New Albany Roundup: Eagles water polo program seeks growth, varsity status

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
New Albany's A.J. Denny prepares to throw the ball over the outstretched arm of teammate Alex Apple during practice April 7. The water polo team has 16 players – 15 boys and one girl – and is in its 13th year as a club sport at the school.

In an ordinary year, water polo might be a training ground for high school swimmers heading into the winter.

But whether water polo was in the fall, as it usually has been, or in the spring, as it is this year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, New Albany junior A.J. Denny would have been ready.

“We got the hard swimming out and then flowed right into water polo season,” Denny said. “I found it I liked it. It was a lot more entertaining than swimming for me. I actually treat swimming as conditioning for water polo. It’s a team sport, not in swimming where you’re just working individually. Here, you’re competing, laughing with people and having a good time.”

Denny is devoted to the sport to the point that he chose water polo over lacrosse, whose seasons temporarily are overlapping.

Sixth-year coach Jordan Gundlach hopes that attitude will spread throughout the swimming program and beyond as water polo, which is in its 13th season as a club team at New Albany, tries to become a varsity sport.

“Our kids who did swim in the winter were in better shape so we had to do a little less conditioning in the early season. We were able to do more actual water polo stuff as opposed to how it might have been in the fall if they had taken the summer off,” Gundlach said. “Given the success of the New Albany girls swim team I am really hoping we can get a dedicated and separate girls team started. I really think if they were to have brought in all of the incredibly talented swimmers they have, they would be favorites to win the state championship right away.”

Gundlach was a player-coach as a senior in 2014, then continued coaching the team while he attended Ohio State.

Three Division I state swimming qualifiers are on the team in seniors Patrick Daly and Cade Helms and junior Darden Spychalski. Daly is a Denison swimming recruit.

“The only team part of swimming is the relays. Usually, you’re focused on yourself to do the best that you can to get points for the team,” said Spychalski, who joined the water polo team this season. “In water polo, you’re trying to be with your team to get points and win games.

“Just from the first game, we’ve shown major progress in moving the ball down the pool and getting shots off.”

According to Gundlach, other top players include seniors Alex Apple and Andrew Levine.

The Eagles have 16 players – 15 boys and one girl in sophomore Colin Rogers. The team was 1-4 before playing in the Ohio Cup on April 17 and 18 at Thomas Worthington.

The Ohio Water Polo Coaches Association voted 24-0 last July 27 to move the fall season to spring because of the pandemic. According to Gundlach, water polo will return to the fall this year.

If water polo becomes a varsity sport at New Albany, it would be the fourth new sport in a decade to do so, following field hockey (2012), hockey (2015) and boys volleyball (2018).

Aspiring varsity sports must demonstrate financial solvency and sufficient turnout.

“Hopefully this year or next, we can be taken in as a varsity sport,” Gundlach said. “We can make our pitch and (the athletics department) can evaluate from there.”

Baseball team

out to strong start

The baseball team relied on both a strong offense and solid pitching to get out to a 9-0 start, in which it outscored its opponents by a 3-to-1 margin and allowed two or fewer runs in six games.

New Albany, which also was 1-0 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Grove City on April 14, started 14-0 two years ago on the way to a Division I regional semifinal.

The Eagles, who were ranked second in last week’s district coaches poll, scored 69 runs in their first nine games and allowed just 23. They began league play April 12 with a 5-4 win over Grove City in which Ian Hoff doubled twice, including a two-run hit that put the Eagles ahead for good, and struck out five and allowed seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Hoff was 3-0 on the mound before April 14.

“There were so many questions coming into this year, so much we didn’t know about a lot of players, so there was a lot of evaluation to get to this point,” coach Dave Starling said. “It’s been good to see how some younger guys have handled being thrown into the varsity lineup.”

Softball team’s

offense improving

The softball team was swept in a season-opening doubleheader March 27 at Marysville by a combined score of 29-2, but recently the Eagles have found themselves on the preferable end of high-scoring games.

New Albany edged visiting DeSales 26-25 on April 6, a game in which the Eagles trailed 9-0 after the top of the first but scored five runs in the bottom of the inning and 12 in the second. The Eagles outhit the Stallions 26-22, led by two home runs from Jordan George, one homer each from Olivia Angles, Sophia Halliday and Logan Riley and four hits and five RBI by Ashley Apple.

George also homered twice in a 15-5, five-inning win over Reynoldsburg on April 13.

Logan Riley had six RBI in a 17-16, eight-inning loss at Olentangy Liberty on April 2.

New Albany was 4-5 before beginning OCC-Ohio play April 15 against Grove City.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave