New Albany Roundup: Eagles boys tennis team to feel at home at state
Ben Bilenko hesitated to set goals for his freshman season with the New Albany boys tennis team, and even that might be an exaggeration.
“Honestly, I don’t really like having goals. I don’t know why. I just told myself I wouldn’t mind getting all-Ohio and winning state,” said Bilenko, who has played first doubles most of the season. “I just play wherever I play and try to win. Don’t let the ball bounce twice (and) hit it hard. That’s all I do, just keep it simple.”
That approach helped Bilenko and the Eagles advance to their fifth consecutive Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Division I state tournament, which will be May 30 on their home courts.
New Albany, which defeated Dublin Jerome 3-1 in the district final May 18 at Dublin Coffman, will seek its first OTCA state championship.
Bilenko is one of five underclassmen who played prominent roles throughout the regular season behind Cleveland State recruit Devin Boyer and Tennessee-Chattanooga signee Ryan Mudre.
Bilenko and junior Declan Freedhoff qualified for the individual district tournament as a doubles team, losing to Boyer and Mudre in the sectional final, while sophomore Dhruv Chavan advanced in singles by virtue of a fourth-place finish at sectional.
Sophomores Halen Hamstead and Kaan Odabas played both singles and doubles during the regular season.
“Our team is awesome and has supported us,” said Freedhoff, who has played second singles and first and second doubles this season. “(Bilenko and I) complement each other well. We try to lift each other up. He’s younger so my job is more keeping him good mentally, but he plays so well that he always picks the mood up.”
New Albany is 15-3 entering the OTCA state tournament. The Eagles will play Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit or Hunting Valley University School in a state semifinal.
The winner will face Findlay, Mason or Toledo St. John’s in the final, and the semifinal losers will meet in the third-place match.
The individual district tournament was May 20 and 22 at Reynoldsburg. The top four finishers in singles and doubles advanced to state May 28 and 29 at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
“As a team, we’ve gotten better consistently and that was our goal at the beginning, to be a completely different team by the end of the season. If you’re going to beat the type of teams we need to beat at the end of the year, we knew we had to keep improving and that had to be a process we focused on the whole year,” coach Marc Thomas said. “It was hard to tell where we’d be. I have really high expectations for them and they’re consistently doing the things they need to do to meet those, but this team is very self-motivated. They want to be great and are putting in the work to do it.”
shine at league meet
Victor Orsinelli won the 1,600 meters (4 minutes, 20.97 seconds) and 3,200 (9:41.2) and was on the first-place 3,200 relay (8:07.79) with Lleyton Axline, Will Benseler and Eric Dehmer to lead the boys track and field team in the OCC-Ohio Division meet that concluded May 15 at Thomas Worthington.
Axline also was third in the 1,600 (4:26.69) as the Eagles scored 88 points and finished fourth behind Gahanna (143), Pickerington North (131) and Westerville Central (106) and ahead of Grove City (16) and Westland (8).
Earning second-place finishes were Josh Richardson in the high jump (6 feet) and the 1,600 relay (3:29.38) of Xavian Andrews, Dehmer, Christion Files and Julian Meacham-Dean.
The girls finished third (81) behind Gahanna (207) and North (114) and ahead of Central (76), Grove City (44) and Westland (1). Emoni Saxton won the 800 (2:18.91) and Nicole Stewart was first in the 100 (25.3) and second in the 100 hurdles (12.53).
Caroline Ebert was runner-up in the high jump (5-2) and the 1,600 relay was second (4:13.22) with Alexis Curren, Olivia Gaines, Alexandra Hurt and Saxton.
Both the boys and girls teams competed in the Division I, district 2 meet that concluded May 22 at Hilliard Darby. The top four finishers in each event advanced to regional May 26 and 28 at Pickerington North.
At regional, the top four finishers in each event qualify for state June 4 and 5 at Darby. Also, two at-large berths will be awarded in each event based on times and distances statewide.
Softball team returns
bats, but replacing coach
While some of the softball team’s top hitters are eligible to return after the Eagles went 10-17 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Ohio, the team will have a new coach in 2022.
Aaron Hall announced his resignation May 17 after going 23-29 in two seasons. According to a statement from the school athletics department, Hall resigned to spend more time with his family.
New Albany averaged 7.7 runs per game, a figure boosted by 37 home runs. Sophomore Jordan George (3B/SS) hit 13 of them, tying 2014 graduate Kaitlyn Gliha’s single-season record.
Sophomore Logan Riley (2B/OF) had eight home runs, senior Olivia Angles (P/INF) had seven and senior Sophia Halliday (C/OF) and sophomore Jessica Goldhardt (P/utility) each hit four.
Other key players eligible to return include junior Aurora Lescody (utility) and freshman Lexsie Fleming (P/2B).
The Eagles were seeded 30th in the Division I district tournament and lost 11-0 in five innings at fifth-seeded Lancaster on May 12. They still closed the season with a win, defeating Westland 14-4 in five innings the next day in an OCC-Ohio game that twice had been postponed because of bad weather.
•Record: 10-17 overall
•OCC-Ohio standings: Grove City (10-0), Westerville Central (8-2), Gahanna (6-4), Pickerington North (4-6), New Albany (2-8), Westland (0-10)
•Seniors lost: Olivia Angles, Jenn Brewer, Mackenzie Derflinger and Sophia Halliday
•Key returnees: Lexsie Fleming, Jordan George, Jessica Goldhardt, Aurora Lescody and Logan Riley
•Postseason: Defeated Dublin Scioto 11-2; lost to Lancaster 11-0 (5 innings) in second round of Division I district tournament