Big Walnut girls tennis coach Ryan Balaz remembers discussing this season's OCC realignment with his team two years ago, along with the prospects of earning a league championship.
"We set that as a goal, that we'd be competing for an OCC-Capital (Division) title when they were juniors and seniors," he said. "We knew based off of past results that we've been competitive with those teams."
Big Walnut not only captured the OCC-Capital title with a 5-0 victory over Canal Winchester on Sept. 8, it also completed an unbeaten run through the league at 7-0 and gave Balaz his 100th career victory. Making those achievements even more special: It was the Golden Eagles' senior night.
"Coach Balaz has worked so hard to get to this point," athletics director Brian Shelton said. "His relentlessly consistent focus on improvement has led to his team's success. He is an exceptional leader."
The championship marked the end of four consecutive second-place OCC-Capital finishes to New Albany, which moved to the OCC-Ohio this season.
The Golden Eagles also earned three other OCC- Capital shutouts this season over Westerville South (Aug. 20), Franklin Heights (Aug. 25) and Westerville North (Sept. 1).
Big Walnut's closest league match was a 3-2 victory over Worthington Kilbourne on Aug. 27.
"This group of juniors and seniors has been working at it since middle school," said Balaz, who is in his 10th season. "So, I'm really happy for them for their hard work in continuing to get better."
While the OCC-Capital schedule might be complete, 10 non-league contests and the postseason remain, beginning with Watkins Memorial on Tuesday, Sept. 15, at home.
Third-singles player Addy Smith had the team's best record (9-1) before the Golden Eagles played DeSales on Sept. 10.
Kina Ehlers (first singles) and Molly McLane (second singles) both were 8-2. Avery Wagner (7-1), Karen Ambrose (7-3), Lindsey Stevens (7-3), Alena Lefevre (5-3) and Ciara Matos (3-1) all were competing in doubles.
"As a collective group, this group works more at their game year-round than any other group I've ever had," Balaz said. "I'm just happy they're getting recognized for all their hard work."
Girls runners win at Highland
Junior Madi Yano's third-place finish paced the girls cross country team Sept. 5 at the Sparta Highland Invitational, where the Golden Eagles won the championship.
Yano finished in 20 minutes, 54.48 seconds, followed by junior Grace Grunewald (eighth, 21:34.93), freshman Emma Kelly (12th, 22:12.05), sophomore Gianna Rose-Romosier (13th, 22:13.36) and freshman Kaylyn Huber (20th, 22:36.83).
Big Walnut scored 53 points in the seven-team field to finish ahead of runner-up Fredericktown (65).
"We've been bringing along the freshmen," said coach Kevin Lewis, who's in his seventh season. "It's a big jump going from a middle school two-mile to a high school 5K."
Big Walnut is without its most accomplished distance runner in 2020 graduate Colbi Borland, whose school record of 18:30.3 is 63 seconds better than the second-fastest time.
Borland is now competing at Lipscomb University.
Junior Christopher Lee's fourth-place finish (17:14.23) led the boys to fourth place (99) at Highland behind champion Fredericktown (31).
Sophomore Gabe Ghering finished 14th (18:10.69), followed by freshman Eli Lengl (23rd, 18:32.41), freshman Gabe Bibawy (30th, 18:50.85) and freshman Kyan Johnston (32nd, 18:57.95).
Football team preps for Wolves
The football team last met Kilbourne in a 2017 non-league game that the Wolves won 21-14 in overtime.
On Friday, Sept. 18, the teams will play at Big Walnut in an OCC-Capital contest.
The Golden Eagles were 1-1 overall and in the league before playing Franklin Heights on Sept. 11.
The Wolves had the same record before their Sept. 11 game with Delaware.
Big Walnut coach Rob Page pointed to cleaning up his team's 95 yards in penalties and two turnovers following a 50-41 loss to Westerville South on Sept. 4.
"I think the unforced errors and self-inflicted wounds we had come back to us having to focus in practice with the same level of intensity that we have in the game," Page said. "You can't have one be less than the other."
Through two games, senior quarterback Jagger Barnett had completed 27 of 46 passes for 315 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He also had rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
Senior running back Caden Williams had rushed for 229 yards on 46 carries.