DeSales Roundup: Maturing defensemen boosting Stallions hockey team

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Sophomore A.J. Cagnina (left) has emerged as the leader of DeSales' defense even though he had "never played defense before." He also led the Stallions' offense with nine goals through eight games.

A.J. Cagnina said he didn’t necessarily expect to be the DeSales hockey team’s top scorer this season in addition to leading its unit of defensemen.

Instead, the sophomore thought this season would be a good test of not only his own skills, but those of his teammates as an underclassman-filled roster sought growth after a winless 2019-20 campaign.

“We’re playing with more confidence than we ever have. We’re starting to mature more. We were all freshmen last year (on defense) except for Liam (Rice) and we are stepping into our own now,” Cagnina said. “I’d never played defense before this, so just knowing the basic things you need to do like knowing your role is huge. You can’t play as wild on defense. You have more responsibility in your own end to stop the opponent. Our improvement is showing on the scoreboard more.”

Cagnina’s nine goals led the Stallions through eight games, and the defense posted shutouts in both of the team’s wins. DeSales was 2-6 overall before playing in the Walter F. Ehrnfelt Tournament from Jan. 16-18 in suburban Cleveland and has the same record in the CHC-Blue Division entering a Saturday, Jan. 23, game against Dublin Scioto at Chiller Easton.

The Stallions’ 14-0 win over Scioto on Dec. 23 broke a 31-game losing streak dating to late in the 2018-19 season.

Their other win was against Worthington Kilbourne, 4-0 on Jan. 2, avenging an 8-2 loss to the Wolves in their season opener Dec. 18.

Cagnina and classmate Mateo Fuller generally have been the team’s starting defensemen. Sophomore Michael Friess and Rice – who is 6-foot-4 – comprise the second line, although coach Darcy Cahill regularly has mixed and matched the four in front of goalies Chris Henderson and Ben Kreuck.

Henderson, the team’s usual starter, is a sophomore. Kreuck is a freshman.

“They’re smart and they make plays,” Cahill said. “Liam’s a kid who has played all his life and I think he can be dominant as he continues to learn the (high school) game. Their play has been good for our goalies, who have a healthy competition between themselves, too.”

Cagnina and Friess are converted forwards.

“I played defense a couple years back and then I moved (to forward), so it wasn’t that much different,” said Friess, who moved into the defense early this season. “I had to learn how to position right, when to go for the puck and when to back off and let the offense challenge.”

Rice said he attended a few games last season and hoped to contribute, but has exceeded his own expectations.

“I definitely didn’t think I’d be playing this much as a freshman, but I like it,” he said. "We’re all fighting for time, getting on the power plan and penalty kill. I think we make each other better.”

Elizabeth Meeker and DeSales were 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the CCL before playing Watterson on Jan. 14.

Contributors vary for 

girls basketball team

Stefanie Karras was the girls basketball team’s top scorer in each of its first two games, both wins in which she averaged 17.5 points.

She split that honor with Celina Davis in the Stallions’ third game, a 40-30 loss at Olentangy Liberty on Jan. 4, before Gracie Sabo had a team-high 11 points in a 54-28 loss at Hartley on Jan. 7 and a 45-26 home win over Buckeye Valley two days later.

Such variety was what Karras, a 5-9 senior forward, expected entering the season. DeSales was 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the CCL before playing Watterson on Jan. 14.

“It’s not one person trying to do it all,” said Karras, who had 14 points in a 52-39 win over Thomas Worthington on Dec. 28 and 21 the next day in a 42-32 win over Whitehall. “I am trying to help as much as I can and try to help work the floor. We’ve been running the floor a lot because of our speed and that’s helped us tremendously.”

The Stallions averaged 39.4 points through five games.

“We’re trying to pick up our pace with the ball. We’re not really fast, but we’re not slow,” Karras said. “If we pick it up, more things will start happening and we can work the floor more.”

Swimming teams 

showing progress

Returning Division II state-qualifier Brady McInerney is undefeated on the season for the boys swimming and diving team entering a Jan. 26 dual meet at Columbus Academy, one of several swimmers with whom coach Ryan Buechner is impressed as the regular season winds down.

McInerney, a junior who was seventh in the 200-yard individual medley and 13th in the 100 backstroke at state last season, has won races in the 50, 200 and 500 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly and 200 IM.

McInerney’s wins in the 100 breast (1 minute, 15.05 seconds) and 200 IM (2:25.05) led the boys team in an 87-49 win over Watterson on Jan. 8 at Mount Carmel Fitness Center. He also teamed with Reece Hanley, Wyatt Hanley and Leo Sears to win the 200 free (1:57.36) and 200 medley (2:05.82) relays.

Buechner cited strong outings by junior Lucca Ricci in his first 100 fly race (1:22.01) and sophomore Lydia Letzelter in the 50 free (30.74) against the Eagles.

“Lydia was a second-and-a-half faster than she was in the same meet a year ago,” Buechner said. “I feel like (Ricci) will qualify for district in (the 100 fly) this season. We’re seeing some notable swims.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave