New Albany Roundup: Hayden Gray sets standard for Eagles boys volleyball team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Senior Hayden Gray has led New Albany this season despite switching to outside hitter from middle hitter. His 9.0 kills and 9.0 digs per match paced the Eagles to records of 13-3 overall and 7-2 in the OCC-Ohio before an April 29 match against Westerville South.

As the only remaining player from New Albany’s first boys volleyball team in 2018, Hayden Gray is regarded by his teammates as a primary reason for the Eagles thriving.

The 6-foot-6 senior shrugs off such compliments, giving first-year coach Jessica Florea much of the credit for allowing him to shine as an outside hitter after playing middle hitter as a freshman and sophomore.

“At the beginning of the season, I was shanking passes left and right,” Gray said of his position switch. “As a middle, you don’t really touch the ball a whole lot unless if it’s on blocking. You’re standing at the net, going left to right and you’re sticking your hands up.

“On the outside, you get more hits and get more action. It’s taken practice, especially with passing because I’ve never gone all the way all-around.”

Gray has been making the most of his opportunity, as his 9.0 kills and 9.0 digs per match — both team bests — led the Eagles to records of 13-3 overall and 7-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division before an April 29 match against Westerville South.

While acknowledging Gray’s height plays a role in his success, Florea — a science teacher at the high school who has known Gray since his freshman year and told him before any other student when she was hired in December — said his less tangible qualities are equally key.

“He knows how to work a room,” Florea said. “He is very personable and that’s with everybody — his teammates, the coaches, parents, referees, the coaches from opposing teams and their players. He is very invested in the game. He wants to know everyone. He loves to talk. He’s a great personality to have.

“How he is now is how he’s always been.”

Gray played basketball through his freshman year and tried out for volleyball that spring with his older brother, Darrick, a 2019 graduate and middle hitter. Gray played for Advancement Academy Volleyball Club as a sophomore and Vanguard Volleyball last year, raising his stock to the point that he and his club team will participate in the USA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championship this summer in Kansas City, Missouri.

“He is hitting the ball pretty much like no one else in our league, but he has the intangibles, too,” defensive specialist Owen Troutman said. “He rallies the whole team around him and he keeps our spirits up, which is really important.”

Gray plans to attend the University of Dayton and major in business or management.

Perhaps his UD classmates will call him by the nickname “Hondo,” which was given to him by his father during his youth basketball days and now is popular to the point that few people, if anyone, call him Hayden.

“On my rec basketball team, there was me, Hayden, (and) an Aidan, a Caden and a Braden. I couldn’t hear well in loud gyms so my dad tried to think of a name and he called me ‘Hondo’ because of (former Ohio State great) John Havlicek and a John Wayne movie,” Gray said. “I don’t care what people call me but everybody calls me ‘Hondo.’ ”

Brock Tibbetts helped New Albany's potent offense average 8.0 runs and 9.6 hits through 18 games.

Baseball coach sees

well-rounded effort

The baseball team was 15-3 overall and 4-3 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Westerville Central on April 30 and ranked second in last week’s Division I district poll, but coach Dave Starling said the Eagles seemed to hit a particular stride within the past few weeks.

New Albany had a five-game winning streak snapped April 26 with a 5-4 loss to Pickerington North, a stretch that included a perfect game from junior pitcher Andrew Trybus in his first varsity start and a 19-run outburst against Hilliard Davidson.

Trybus struck out seven and threw just 49 pitches in a 13-0, five-inning win over Westland on April 22. Largely used as a reliever, Trybus improved to 5-0 on the season.

“By and large we have played well,” Starling said. “I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything quite like (Trybus’ perfect game) in 32 years of coaching. He was focused. He pounded the zone. It’s one thing to throw a shutout and another thing to throw a no-hitter but if you don’t allow one baserunner, what a feat.”

New Albany averaged 8.0 runs and 9.6 hits per game before April 28 thanks to a deep lineup. Top hitters have included Cameron Behaien, Ben Clark, A.C. Clouse, Oliver Cush, Andrew Ecleberry and Brock Tibbitts.

Tibbitts is an Indiana recruit.

“I could go all the way through the lineup,” Starling said. “Even when we’ve made outs, we’ve had loud outs.”

Boys tennis team

reaches first goal

Boys tennis coach Marc Thomas always lists his team’s first goal every season as winning a league championship, and this year was no different in more ways than one.

New Albany finished 5-0 in the OCC-Ohio with a 5-0 win at Westerville Central on April 27, clinching the program’s 14th consecutive league title. The previous 13 were won in the OCC-Capital.

The Eagles were 11-3 overall before playing Dublin Jerome on April 29, with their losses having come to Cincinnati St. Xavier (3-2 on April 17), Mason (4-1 on April 17) and Hunting Valley University School (3-2 on April 24).

Mason and St. Xavier are ranked first and second, respectively, statewide in Division I by OhioTennisZone.com. University School is fifth in Division II.

The Eagles are ranked fifth in Division I.

“We’re putting the lineup together and figuring out what we want to do, making small changes as we go,” Thomas said. “I am just trying to pick the best lineup we have for (a given) day, but we have big goals. We’re trying to compete with the best players in the state.”

Devin Boyer, Ryan Mudre and Kaan Odabas generally have played singles, with Virang Desai occasionally entering that lineup. Ben Bilenko and Declan Freedhoff usually play first doubles with Dhruv Chavan, Halen Hamstead and Jeremy Hanna rotating at second doubles.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave