In retrospect, New Albany diver Noah Duperre thought a torn foot ligament that cost him his junior season might have been more beneficial than expected.
Duperre, a senior and Texas recruit, felt rejuvenated when he resumed competition after the injury, which took place in summer 2018 after he had been Division I state runner-up as a freshman and sophomore.
That drive helped carry him to a dominating performance in the state meet Feb. 22 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, as he scored 582.85 points to easily win his first state championship by 131.35 points ahead of runner-up Jackson Salisbury of Solon.
"Being gone from the sport was really hard for me and it made me want to work so much harder when I got back. That increase in my ability to work hard and my drive has really gone up as well," Duperre said. "I didn't feel a ton of pressure coming in here, but I kind of put pressure on myself to dive my best. I didn't want to rely on being (the top seed). I still wanted to work hard for it.
"I know my strengths and weaknesses so I wanted to end on my strong dives ... but I was happy with all my dives (Feb. 22)."
Duperre led by 50.3 points through five rounds and 99.65 after eight and further secured his win by scoring 69 and 65.25 on his final two dives. That led the New Albany boys to 70 points and 12th place behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (310) as 53 teams scored.
Led by the state championship 400-yard freestyle relay of Lexi Elkovitch, Ava Lachey, Mia Lachey and Carly Meeting (3 minutes, 25.16 seconds), the girls finished second (205) behind Dublin Coffman (214) as 53 teams scored. It was the Eagles' first runner-up finish since moving to Division I in 2010.
The 400 free relay won its second state title in a row, holding off runner-up Upper Arlington by .26 of a second.
"We haven't had a consistent relay all year; (coach Dave Wharton) likes to switch out, people, but this is the fastest we've been," Ava Lachey said. "I am so proud of all of us. That last lap, I just kept fighting. For the two seniors leaving us (Elkovitch and Mia Lachey), it's sad but it is wonderful to finish off on a great note."
Ava Lachey is a sophomore and Meeting is a freshman. Both were on the third-place 200 medley relay (1:42.31) with Sydney Boals and Olivia Hovorka, and Meeting was third in the 100 backstroke (55.67).
Elkovitch, Mia Lachey and Meeting helped the 200 free relay to second place (1:34.96) with Boals.
Also competing in championship finals were Ava Lachey in the 100 free (fifth, 51.11) and 50 free (sixth, 23.58), Boals in the 200 individual medley (seventh, 2:05.13) and Elkovitch in the 100 free (eighth, 51.77).
Boals was ninth in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.62), Hope Schimming was 10th in the 100 back (56.83), Mia Lachey was 12th in the 500 free (5:02.38) and 15th in the 200 free (1:53.35), Hovorka finished 13th in the 100 butterfly (56.89) and Elkovitch was 15th in the 50 free (24.02).
Kiara Crumbley was 18th in the 500 free (5:07.97) and 19th in the 200 free (1:55.3), and Elyse Bergmann was 20th in the 500 free (5:09.59).
Jimmy Lapsley's seventh-place finish in the 100 back (50.02) was the boys team's top swimming performance. He also was on the 11th-place 200 medley relay (1:35.12) with Patrick Daly, Cade Helms and Tommy Morris, who placed eighth in the 50 free (20.92) and 16th in the 100 free (47.19).
Daly was 15th in the 200 IM (1:55.14) and helped the 400 free relay to 11th place (3:09.71) with Daly, Helms and Caleb Schimming.
Girls diver Emma Skinner placed 13th (340.95) on Feb. 20. Skinner, who was in the top 10 for the first several rounds, finished with an inward half-pike on which she scored 39.6 points.
"I ended on a really strong note," she said. "This gives me a lot of motivation. I know what I have to do to make the podium next year."
Boys basketball team preps for tourney
Taking a first-round bye in the Division I district tournament was not an easy choice for boys basketball coach Sam Davis, but one he hopes will pay dividends Friday, Feb. 28, when the 15th-seeded Eagles play host to 17th-seeded Reynoldsburg in a second-round game.
"(Taking a bye) depends on two things: how high your seed is and who's in your bracket. We meet two or three times before the seed meeting and we pick a list of teams we want to stay away from and a list that if we have to play them, here's who we want to see," Davis said. "We always play better when we have time to prepare."
New Albany is 15-7 overall and has not played since Feb. 14, when it defeated Franklin Heights 70-41 to finish 7-3 in the OCC-Capital Division. Justin Perry had 17 points and four rebounds, Jayden Lewis had 11 points and Chris Benseler scored 10.
Keegan Schaub added nine points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to set a single-season record for assists with 118.
The second-round winner will play sixth-seeded Walnut Ridge or 49th-seeded Columbus West in a district semifinal Wednesday, March 4, at a neutral site.
New Albany lost to Reynoldsburg 53-42 on Jan. 7.
Bowlers move on to district
Two boys bowlers and two girls will compete in the Division I district tournament Saturday, Feb. 29, at HP Lanes.
Elliot Greer and Grant Kresina of the boys team qualified after finishing seventh (615) and 46th (541), respectively, in the sectional Feb. 21 at HP Lanes. The next day in the girls sectional at the same facility, Codey Mockler (22nd, 496) and Shannan Ireland (tied for 44th, 449) earned individual berths.
The top 16 teams and top 16 individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to district.
The boys finished 18th (3,477) behind champion Reynoldsburg (3,991) as 47 teams scored. The girls were 19th (2,758) behind champion Westerville Central (3,653) as 42 teams scored.
At district, the top three boys teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams as well as the top four girls teams and top four individuals not on qualifying teams advance to state March 6 and 7 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Wrestlers set for sectional
The wrestling team will participate in what should be a competitive Division I sectional tournament Saturday, Feb. 29, at Newark.
Top-seeded Dublin Coffman and second-seeded Lancaster highlight the sectional. Rounding out the field are Grove City, Groveport, Mifflin, Pickerington Central, St. Charles, Westerville South, Whitehall and the host Wildcats.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to district March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby.
Girls team expects to return key players
The girls basketball team's top scorers and several other key contributors are expected to return next season after the Eagles went 10-13 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Capital, losing to visiting and 31st-seeded Olentangy Berlin 48-40 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 15.
Sophomore forward Katie Kaucheck had 16 points and sophomore forward Lauren Wood added 10 rebounds for New Albany, which was seeded 22nd of 48 teams.
Kaucheck averaged 7.6 points, tying junior guard Haley Dennis for the team lead, as well as a team-high 4.4 rebounds. Wood averaged 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds.
"We didn't end the way we wanted, but we feel like we learned a ton this year," coach Phil Sikorski said. "Losing (6-foot-2 senior forward Maddy) Hofmann's size inside next year will be hard to replace, but we return all other letterwinners except for her and the other two seniors who saw very limited time. I'd expect (junior guard Brooklyn) Gammon, Kaucheck and Wood to really step up next year and help Dennis with all their experience now."
Kaucheck and Wood were second-team all-league and Gammon was honorable mention all-league.
Their returns and a promising freshman class have Sikorski looking forward to next season.
"We have two freshmen in (guard Isabelle) Arguelles and (forward Olivia) Thorne who can bust into the lineup and provide some scoring," he said. "We should be 10 or so deep next year."