The New Albany hockey team finished the regular season Feb. 13 with a 3-0 loss to Dublin Jerome in the first round of the Blue Jackets Cup, and that moment almost certainly was one of the "ups and downs" forward Jackson Buss recalled last weekend when thinking about this year as a whole.
That loss is the only setback for New Albany in a seven-game stretch dating to Feb. 7. And however the Eagles' season ends, it will be as the area's representative in the state tournament this weekend at Nationwide Arena.
Despite a slow start, the fourth-seeded Eagles took control of the district final against third-seeded Olentangy Liberty on March 7 at OhioHealth Ice Haus with two goals in a two-minute span late in the second period and used another strong outing from goaltender Max Dupler to win 4-2 and advance to their first state tournament.
At 21-14-2, New Albany will play Toledo St. Francis in a state semifinal Saturday, March 14.
"I thought this was the best team New Albany had ever had going into the season and we had our ups and downs and some doubts, but now we've pulled together and it's been a great run," said Buss, who gave the Eagles a 3-1 lead with a minute left in the second. "We've progressed upward all year. It's a miracle that this has happened."
After Liberty controlled the game's first 20 minutes, New Albany's Zach Blaney scored with 10 minutes, 5 seconds left in the second to make it 1-all. Brandon Barash gave New Albany a 2-1 lead seven minutes later, Matthew Moellering had an empty-net goal with 7 seconds left as well as two assists and Dupler made 44 saves -- 23 more than his Liberty counterpart, Andrew Vidrick.
"Part of our game plan was to stay within ourselves and be calm. We weathered the storm," coach Matt Buss said. "They got on the board first but that boded well for us. It tested our faith in each other and we stuck with our plan."
Korey Raymond scored both Liberty goals, the second coming with 44.8 seconds left to make it 3-2.
"They were more prepared. They were more intense at the start. ... They were beating us to battles and we were throwing the puck around. They got all those advantages, but we corrected that and that's what changed the game," Jackson Buss said. "Once my dad pulled us aside and talked to us about settling down and keeping a level head, it was a huge change."
St. Francis is at state for the fifth time in six seasons despite a 16-18-1 record. The Knights, who were ranked 10th in the final state poll, got two third-period goals from Devin Homier to beat Sylvania Northview 3-0 in a district final March 6.
"We got a couple breakaways and we buried them," Knights coach Chris Varga told The (Toledo) Blade. "We practiced breakaways all the time and can't score all year long. We finally showed up (March 6)."
The semifinal winner will play four-time defending champion Cleveland St. Ignatius or Gates Mills Gilmour Academy in the state final Sunday, March 15, at Nationwide Arena.
St. Ignatius was ranked first and Gilmour was third in the final state poll.
"We'll play anybody," coach Buss said. "Twenty guys can beat any one individual. We just have 20 solid players, no superstars. It's about moving on and I am looking forward to (this) weekend."
Zusman to wrestle at state tournament
The wrestling team will be represented in the Division I state tournament for the first time in nine years when senior Michael Zusman competes at 145 pounds beginning Friday, March 13, at Ohio State.
Zusman went 4-2 at district March 6 and 7 at Hilliard Darby and placed fourth, losing to Westland's Jakob Hurley by pin in 2:56 in the third-place match. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
New Albany scored 32 points and finished 18th behind champion Dublin Coffman (174.5) as 40 teams scored.
Colin Swincicki went 4-2 at 120 and placed fifth, meaning he will be a state alternate and could compete this weekend if a qualifier is unable to do so.
Zusman, who is 46-7, qualified for state with a 5-1 win over Hilliard Bradley's Alex Schmidt in a consolation semifinal. He will be the Eagles' first state competitor since Matt Odierno in 2011.
"I got (Schmidt) a little bit tired in the second period so I could work my own moves," Zusman said. "It's a bit unbelievable. I knew coming in that I had a chance to make state, but I wasn't 100 percent sure or completely confident in myself. That feeling after the match was 'did I just do this?' A few minutes after that, it sunk in."
Also competing but failing to advance were Owen Perry (132, 0-2) and Tyler White (160, 0-2).
Bowler Kresina places 54th at state
Grant Kresina knows how nerves affect his form, but the senior still felt himself bringing the ball behind his back during his first game in the Division I state boys bowling tournament March 6 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
"Being at the state tournament is a big deal and all," he said. "I told myself I was out of it and so I just kept bowling, really, and I made some adjustments and figured out what was wrong with my form. A lot of it had to do with my release and my backswing. I tend to bring my arm behind my back and not get the line I want."
After a 161 in his first game, Kresina bowled a 201 in his second game and 192 in the third to record a 554 series. He finished 54th.
Kresina, the first state qualifier in the program's six-year history, was coming off a third-place finish (635) at district six days earlier.
"I just had to keep him calm, settle him down and know that what he was doing was the right thing," said Grant's father, Keith Kresina, who has been an assistant coach for the Eagles since the program's inception. "We had a game plan and he followed it. He just needed to relax and throw the ball like I knew he could."
Grant Kresina had a 231 game at district and averaged 191.9 per game this season, second on the team behind sophomore Elliot Greer (194.9).
Greer was the Eagles' other district qualifier and is one of several boys eligible to return, along with junior Damon Jolly, sophomores Noble Conn and Max Higgins and freshman Liam Harper.
Jolly averaged 166.6, ahead of Conn (160.1), Higgins (159.5) and Harper (157.9).
The girls team graduates its two district qualifiers in Shannan Ireland and Codey Mockler, who finished 14th (518) and 41st (438), respectively.
Sophomore Jada Biller had a team-best 167.8 average in limited time because of injury. Mockler averaged 155.9, followed by Ireland (148.7), senior Riley Langdale (126.4), freshman Taryn Jolly (125.9) and sophomore Abby Phelps (125.8).
Other bowlers eligible to return include junior Jordan Riesbeck and freshman Sydney Wamsley.
Seniors, Perry led boys basketball team
The boys basketball team's leading scorer is eligible to return in sophomore forward Justin Perry, who averaged 14.7 points in leading New Albany to records to 15-8 overall and 7-3 in the OCC-Capital.
Senior guard Jayden Lewis averaged 13.7 points for the Eagles, who were seeded 15th in the 49-team Division I district tournament and fell to 17th-seeded Reynoldsburg 59-55 in a second-round home game Feb. 28.
Senior guard Keegan Schaub averaged 10.0 points as well as a team-high 6.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. His 130 assists set a program record for a season.
Lewis and Perry were named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district along with Schaub, who was second-team all-league. Senior forward Udai Singh (8.8 points) was second-team all-league and junior forward Braedon Elwer was honorable mention all-league.