Smith, who averaged team highs of 11.0 points and 6.9 rebounds and now plays at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Sikorski hopes that several players, including senior Maddy Hofmann (6-2, forward), junior Haley Dennis (5-8, guard/forward) and sophomore Lauren Wood (5-9, forward/guard), can replace Smith's production.
"We've worked on some new plays that make us look at the post. We have two or three big girls inside that we can utilize and we have designed plays to look there more," Wood said. "There are a lot of new things. Everything is new. The offense is new; it's changing for the better. I like to play quicker myself."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Naomi Patel (5-2, guard) and Allison Sarkisian (5-10, forward) and juniors Alex Mormon (5-11, forward) and Tymber Wynn (5-4, guard).
New Albany begins OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Dec. 3, at home against Franklin Heights.
"We just have to make better decisions, understand run lanes and spacing. It's a work in progress," Sikorski said. "They are sponges right now. They are trying to soak it all in and I am throwing a lot at them.
"A lot of experience (for the returning players) seemed to come late in the year as they got older, so hopefully they can continue to grow. They are only going to get better. I tell them all the time that I don't want to be good in November. I want us to be good in February."
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey and swimming & diving teams:
Nov. 30 -- Home vs. Westland
Dec. 4 -- At Licking Heights
Nov. 29 -- Home vs. Centerville
*Dec. 3 -- Home vs. Franklin Heights
*Dec. 4 -- Marysville at Gahanna Lanes
Nov. 29 -- Northern Kentucky in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin
Nov. 30 -- Arlington (Va.) O'Connell and Dublin Jerome in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin
Dec. 1 -- TBD in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 3 -- Home vs. Westerville North