In the Division I state cross country meet last year, the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys team was represented by Chase Beckmann.

In the Division I state cross country meet last year, the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys team was represented by Chase Beckmann.

He had high expectations, but after fighting illness could not run at the same level he had in the regional and finished 62nd in 16 minutes, 33.08 seconds.

"That's some motivation for him," coach Larry Schwade said. "I've talked to him and he definitely wants to get back and show he can do better than what he did last year. He should have been top 25 or 30 in the state had he been healthy."

Last season, the Lions were 13th at regional, fourth at district and second (44) in the OCC-Ohio Division meet behind Hilliard Darby (37) and ahead of Newark (84), Lancaster (86), Westland (116) and Groveport (179).

Beckmann returns for his senior season to lead a Gahanna team that Schwade thinks has a chance to advance to state. The last time the Lions advanced to state as a team was in 2004, completing a run of three appearances in four years.

"We've done real well qualifying to the regional meet over the years," Schwade said. "So we've always been in contention of getting a team to state, which we've done seven times. This year, I'd say we're on the bubble, but we're hoping we can get the team in (to state)."

In addition to Beckmann, Gahanna will have a lineup of seniors Jae Williams and Brian Engle, juniors Harry McFann and Tim Schiefer, sophomores Cory Kanz and Robert McClary and freshman Jason McDonald.

Williams has aspirations of joining Beckmann at state, and McFann, Schiefer, Kanz and Engle were regional qualifiers last season. McDonald joins the team after being the top middle-school runner in Gahanna last year.

"With three seniors we have some experience, and the two sophomores ran varsity last year as freshmen," Schwade said. "I see our lineup switching a lot during the season from one week to the next. I expect the five through nine spots to really fluctuate a lot. There's a lot of competition within the team, which will only help us get better."

The OCC has realigned. The Lions will compete in the OCC-Ohio Division with Grove City, Groveport, Lancaster, Newark, Pickerington Central, Pickerington North and Reynoldsburg.

Schwade said he sees Reynoldsburg, Pickerington North and Pickerington Central as the main challengers to the Lions' league title hopes.

"Those would be the main contenders along with us. The other schools, I think they lack the depth of the top four teams," Schwade said.

"We want to contend for the league title and we're shooting for that. In district, it's easier to score higher than it is in the league. They figure each year they're going from district to regional and we're going to try to get the team out to state."

•The girls team also has big expectations as Gahanna returns most of last year's team.

Last season, the Lions were represented individually at state, were 14th at regional and fourth in the district. In the OCC-Ohio meet, Gahanna placed second (48) behind Darby (19) and ahead of Lancaster (86), Newark (105), Groveport (145) and Westland (156).

Sophomore Kay Kay Garber was the team's lone runner at state, where she placed 98th in 20:10.12. Garber was runner-up in the league meet and broke the 14-year-old program record in the 5K.

"I didn't quite expect Kay Kay to be as good as she was, but she works really hard," coach Ernie Ziegler said.

Along with Garber, Gahanna will be led by junior Megan McGuff, sophomore Olivia Scott and freshmen Colleen Hall and Emily Schweizer. Scott was a regional qualifier last season.

Junior Dajanae Gaston returns but will miss a big portion of the regular season with a hip injury. She was unable to compete last year for the team because of the same injury.

In the OCC-Ohio Division, Ziegler expects competition from Pickerington North, Pickerington Central and Lancaster.

"Our goal is to win the OCC. Kay Kay hopes to win a league championship and be in the top 40 at state," Ziegler said. "So we have some lofty goals but I think that's a testament to how hard these girls work."

At a glance

•Coach: Boys -- Larry Schwade, 20th season; Girls --ÊErnie Ziegler, fourth season

•Next race: Saturday at Westerville Classic at Westerville North

•Key athletes: Boys --ÊChase Beckmann, Brian Engle and Jae Williams; Girls -- Kay Kay Garber, Megan McGuff and Olivia Scott