Michael Zusman hadn't given it much thought, but the New Albany wrestling senior chuckled after a practice last week when he considered that he was one of the team's few veterans.
"It's kind of strange," he said. "In past years, we've had a lot of seniors leading and a lot of guys to train with. I am looking around and seeing who the best kids are so I can get some training in and practice for myself and help them grow more."
Zusman and junior Colin Swincicki are the two returning Division I district qualifiers for an Eagles team that features younger wrestlers across the board.
New Albany opened Dec. 5 with two matches at Dublin Coffman, losing to Westerville Central 57-21 and Gahanna 42-27.
"We are very young all over the place, either in terms of age or experience," sixth-year coach Larry Reichard said. "We have a lot of freshmen and a lot of kids where it's their first year and they want to try this out. They are improving as they go along. It's been neat to see the growth in here either from the veterans or the new guys."
Zusman, who will compete at 152 pounds, went 27-10 last year and Swincicki was 33-13 at 120.
Swincicki planned to start this season at 120 but potentially could move up to 126.
"I've seen him grow as a leader," Reichard said of Swincicki. "He runs the (practice) room a little bit when we need him to. Michael is a bit more quiet. Colin will speak up and help guys and make sure they are doing the right thing."
Also back are junior Gianni Nocera (160) and sophomore Owen Perry (132). Two sophomores Reichard expected to compete, Alex Chattos (160) and Jack Sauter (138), will miss the season because of various injuries.
Chattos is undergoing two hip surgeries, one this week and one in February, but will serve as a team manager. Sauter suffered a torn ACL during football season and will be sidelined from sports through the spring.
"I've been trying to get my conditioning better because last year, I got tired in matches pretty easily," Nocera said. "I've run more and hit the weights. Technique, I am paying attention to the little details that make things work."
According to Reichard, other contributors will include senior Jimmy Ovalle (145), junior Christopher Brewer (138), sophomores Ganan Balakrishna (170), Payton Galbraith (182), Jack Lee (120/126) and Dominic Vyas (120/126) and freshmen Travis May (113), Michael Roth (195) and Colin Wright (113).
New Albany begins OCC-Capital Division competition Jan. 9 at Franklin Heights.
The Eagles went 3-2 in the league last year to tie Big Walnut and Newark for second behind Groveport (5-0), which won its third consecutive OCC-Capital championship.
"Right now, it's about growing by the day. Just one day at a time, making sure we improve," Reichard said. "We need to make sure we get our intensity and focus in the room correct, then we'll see where we go after some matches. We'll talk about the (league) in a few weeks. Let's start here, see what we can do and start winning."
State champions lead large swim teams
The entire Division I state championship 400-yard freestyle relay, led by Ohio State recruit Mia Lachey and Villanova recruit Lexi Elkovitch, returns for the girls swimming and diving team as the Eagles boast one of their largest rosters under 24th-year coach Dave Wharton.
Sophomores Ava Lachey and Olivia Hovorka also are back from the championship relay and hope to build on their own individual successes.
Ava Lachey was third in the 100 free and ninth in the 200 free at state, Elkovitch was sixth in the 100 free and 10th in the 50 free and both were on the fourth-place 200 free relay with Mia Lachey and junior Stacy Saribalas.
Boys diver Jordan Rzepka, a junior, also is back as he hopes to improve on last year's third-place finish at state. Senior diver Noah Duperre, a Texas recruit who was state runner-up as a freshman and a sophomore, returns after missing much of last year because of an injury.
"This is the most kids (57) that we've ever kept. We actually had to cut a few, which I don't like to do but with pool space and time, we had to," Wharton said. "There is so much competition and we want to get as many kids opportunities to swim as possible. Not all of them might swim their preferred event, which is fine. It will help them grow and it will help the team. We have a lot of depth all over the place from distance to sprints to (individual medley)."
New Albany opened Dec. 3 by sweeping a home dual meet against Westerville North. The boys won 94-74 and the girls won 127-43.
Five other state qualifiers are back in girls junior Kiara Crumbley and, for the boys team, senior Jimmy Lapsley, juniors Patrick Daly and Tommy Morris and sophomore Darden Spychalski.
New Albany began the season shorthanded as junior Sydney Boals and freshman Carly Meeting of the girls team along with Ava Lachey, Lapsley and Morris all are competing in the U.S. Winter Junior Nationals East meet that began Dec. 11 and continues through Saturday, Dec. 14, at Georgia Tech. They will be able to begin their high school season after that meet.
Other returnees for the girls include seniors Olivia Bergmann and Livy Meeting, juniors Abby Leatherman and Rebecca Zhang and sophomores Carolyn Daly and Evie Morris.
Additional returnees for the boys include seniors Alex Arlin, Dreyson Keels, Luke Parsons and Sam Sarkisian and juniors Alex Aguila and Caleb Schimming.
"We're very excited to see what both the boys and girls can do," Wharton said. "Lots of kids have goals and they want to prove they can contribute. That does nothing but help them and help us."
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 13 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
Dec. 14 -- At Mount Vernon
*Dec. 13 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
Dec. 14 -- At Logan
*Dec. 17 -- Westerville South at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Dec. 13 -- St. Charles at Chiller Easton
*Dec. 15 -- Dublin Jerome at Chiller Easton
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 13-14 -- Ned Reeb Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 12 -- Eastside Duals at Licking Heights with Reynoldsburg and Watkins Memorial