Girls Volleyball: New Albany ready for new tests in OCC-Ohio

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Senior setter Haley Dennis, who is expected to return in a few weeks after having surgery, is one of 10 returning letterwinners for the New Albany girls volleyball team and 11th-year coach Karen Morlan.

After 14 years in the OCC-Capital Division, the New Albany girls volleyball team is preparing for a new challenge in what coach Karen Morlan expects will be a competitive OCC-Ohio.

Considering the experience the Eagles return, Morlan thinks her team will be in a good position to challenge for its first league championship since 2016.

Ten letterwinners return for New Albany, including last season's kills and aces leader in junior outside hitter Emily Heintzelman and top setter Haley Dennis.

Heintzelman had 276 kills and 38 aces last year and Dennis added 674 assists for the Eagles, who went 12-12 overall and 6-4 in the OCC-Capital.

Dennis, a senior, had surgery for an offseason injury in June and is expected to return to play within the next few weeks, according to Morlan, who is in her 11th season.

"We are anxious to get her back on the court with us, but (senior) Olivia Gittins and (junior) Sydney Arlin have stepped up to fill in the setting role until Haley returns," Morlan said. "We have a strong hitting group this year and we will be fun to watch. Emily and (junior newcomer) Anna Lydia (Siegenthaler) are both solid outside hitters for us. (Junior opposite hitter) Daniela Rank also improved greatly in our offseason and is playing with tenacity."

Also back for the Eagles, who opened Aug. 22 with a 26-24, 25-15, 25-19 home loss to Worthington Kilbourne, are seniors Hope Cook (middle blocker), Julia Goldhardt (defensive specialist) and Riley McNabb (opposite hitter), junior Olivia Machado (defensive specialist) and sophomore Sophia Stall (middle blocker).

Rounding out the roster are two defensive specialists in senior Madison Briggs and freshman Addy McCallister.

New Albany was 1-2 before playing Hilliard Bradley on Sept. 1.

The Eagles swept visiting Canal Winchester 25-17, 25-15, 25-12 on Aug. 26 and lost 25-14, 25-17, 25-10 at Hartley the next night.

New Albany begins OCC-Ohio play Sept. 10 at home against Grove City.

The league features two Division I district runners-up from last year in the Greyhounds and Westerville Central and another semifinalist in Gahanna, which went 10-0 in the OCC-Ohio.

Also in the league is Pickerington North, which swept Grove City during the regular season but lost to the Greyhounds in the tournament.

"We are looking forward to the challenges this new league will bring," Morlan said. "We know that we will have a battle on our hands every night we compete, but I think we are ready."

Vikings feature new-look roster

After losing several key players to graduation and another whose family moved to Cincinnati, Columbus Academy coach John Kelley faces a challenge this season.

The Vikings need to replace several key players, including senior outside hitter Lily Plaugher, who transferred to Cincinnati Ursuline Academy because of family work commitments. She was first-team all-MSL-Ohio last season.

"We have a lot of work to do," Kelley said. "We're a very young team. We have six freshmen. We graduated nine seniors out of 12 players and then my big gun moved to Cincinnati, so we only have two returning starters. ... You deal with what you have."

The returning starters are senior middle hitter Olivia Pierre-Louis and junior outside hitter Kerry O'Connor.

Key graduation losses include Noelle Boltz (setter; honorable mention all-league), Sophia Freytag (outside hitter; honorable mention all-league) and Mabry Nichols (middle hitter/middle blocker; second-team all-league).

Academy finished 14-10 overall and 8-4 in the MSL-Ohio last season.

"We're just hoping to improve as a team because we do have six freshmen on the team and it is a younger team than we're used to," O'Connor said. "Our goal is to be where we were with the team last year. Last year we had a very strong team."

The rest of the Vikings' roster features players who are new to the varsity level.

Junior Aislinn Ahern was the primary setter on the junior varsity team last season and will take on the same role on varsity.

Also looking to contribute are seniors Cydney Platt (defensive specialist) and Ellie Vasilkov (outside hitter), sophomore Sophia Constantine (middle hitter/outside hitter) and freshmen Rene Fleege (outside hitter), Alli Klinefelter (libero), Maddie Martin (outside hitter), Kelli Raque (outside hitter), Eliora Teferi (setter/outside hitter) and Shaia Young (defensive specialist).

Academy opened Aug. 29 against Liberty Union and began MSL-Ohio play Sept. 1 against Grandview.

"It's a work in progress," Kelley said. "I expect to get beat a lot at the beginning of the season and I'm OK with that as long as we play as well as we can play and play hard. I really don't care what our season record is.

"My goal is by the end of the season when we get to the (district) tournament is to be competitive, because we have a long way to go to be competitive with a lot of the teams we're going to play."

--Frank DiRenna

sports@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSports

At a glance

NEW ALBANY

*Coach: Karen Morlan, 11th season

*Top players: Hope Cook, Haley Dennis, Olivia Gittins and Emily Heintzelman

*Key losses: Kacy Morlan and Andrea Page

*Last season: 12-12 overall

*2019 OCC-Capital standings: Big Walnut (10-0), Canal Winchester (7-3), New Albany (6-4), Newark (5-5), Groveport (2-8), Franklin Heights (0-10)

*2019 postseason: Defeated Teays Valley 25-20, 25-27, 25-23, 25-17; lost to Worthington Kilbourne 23-25, 25-18, 25-9, 25-19 in second round of Division I district tournament

COLUMBUS ACADEMY

*Coach: John Kelley, third season

*Top players: Kerry O'Connor and Olivia Pierre-Louis

*Key losses: Noelle Boltz, Sophia Freytag, Mabry Nichols and Lily Plaugher

*Last season: 14-10 overall

*2019 MSL-Ohio standings: Worthington Christian (12-0), Bexley (9-3), Columbus Academy (8-4), Buckeye Valley (6-6), Grandview (4-8), Columbus School for Girls (3-9), Whitehall (0-12)

*2019 postseason: Def. Africentric 25-22, 25-16, 25-15; lost Cardington 25-14, 25-18, 25-13 in Division III district semifinal

Third-year coach John Kelley is facing a tough challenge with his youthful Vikings girls volleyball team, which has just two returning starters.