New Albany Roundup: Smaller roster creates issues for hockey team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Senior forward Zach Blaney (left) is among the top returnees for the New Albany hockey team, which will play this season with a smaller roster after winning its first district championship last winter.

New Albany hockey coach Matt Buss emphasized during the preseason that there are different ways to measure success.

The Eagles are coming off a 21-14-2 season in which they won the program’s first district championship, upsetting previously undefeated Upper Arlington in the process, but saw the state tournament canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

This year, the pandemic and a handful of defections to AAA or club teams whittled New Albany’s roster to 14 players — 12 skaters and two goalies — presenting a challenge that will prompt Buss to be creative and his players to both examine their approach and expand their skills.

“It will certainly be a challenge. There’s no way around that,” said Buss, who is in his second season. “I’m optimistic about this season. People measure success in different ways. Some people only look at wins. We had a successful season last year. The season is a long journey.”

Senior forwards Victor Appell and Zach Blaney, each of whom scored 10 goals last year, as well as senior defensemen Ian Hoff and Max Murch and senior goalie Max Dupler are among the returnees for the Eagles.

New Albany graduated its top three scorers in Brandon Barash, Jackson Buss and Matthew Moellering, who combined for 71 goals. Barash’s 80 career assists and 125 points are program records.

“We’re going to have to get in shape a lot more because of the minutes we’ll be playing,” Blaney said. “We’ll have to play more defense than we want to because it’ll be hard to skate down the ice every single shift.”

Dupler had a .923 save percentage last year, making 84 stops in a 3-2 district semifinal upset of UA and 4-2 district final win over Olentangy Liberty.

Hoff planned to alter his strategy to conserve energy for later in games, especially with a small roster.

“That can be hard,” Hoff said. “You want to make the big play or do something you know is going to drain all your energy, but you have to let somebody else do the work sometimes.”

Rounding out the roster are seniors Brandon Beesley (goalie), Daniel Kahala (forward) and Zach Lewis (forward), juniors Colin Appell (forward), Grayton Grady (forward) and Josh Hall (forward), sophomores Colin Carr (forward) and Josh Haywood (forward/defenseman) and freshman Elliot Fixari (forward).

“We don’t have any superstars, but we have a really solid group of guys,” Buss said. “I love this group.”

Senior guard Haley Dennis returns to help lead the Eagles after averaging 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds a year ago. New Albany is planning to play an up-tempo game to capitalize on its backcourt depth.

Girls basketball team

enters transition

With nine guards on the roster, the girls basketball team is switching to an up-tempo game based on transition under second-year coach Phil Sikorski.

“I’ve told them I don’t want to run a set in the half court all year if we don’t have to,” Sikorski said. “We won’t shoot in the first seven seconds we have the ball, but they want to get up and down the floor a little bit more and press more. As deep as we are, a lot deeper than we were last year, we can do that.

“We kind of saw this coming a little bit. In our season-end meetings, they talked about playing a little faster, so that should come into play a lot for us this year. It will be interesting to see.”

New Albany returns the majority of its scoring from last year’s team that went 10-13 overall and 5-5 in the OCC-Capital Division. 

Senior guard Haley Dennis (5-foot-8) and junior guard Katie Kaucheck (5-8) both averaged 7.6 points a year ago, Dennis recorded a team-leading 4.4 rebounds per game and junior guard Lauren Wood (5-9) averaged 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Wood played forward last year but has moved back to her natural position of shooting guard.

The Eagles have only one player taller than 6-0 in senior forward/center Riley McNabb (6-1).

“We’re all athletic, we’re all quick and fast. We don’t have the tallest girls this year, but we’re figuring it out,” Wood said. “It’s more a transition game (and) playing freely, which I like much better.”

New Albany has four point guards in Tiffin recruit Brooklyn Gammon (5-5), Houghton recruit Tymber Wynn (5-5), senior Karli Theis (5-2) and sophomore Isabelle Arguelles (5-8).

Theis is a move-in from Delaware.

Rounding out the roster are seniors Reagan Benseler (5-7, forward), Olivia Gittins (5-6, guard/forward), Alex Mormon (5-11, forward) and Katie Short (5-8, forward), junior Gabbi Weiner (5-6, guard) and sophomore Olivia Thorne (5-10, forward).

Because of the pandemic, New Albany has suspended games through Dec. 17.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Coach: Phil Sikorski, second season

Top players: Brooklyn Gammon, Olivia Gittins, Haley Dennis, Katie Kaucheck and Lauren Wood

Key loss: Maddy Hofmann

Last season: 10-13 overall

2019-20 OCC-Capital standings: Newark (10-0), Big Walnut (7-3), Canal Winchester (6-4), New Albany (5-5), Groveport (2-8), Franklin Heights (0-10)

2020 postseason: Lost to Olentangy Berlin 48-40 in first round of Division I district tournament

HOCKEY

Coach: Matt Buss, second season

Top players: Colin Appell, Victor Appell, Zach Blaney, Colin Carr and Max Dupler

Key losses: Brandon Barash, Jackson Buss, Noah LaCommare, Matthew Moellering and Max Phillips

Last season: 21-14-2 overall

2019-20 CHC-Red standings: Upper Arlington (31, 15-0-1), St. Charles (24, 11-3-1-1), Olentangy Liberty (23, 10-3-3), New Albany (21, 10-5-1), Dublin Jerome (18, 8-6-1-1)

*Note: The CHC-Red now consists of Jerome, Liberty, New Albany, Olentangy Orange, St. Charles and UA.

2020 postseason: Defeated Watterson 11-1; def. Dublin Coffman 4-3 (OT); def. UA 3-2; def. Liberty 4-2 in district final