New Albany Roundup: Boys soccer squad enjoyed 'amazing' run
The firsts just kept on coming for the New Albany boys soccer team.
The Eagles won their fourth league championship in five years, but this was their first in the OCC-Ohio Division after 14 years in the OCC-Capital.
New Albany erased an early deficit in a district final Oct. 31 to win their first Division I district championship since 2016, then seven days later pulled off a second-half comeback to win 2-1 at Thomas Worthington to capture the program’s first Division I regional title and second overall.
In a state semifinal Nov. 11 at Xenia, the Eagles trailed Cincinnati St. Xavier 1-0 at halftime only to score twice in the second half for a 2-1 win and their first state final berth.
Even as the players walked off the Mapfre Stadium field after a 4-1 loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius in the championship game Nov. 14, they were aware of the magnitude of what they had accomplished.
“It was an incredible season,” coach Johnny Ulry said. “After the sting wears off a little bit, we will look back and the guys will remember this for a long time. We made a little bit of history.”
St. Ignatius, which won its second consecutive championship and state-record 10th, struck quickly with goals in the first 7 minutes, 10 seconds from Nolan Spicer and Marko Rimac. The Eagles, who finished 18-4-1 overall and were ranked 21st nationally by MaxPreps, largely held the Wildcats at bay for the next 42 minutes and got to within 2-1 with 38:05 to go when junior defender Henri Heyes scored on a header off a corner kick from senior midfielder Jakob Bering.
Spicer added his second goal 18 minutes later when he got past a defender and scored into the lower right side of the net. Luciano Pechota made it 4-1 with 2:35 left.
Junior goalie Gage Weiner made four saves for the Eagles.
New Albany was in its first state tournament since 2001, when it was in Division III and lost to Springfield Catholic Central in a semifinal.
“It’s amazing to be part of school history,” said junior midfielder Kameron Kist, who scored a team-leading 12 goals and was named OCC-Ohio Player of the Year. “Our goal (was) to win it all and all we could do was go into the next game just like the last one.”
Junior forward Derrick Harris had 11 goals and senior forward Ryan Blackburn and sophomore forward Gabe Anthony each scored seven for the Eagles, who went 5-0 in the league and were seeded second in the district tournament.
Harris and Kist also were first-team all-district. Bering was first-team all-league and third-team all-district.
Blackburn, senior defender Will Fischer and Heyes were second-team all-league, junior midfielder Ashton Bilow was special mention all-league and junior defender Gavin Miriello was honorable mention all-league.
“It just says so much about us as a program and what we’ve done together,” Fischer said. “We are a pretty young program.”
Other players eligible to return include juniors Calvin Criger (defender), Oliver Cush (forward) and Jack Poulos (forward).
“(In) 2020, everyone is talking about how bad this year has been, but what an amazing opportunity it was for us,” Ulry said. “This was amazing.”
season at state
The boys and girls cross country teams finished their seasons in the Division I state meet, and two of the Eagles’ four competitors are eligible to return.
On the boys side, senior Victor Orsinelli finished 21st (15:58.1) on Nov. 7 at Fortress Obetz. Junior Will Benseler was 33rd (16:12.4) and senior Ethan McNichols placed 97th (16:54.6) out of 177 individuals.
Girls freshman Ellie McClelland was 86th (19:47.9) of 176 runners.
The boys team had not been represented at state since Dennis Maloney finished 15th in 2014.
“It was special,” Orsinelli said. “We were sad we didn’t qualify as a team, but Will and Ethan put in a lot of hard work and they did well, too, so it was good to be with them.”
McClelland, who was the girls’ first state qualifier since Eliza Matt in 2013, was the Eagles’ top runner for most of the season.
“I wasn’t expecting this much of out of myself, so when I started running really well it just surprised me and I kept going with it,” McClelland said. “My time goal was to break 21 minutes and I got that, but more I just wanted to grow as a runner and a teammate.”
In the regional Oct. 31 at Pickerington North, Orsinelli was seventh (16:18.5), Benseler was 11th (16:29.9) and McNichols was 13th (16:32.6). New Albany was sixth (207) as a team, one spot from a state berth.
Also scoring for the Eagles were juniors Evan McClelland (107th, 18:15.1) and Luke Weibel (112th, 18:20).
“The coaches reminded us that the state meet is a big deal, but we weren’t going just for a fun run or to say ‘oh wow, we made it,’ ” Benseler said. “We tried to treat (it) like any other week.”
In the girls regional, McClelland was 10th (19:35.5) and New Albany finished eighth (221). Also scoring for the girls were sophomore Stephanie Thomas (44th, 20:33.7), senior Nicole Stewart (60th, 20:54.5), freshman Elise Hill (64th, 20:56.9) and junior Isabel Goldstein (104th, 21:55).
•OCC-Ohio standings: Boys — New Albany (35), Pickerington North (61), Gahanna (63), Westerville Central (64), Grove City (152), Westland (187); Girls — North (49), Gahanna (50), New Albany (55), Central (58), Grove City (150)
•Seniors lost: Boys — Aditya Akula, Ethan McNichols, Victor Orsinelli and Colin Swincicki; Girls — Alexis Curren and Nicole Stewart
•Key returnees: Boys — Lleyton Axline, Will Benseler and Luke Weibel; Girls — Clara Doyle, Isabel Goldstein, Elise Hill, Ellie McClelland and Stephanie Thomas
•Postseason: Boys — Second (75) at district behind Hilliard Davidson (27), sixth (207) at regional behind champion Davidson (57); Girls — Sixth (180) at district behind champion Dublin Coffman (55), eighth (221) at regional behind champion Davidson (42)
•Record: 18-4-1 overall
•OCC-Ohio standings: New Albany (5-0), North (4-1), Central (3-2), Grove City (2-3), Gahanna (1-4), Westland (0-5)
•Seniors lost: Jakob Bering, Ryan Blackburn, Grant Bush, Tyler Campbell, Will Fischer, Nick Fisher, Tyler Hutchison and Hunter Mowery
•Key returnees: Derrick Ellwood, Nick Fisher, Henri Heyes, Kameron Kist and Gage Weiner
•Postseason: Defeated Delaware 5-0; def. Hilliard Bradley 3-0; def. Upper Arlington 3-1; def. Pickerington North 2-1; def. Thomas Worthington 2-1; def. Cincinnati St. Xavier 2-1; lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 4-1 in Division I state final